In May 2007 Letaba camp staff in the Kruger National Park (KNP) noticed the iconic statue in front of the elephant hall was in danger of collapse. Local section ranger, Joe Nkuna, secured the statue with ropes to the nearby leadwoods and the task of securing the statue began.
The steel footing on the rear left foot of the elephant had collapsed and was stretching the remaining two footings threatening the entire statue. This appeared to have been caused by long-term rusting.
Upon lifting the statue it became evident that the damage was more severe than initially thought and straight-forward repairs were impossible. Technical services decided to excavate a hole in an enclosed location and to cushion the statue in this hole with tyres until arrangements could be made.
This started an epic almost four year challenge to repair the statue. Logistics and expense prevented the willing assistance of the original artist Phil Minaar as the equipment needed could not be brought to the KNP and no one was prepared to undertake the risk of transporting an already damaged statue to Pretoria where Mr. Minaar resided.
In July 2010 a light at the end of the tunnel emerged through an Honorary Ranger from Lowveld Region, Otto Frauenstein who was assisting in the Letaba Elephant Hall. Having experienced what the permanent staff did daily since the removal with the variety of “where is the statue” questions, Otto suggested a young artist resident in Gravelotte, Jean Meintjes, whom he knew and felt that he would be able to undertake the work required.
After a very positive meeting and seeing the level of work that Mr. Meintjes was capable of it was approved that we could continue with the repairs. We would just need to raise the funds and to transport the statue to Gravelotte, a considerably shorter distance from Letaba.
The funds, about R110 000, were raised fairly quickly by the Honorary Rangers and the general public. A very generous donation from Mr. Iain Gilbert concluded the fundraising efforts, which were facilitated by the Bushveld Region of the Honorary Rangers.
With the funds raised the work could continue and the challenge of moving a severely damaged statue reared its head again. The biggest part of this challenge being that the statue needed to be transported suspended given the damage to the feet (he had previously been transported on the now non-existent stands). With the assistance of Piet van Wyk (KNP transport manager), Anton Olivier (technical services) and Johan Malan (Game Capture) an elaborate plan was made after several site visits and negotiations. The move was scheduled for early December 2010. Game capture donated an old shipping container which was modified by Anton Olivier. With the assistance of game capture’s Thomas Mahori and the game capture vehicle, as well as the general worker teams from both the local ranger and the technical team from Mr. Olivier, the epic task of lifting and securing the elephant set the convoy on its way to Gravelotte. Work on the statue began in late January 2011 and progressed well.
Regular visits saw the elephant of old taking shape again. In late February the statue was complete and ready for transport back home. On 4 March 2011 the elephant statue returned to Letaba. The statue was lifted from the crate in the camp and guests and staff were treated to the spectacle of an elephant flying through the camp.
Jean Meintjes secured the statue by welding the new footings onto the plates attached to the concrete footings. After what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality several hours the iconic statue that had always stood proudly at Letaba was home, a day worth celebrating.