Pondering a pachyderm's perambulations
Induna, a mature bull elephant, decided that it was time to go for a walk - only he ambled out of his home at Pongola Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal and started heading for Kruger National Park, about 250km away.
He travelled a total of about 80 kilometres out of the reserve, heading through Swaziland in a northerly direction towards Big Bend, His trek began on January 21, 2004. The first part of the journey was familiar to him, as he had taken a similar walk in 2003, accompanied by another male known as Inkosi.
On that walking adventure, the pair got about 40km out of the reserve before Inkosi was darted and collared. The next day both elephants turned for home. As Induna approached the spot where Inkosi was darted, he veered off his northerly path to travel in a more westerly direction.
After travelling for some time, he was finally turned around when he started to encounter more densely populated areas. At one point he tangled with three aggressive dogs in a kraal, and at times crowds of up to 200 people were watching him.
According to Dr Heinz Kohrs, a Pongola vet who has been involved with the reserve's elephants for some time, Induna is 'very relaxed' about people. As he seemed so determined to make the journey, the Pongola team did not try to turn him back at the beginning, but monitored his progress closely. According to Kohrs, if Induna had travelled far enough they would have contacted the Kruger National Park to see if he could return there.
Induna was relocated from Kruger to KwaZulu-Natal in 2001, where he was first placed in a different reserve with two other bulls. His itchy feet led him to Pongola Private Game Reserve, where two family groups of former Kruger elephants had been relocated several years prior to his arrival in the provinces.
Induna's latest journey took him six days in total, and Kohrs said that along the way 'if he found a place he liked, he stayed there for a while.' All of Induna's expeditions have taken place at this time of year, and Kohrs speculates that it may have something high and low atmospheric pressures possibly allowing the elephant's subsonic communications to travel further.
He adds that the Siswati elders who named the months refer to February as 'Ndlovane' or 'little elephant', and feels that it is no coincidence that this is the time he has seen elephants begin to migrate. He also says, 'it is the marula time of year as well', and that the elephants may be following ancient 'marula tree lanes' that are thought to be ancient elephant migration routes. Induna is now safely back at Pongola Private Nature Reserve, sporting a collar.
Induna stands about 3.5 metres high, and the team struggled to fit a 4.2 metre long collar around his 50-year old neck. Kohrs says that he has heard that this is one of the largest collars that has been fitted to an elephant, including elephants in Kruger.
As one of the founders of the Space for Elephants foundation, Kohrs is hoping to find a way to help elephants that break out of reserves with other destinations in mind. He is hoping to develop corridors through which elephants can travel, and generally increase the space available for the large pachyderms.