Those of you who have read my latest book ELEPHANT DAWN will understand that as the years passed, the 17 extended families of elephants (525+ elephants), that make up the Presidential Elephants, spent increasing amounts of time away from this estate land during the 13 years (2001-2014) that my book covers. They wander freely into the neighbouring Hwange National Park (where I, personally, have sighted them), just as national park elephants also wander onto the estate land. A mere railway line separates these two land areas, and of course elephants walk freely over it every day.
It is worth noting that the unfenced national park is some 100 times bigger than the neighbouring ‘Hwange Estate’ where I worked (14,000 square kilometres vs 140 square kilometres). This estate could not easily handle 525+ elephants based there permanently, and it doesn’t have to – because they are not based there permanently! I have personally seen Presidential Elephant families inside the national park, especially in the dry season, at various Hwange National Park Main Camp waterholes, including those as far away as Makwa pan (which, for those who don’t know, ‘The Hide’ safari lodge frequents regularly on their park game-drives for example, and which also happens to be very close to the ZimParks Capture base). Similarly, I have seen countless national park families (who often, these days, are also elephants very used to human presence) on the estate.
Those in Zimbabwe who blindly declare today that no Presidential Elephants have been caught up in the ongoing captures (and other disturbing, ongoing, incidences like the most recent of the Main Camp and Forestry cyanide poisonings) are just that. Blind. How would they know?
They do not understand the detailed structures of the family groups. They canâ€™t look at a Presidential family group and see who is â€˜missingâ€™. They simply cannot know if all matriarchs, aunties, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews are still there in each of these 17 extended family groups â€“ or if in fact some have â€˜disappearedâ€™. To complicate matters, extended families donâ€™t always roam together of course (think of your own â€˜extendedâ€™ family; youâ€™re not always together, are you? – and you have your own families, which I call ‘sub-families’, which you more frequently roam around with). And bodies/carcasses are not always found when an elephant dies, as I know only too well. Just ask the likes of the world renowned Cynthia Moss and the long-term Amboseli elephant project in Kenya: it takes extremely dedicated monitoring and years and years of indepth, intimate, knowledge to know exactly what is going on within family groups, as all Elephant Specialists know well – especially in unfenced areas.
So, how can they say today that no Presidential Elephants have been affected by the captures (and other disturbing incidences)? These are wild elephants, who roam freely. The â€˜Presidential decreeâ€™ does not â€˜protectâ€™ them. It canâ€™t; the area is unfenced and these elephants are indeed subject to the same problems as all elephants face all around Africa, complicated by ongoing unethical practices in Zimbabwe. The Presidential Elephants could quite easily be in the wrong place, at the wrong time (ie some family groups could well be inside the national park) and could get themselves tied up in many things.
Have any Presidential Elephants been caught up in the captures, which are taking place inside Hwange National Park on an ongoing basis? And/or have any Presidential Elephants been caught up with Main Camp and Forestry cyanide poisonings over the past 2+ years? Iâ€™m not there; I cannot know. I’m unable to do the detailed survey (with the required intimate knowledge), of the 17 extended family groups, which is necessary to determine this. But those making public statements that no Presidential Elephants have ever been captured or poisoned immediately lose ALL credibility. They simply can’t know this.
Most safari operators/lodge owners in Zimbabwe are professional enough not to make sweeping statements that they canâ€™t justify in any shape or form. Some other operators, however, clearly are not that professional (or knowledgeable). Donâ€™t be blind-sided by sweeping statements and ‘everything is okay with these elephants’ propaganda that canâ€™t be justified. The fact is that ALL Hwange elephants are at risk. And some members of Presidential Elephant families could very well now be missing.Post published in: Featured
More years have passed since I wrote this article – and it’s all still as valid as ever. Since 2014 – when I fled Hwange – what Presidential Elephants have been caught up in zoo captures? cyanide poisonings? legal sport-hunting? unethical sport-hunting practices? poaching? ration hunting? etc …. The reality is: Nobody now knows.
My latest book ELEPHANT DAWN, as well as my chapter in THE LAST ELEPHANTS makes for informed reading.