The Letaba Elephant Hall was re-opened on March 23, after being shut for six weeks for revamping, and is now even more magnificent than ever with the addition of the heaviest tusks ever found in the Kruger National Park (KNP), those of the legendary Mandleve, plus a new mount of an entire elephant skeleton.
The walls also sport new murals, prepared especially for the hall. Kirsty Redman, in charge of the hall, says that the planning of the upgrade actually began six years ago when the then head of the Bushveld honorary rangers asked for it to be revamped.
One of the major projects was the planned full mount of an elephant skeleton, and section rangers were asked to keep an eye out for suitable carcasses in the veld. However, about two years ago a rogue elephant was put down near Skukuza, and the bushveld honorary rangers shelled out about R20,000 to get the skeleton prepared and mounted. Honorary ranger Piet Andjelkovic said, "We were sad that the magnificent beast had to have been shot, but it will serve a good purpose now."
The display of Mandleve's tusks, which had been languishing in the Skukuza storeroom, was funded by Rotary International. Rotary celebrated their centennial with a dinner in the hall last year, and in appreciation went on a fundraising drive to get the money to mount the tusks. Funding came from Rotary clubs in New Zealand, Canada, Minneapolis and Columbia Universities, as well as from Polokwane, Haenertsburg and Pretoria Silverton, amongst others. With the revamp of the hall involving so many roleplayers, thanks flowed thick and fast from KNP staff.
Amongst those mentioned by Kirsty Redman are regional ranger Louis Olivier (who is also known as Mandleve), Charles Hardy from Rotary, section ranger Joe Nkuna, Anton Olivier who mounted the tusks, Hendrik Hattingh and others. At the opening, Ian Whyte, KNP's large herbivore specialist, also gave more details on the new "Big Tusker" competition that the park will be running annually.
He said that a sighting of one of the big tuskers is "One above the big five" and that the park is hoping to identify emerging tuskers and name them after those people who have made a huge contribution to Kruger in the past. Any photos or videos of elephants with magnificent ivory that are taken in the park can be entered into the tuskers competition, and every year three prizes will be awarded. First prize is accompanying scientists on an elephant collaring safari.