The 15 elephants rescued from the smoking veld of the Pilanesberg National Park are “progressing unbelievably well” according to JJ van Altena, wildlife specialist from Catchco. The elephants, aged between one and 10, are being kept at bomas in Hammanskraal until the burns inflicted by the veld fire are healed. Van Altena says that in under two weeks they have already adjusted to their daily routine of glycerine showers and boma cleaning, moving readily to and from their enclosures twice a day for treatment.
New skin is already beginning to grow, allowing the older burnt skin to fall off. Three of the elephants’ ears were badly crisped in the fire, and these brittle margins are expected to fall off with time. Van Altena believes that the elephants will still be able to adequately cool themselves even with the reduced surface area. The 55,000ha Pilanesberg National Park was home to 180 elephants prior to the fire.
After the fire, four animals were euthanased due to the severity of their burns and 15 captured and relocated for treatment to Hammanskraal. Park manager Peter Leitner described the fire as “incredibly fast moving”, saying this may have contributed to elephants being burnt. The fire scattered the herds, which are beginning to regroup, although Leitner says that there may be a shift in the herd composition at this point.
There is an ongoing research project studying the park’s elephants that will keep track of how the elephant herds regroup. Park visitors are reporting sightings of burnt elephants to management to help with the monitoring. Leitner says that many of the elephants were burnt on their backsides, possibly as a result of protecting the youngsters from the flames.
The youngsters at Hammanskraal are not expected to rejoin their families in Pilanesberg when they are fully recovered. Van Altena says that the “family units have been disrupted” and that they will look for other suitable sanctuaries later on, but the priority now is “getting the elephants right”.
A trust account has been set up to help fund the elephants’ treatment. Anyone wishing to make a donation can deposit it in the Trust Account: Account name: Elephant Rescue, Account no.: 9150323834, Branch code: 632005, ABSA Bank.