The Sanparks Veterinary Wildlife Services Capture team translocated 20 giraffe from the Satara area in the Kruger National Park (KNP) to a fenced sanctuary in the adjacent Limpopo National Park (LNP) earlier this month.
The executive director of Kruger, Dr Bandile Mkhize, joined the capture team on the giraffe capture. The team will also be moving impala, wildebeest, zebra and waterbuck to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) as part of a cross border conservation initiative this year.
Giraffe capture is a specialised operation and it requires a skilled team to manoeuvre these ungainly animals. The Kimberley unit of Veterinary Wildlife Services was on hand to help out. Their team specialises in giraffe capture and transportation and has all the necessary equipment to make sure the capture runs smoothly.
Giraffe are darted individually from the air using the Sanparks helicopter while the ground crew is on standby nearby. Once the animal has been darted with the new anaesthetising drug A30/80, the ground crew secures the giraffe before it falls down. Ropes are twisted around its legs and the giraffe is brought down on its side.
The team can’t let the animal run too far as they can die from exertion. Once the giraffe is down its head is covered with a special head-cover and earplugs are fitted so the giraffe will be easier to walk to the waiting chariot, the name given to a specially constructed trailer. Additional ropes are fitted to the sleeping giraffe and then a full antidote is administered and the animal is encouraged to get up again.
This is where the skill comes in as they then have to walk the giraffe to the transport chariot. The team members each hold a rope and guide the giraffe while being very careful to stand clear of the powerful kicking legs. Once in the chariot the giraffe is cross-loaded into the waiting transport truck. This is designed to hold the lofty creatures securely and safely, and can transport six giraffe at a time, three in each compartment.
"Giraffe transport quite easily," said Dr Markus Hofmeyr of the Veterinary Wildlife Services, "they travel standing up and tend to be quite calm in the truck." Following a short road trip to the Giriyondo Tourist Access Facility, these elegant animals are simply released by opening the door of the crate and letting them walk out into their new home.
By Michele Hofmeyr