Mvula lifts his trunks before his release. Picture: Julius Mkhize.
Mvula lifts his trunks before his release. Picture: Julius Mkhize.
Mvula  scans his new home. Picture: Ida Hansen.
Mvula scans his new home. Picture: Ida Hansen.
Kahle loves his new surrounding. Picture: Axel Hunnicutt.
Kahle loves his new surrounding. Picture: Axel Hunnicutt.

Two bull elephants, originally from Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, have been released into Samara Private Game Reserve – the first bull elephants to return to the Plains of Camdeboo in 150 years.

This follows the successful release of six female elephants into the reserve in October 2017 – a historic translocation. 

The knowledge that elephant bulls are highly social creatures informed the decision to introduce two bulls so that they could enjoy each other’s company. Samara’s new bulls both originate from Phinda, where they sometimes moved together. One is approximately 30 years old weighing 6.3 tons and the other 20 years old weighing 5.7 tons. 

The two bulls arrived at Samara after a 24-hour journey, ably transported by drivers Koos and Skukuza, part of Kester Vickery’s team at Conservation Solutions. The entire operation was guided and overseen by elephant translocation experts Elephants, Rhinos & People (erp.ngo), who accompanied the elephants on their journey in a support vehicle. 

Sarah Tompkins of Samara Private Game Reserve said they were pleased with how the founder herd of female elephant have settled at Samara. 

"We monitor their behaviour and movements closely, with a full-time monitor provided by ERP, who also co-funded the translocation to Samara and the satellite collar on the sub-matriarch. 

"ERP’s monitor at Samara has been training two interns, graduates of the SACT Tracker Academy, whose knowledge of elephant ecology and behaviour has progressed tremendously over the past year.

“The presence of bulls is likely to bring a new dynamic to the reserve, and one which we are excited to witness as we continue to restore this breathtaking ecosystem," she said. 

Tompkins, who founded Samara Private Game Reserve with her husband Mark 21 years ago, has long held a vision of restoring the area to its original state. “Before early farmers and settlers eradicated the Karoo’s wildlife, it boasted a wonderfully rich biodiversity, and was home to species like cheetah, rhino, Cape lion, springbok and elephant,” Sarah comments. Thanks to the Tompkins’ dedication, and the conservation ethos which remains at Samara’s heart, their vision is steadily becoming a reality.

“The population of African elephants is in a state of crisis, having declined by an alarming 30% in just 10 years. To safeguard the future of the species, there is a need to manage elephants as part of meta-populations; a group of spatially-separated populations between which translocations can take place to ensure genetic diversity and to establish founder populations in areas where elephants previously occurred but have since been eradicated,”  said Tompkins.

Ida Hansen, ERP representative, said the translocation of the two bulls will enhance the social structure of Samara’s elephant population. “We have been monitoring the female elephants at Samara for a year now. It will be very interesting to see how they react to the two bulls and how the bulls settle in at Samara."

“It was a long drive for the two bulls, but it could not have gone better. Every time we checked on them en route, they were calm, with Kahle (the older bull) resting his trunk on a tusk or on the roof outside the vehicle. Kahle trumpeted his arrival at Samara and we are all now guessing as to how long it will be before they link up with the little family group of females," said Hansen.

Watch: