SLIDESHOW: In Cote d’Ivoire, first bull elephant arrives at Azagny National Park

The slideshow above is viewable on Flash capable systems only. Click this link for a YouTube video overview of the move!

Oscar Wilde said, “Do not try to add years to your life, but rather try to add life to your years.”

This morning, in the early hours of daylight, in Cote d’Ivoire’s Azagny National Park, following a trip of 400 km undertaken mainly overnight with an government escort, we all felt that we would be adding much life to our years when we opened the doors to the cage transporting this first elephant weighing nearly 6 tons located and captured the previous afternoon at Daloa. We know that from now on, a more secure future awaits him and that we have concretely contributed to the protection of a highly endangered species.

This male bull, whose ear carried the scars of a bullet wound, arrived safe and sound to this protected area situated 80km to the west of Abidjan. This mission to relocate these elephants is a real first effort of its kind in this country and as is the case with every first-time endeavour, there is a lot of emotion in the air.

Also on IFAW.org: UPDATED: Cote d'Ivoire elephant rescue: stakes high as team prepares for historic move

Everything is new, everything is measured down to the last detail, everything is timed down to the minute, everything is anticipated, and every gesture had been thought out and rethought out many times before this first transfer, as we cannot afford to make mistakes.

We have to ensure the welfare of the animal as well as the safety of our team.

For this first capture, our vet was able to anaesthetize the elephant from the helicopter. Following the usual veterinary examinations, the elephant was delicately winched* to be placed onto a flatbed truck to then be transported to the wake-up cage adjacent to its transport cage.

This whole procedure was undertaken under the watchful eye of the two vets present for the mission in order to ensure the welfare of these giants, paradoxically, so vulnerable in such a situation…This mission was also undertaken in the presence of hundreds of enthusiastic villagers, there to witness the departure of this first elephant from Daloa!

Female chanting accompanied the convoy over a certain distance whilst numerous men applauded and marveled at the animal’s sheer size. “We have really suffered, they have destroyed our crops!” said many, “…we will miss them, we are so used to them being around. Even so we are happy to be able to get back to normal lives…” said others.

And all the children are at the very forefront of this operation, bustling with excitement and curiosity at seeing the world’s largest land-based mammal. An entire village is saying goodbye to these elephants who have been their somewhat ‘forced’ neighbours, due to the destruction of their original habitat…

We are obviously delighted at the outcome of this first successful transfer, however, our attention is already turned to the elephants that we will have to locate, capture and transport tomorrow. There are three of them, and the operation will be carried out with the same anxiety, the same gentle touch, the same apprehensions and, we hope, the same happy ending…stay tuned!

--CSB

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*Although it looks shocking at times, rest assured the lifting of an elephant by its legs in this instance is the safest, and only, way to load a tranquilized elephant onto a transport vehicle. The elephant is not kept in this upside-down position for more than five minutes or so and bear in mind that it is completely sedated. There is an experienced veterinarian with the elephant(s) at all times during the capture process. -- ED

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia