A conservation team were left baffled when 11 elephants arrived at their camp in Empangeni, Zululand to rescue a herd of antelope who were being held in a boma.

Conservationist Lawrence Anthony said on Tuesday that a private game capture company had been working on the Thula Thula Exclusive Private Game Reserve capturing antelope that were to be relocated for a breeding programme.

Shortly before relocation the antelope were being housed in a boma enclosure.

The team were settling in for the night when a herd of 11 elephants approached the boma, he said.

"The herd circled the enclosure while the capture team watched warily, thinking the herd were after lucerne being used to feed the antelope," Lawrence said.

"This went on for quite a while until the herd seemed to back off from the boma perimeter fence."

The herd's matriarch, named Nana, approached the enclosure gates and began tampering with the metal latches holding the gates closed.

She carefully undid all the latches with her trunk, swung the gate open and stood back with her herd.

"At this stage the onlookers realised this was not a mission for free food, but actually a rescue," said Lawrence.

The herd watched the antelope leave the boma and dart off before they walked off into the night.

Thula Thula resident Ecologist Brendon Whittington-Jones said: "Elephant are naturally inquisitive, but this behaviour is certainly most unusual and cannot be explained in scientific terms". - Sapa