Completed Reintegration Projects
The establishment of the Elephant Reintegration Trust stemmed from Brett Mitchell embarking on the reintegration of a special group of elephants. These elephants had been under the care of Brett Mitchell for many years and it was his dream to see them living as wild elephants.
Brett Mitchell has reintegrated two groups of elephants fully back into the wild and has been involved with a couple of other projects. Both groups of elephants have been successfully reintegrated and the elephants are living out their lives now as wild elephants.
The first group of elephants were reintegrated onto a large extensive wildlife system about 600km from where they used to do elephant back safaris. This project required a translocation to the new reserve with a settling in period for the elephants to acclimatize to the new system before the actual reintegration process took place.
The second group of elephants were reintegrated onto the reserve they were at which made the project a bit simpler as the elephants knew the reserve well having been there for over ten years.
The translocation went off as well as possible considering the trauma associated with translocation any animal. The whole process from the time the first dart was administered to the elephants until we off loaded the elephants at their new home took around 24 hours.
After about a week or so, once the elephants settled down at the new reserve, we started to explore the reserve daily with the elephants, walking to the various waterholes located on the reserve. As this is an extensive wildlife system the waterholes were generally a good eight kilometers or so apart from each other which gave the elephants the opportunity to learn a good section of the reserve.
Over the first couple of months, we slowly started the disengagement process with the elephants. Initially, we chose the waterhole and area they would go during the day before they returned to their boma for the night.
As the elephants settled into their new way of life, we started to allow them to decide where they wanted to go after coming out of the boma in the mornings, this varied a fair bit which was exciting to see as this reaffirmed that as much as they were comfortable having us there they wanted the choice of where they went. There were days where we would not see the elephants from the time we opened the boma at sunrise until we located them via their GPS collars late in the day to return to the boma.
As soon as this started to become a daily occurrence, we knew the time had arrived that the next stage of the reintegration needed to be taken. This stage was where the elephants would not be influenced in any way by us, the boma was left open should they wish to return if it made them more comfortable at night. For us, this was an emotional point in the reintegration, as beyond this point there would be no further interaction with the elephants unless absolutely necessary. On the chosen day, the boma gates were simply opened and the elephants left to decide where they wanted to go, we would not be returning them to the boma again – this was their first day of living as wild elephants!!
The elephants never returned to the boma!
Over the following months, we monitored the elephants, checking on their behaviours, health and movement patterns. It was crucial that all their behaviours were inline with that of any wild elephant. Daily we located their position via their GPS collars and if they were near to a road or waterhole, we would drive out to the location and try get a visual of the elephants.
There were times that we did not see the elephants for a few days and when we were able to get a visual they did not show us much attention – they were just going about their lives.
The second group of elephants reintegrated in a very similar fashion to the first group. They also never returned to the boma after the final stage took place.