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Translocation. Translocation. Translocation.

6 min read

Updated 01 October 2021

Picture of Chris McIntyre

By Chris McIntyre

Managing Director

It’s not just people who are travelling more these days, wild animals are also being flown, driven, sailed and walked to pastures new. In a bid to protect or grow specific animal populations, or to rebalance damaged or neglected ecosystems, conservationists and park managers across Africa are working to translocate specific species to sustain the continent’s long-term biodiversity.

Years of planning, careful calculations and immense cost – not to mention creative thinking and huge hopes – go into each of these moves. For those of us on the outside, dramatic images of elephants suspended from helicopters, wild dogs dozing in Cessna planes and giraffes floating on bespoke rafts all instantly capture our attention. There is serious science behind every translocation and great joy when these animals thrive in new areas.

This month we’re highlighting three very different journeys: a road-tripping dazzle of zebras, an airborne pack of wild dogs and a clutch of fledgling penguins pioneering a new colony.

If you also fancy a change of scene, do get in touch with us…

Dam Zebras!

In the late 1950s, the curved wall of the Kariba Dam was constructed across the zig-zag gorges of the mighty Zambezi River between the colonial territories of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). Its completion flooded much of the middle Zambezi Valley around the Zambian town of Gwembe and created one of the world’s largest man-made reservoirs, Lake Kariba. Such was its scale that the vast lake took five years to fill.

As the land was inundated with rising water, the Valley’s prolific wildlife was forced to concentrate on newly formed islands and Kariba’s southern shore, which ultimately became Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park: a rugged, mountain-backed wilderness of shady woodland, grassy plains, narrow creeks and sandy shores. Rich in herds of elephants, buffalo, grazing antelope and big cats, home to both black and white rhino, and famed for its fishing, exceptional birdlife and sunbathing crocodiles, Matusadona became a super safari spot. Like many national parks, it has had its share of challenges over the years, including poaching, politics and now the pandemic.

But Matusadona is on the rise again: with investment and expertise from the non-profit African Parks assisting a dynamic park management team together with the commitment of local safari lodges, Matusadona aims to become one of Zimbabwe’s leading elephant and rhino sanctuaries, and is actively bolstering its existing wildlife.

Most recently, 233 zebras were translocated hundreds of miles across Zimbabwe to revive the large herds that historically roamed the rolling plains. With complex logistics and human endeavour, the animals were transported on trucks and specially modified ferries to different locations within the park. Travelling in groups of 20-30 animals over the course of three weeks, two large new zebra herds have now settled into their beautiful, waterfront environment. And how lucky they are: to watch scarlet sunsets over Lake Kariba, peppered with photogenic skeleton trees, is indeed very special.

And as if the outstanding wildlife and scenery, and the chance to explore on land and water weren’t enough of a draw, the enthusiastic and encyclopaedic knowledge of the guides in the small safari camps here make this corner of Zimbabwe extra special.

Jet-Setting Dogs

Image credit: African Parks

Over the last 18 years, 4,000 animals from a number of key species have been translocated to Malawi’s national parks as part of an impressive initiative to safeguard biodiversity and ensure the socio-economic success of conservation and tourism to local people. Significant thought, care and investment go into each of these moves, and the latest predators to arrive carry special importance because of their highly endangered status.

In an ambitious and historic conservation move, 14 African wild dogs have been reintroduced into two of Malawi’s national parks: eight in Liwonde and six in Majete. Teams from the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the non-profit African Parks flew animals in from four separate parks in South Africa and Mozambique to form the new packs in a major international effort to conserve this threatened mammal. With just 6,600 individuals remaining in Africa, and only around 700 breeding pairs, collaborative initiatives like this one are crucial to the survival of the species.

The 14 wild dogs were flown in a single aircraft from Mozambique to Malawi’s capital Blantyre and onward to temporary ‘bomas’ (fenced pens) for acclimatisation before being released into the wider park areas. Their long-term protection is paramount, so the packs have been fitted with a mix of GPS and radio collars to facilitate the continual monitoring of their location and habitat use.

For a snapshot of the dogs’ incredible journey, check out African Parks’ minute-long video of their trip. And for a chance to see these new arrivals in person – and much more besides – check out Expert Africa’s Malawi safaris.

Pioneering Penguins

There is something utterly delightful about watching penguins up close in the wild. Between the striking granite rocks of Boulders Beach, an hour’s drive south of Cape Town, African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) can be spotted diving and speed-swimming through the clear waters, before waddling comically up the beach past children building sandcastles and fascinated photographers. It’s a wonderful sight.

Sadly, extreme weather changes and a dire lack of food – a combination of over-fishing and fish stocks moving away from their historic feeding grounds – mean that the African penguin is endangered. Conservationists warn that the species is on track for ‘functional extinction’ in the wild by 2035 if its population decline continues.

Following the changed fish distribution, a pioneering group of penguins struck out from Boulders Beach to a peninsula on the eastern edge of the De Hoop Nature Reserve in 2003. They managed to establish a breeding colony but proved to be tempting prey for resident caracals and the penguins eventually abandoned the site in 2008. The new colony sparked an idea, however, among local residents.

CapeNature, BirdLife and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) were watching these penguins and have been working to re-establish the lost colony at De Hoop to support the long-term future of the species. Their favourite areas have been fenced against predators and juvenile penguins have been released into the reserve for the first time.

The 30 fledgling penguins recently released at De Hoop were incubated and hand reared from eggs or chicks abandoned in their nests. Before release, the penguins are thoroughly checked by vets and individually marked with Passive Integrated Transponders for monitoring. Two of the penguins also have GPS trackers to track their movements.

Once African penguins start breeding at a colony, they return to the same place annually. By releasing fledglings, it’s hoped that over the next three to six years they will return to De Hoop to breed and so help to ensure the continued survival of the species in the wild. To make them feel welcome, life-like decoy penguins emitting penguin calls have been deployed to entice them to stay.

At Expert Africa we love the rock pools and dune-backed coastline of De Hoop, and we wholeheartedly recommend a stay here to penguins and people alike!

If you’ve been inspired and want to find out more, give us a call or enquire now to speak to an expert.

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