TAFIKA GETS A NEW GPS COLLAR!

Tafika was rescued in 2008 from South Luangwa National Park at only 9 months old after he was separated from his mother and herd during a human-elephant conflict. He has been raised ever since in Southern Kafue National Park alongside the other orphaned elephants and is now, at the age of twelve years old, finally starting to demonstrate the confidence and willingness to live independently in the wild.

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He has for the past five years been exploring areas further afield of the Release Facility with the other older orphans, but has never been bold enough to walk away on his own. In 2016 tragedy struck one evening as he was grazing in the wild alongside Kafue, a seven-year-old age-mate orphan, who was attacked and killed by lions. Tafika along with older orphans Batoka and Chamilandu fled the scene and Tafika in particular, after this trauma, returned to the safety of the boma every evening thereafter. It was only in May 2019 (coincidently on Africa Freedom Day), nearly three years later, that Tafika finally felt strong enough and confident enough to start spending nights outside of the protective fencing again. From then until recently Tafika has roamed the outskirts of the camp every night, joining with the Release Herd during their day-time walks.

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His closest companion Batoka (13 years old) was his accomplice until February 2020, when Batoka decided it was time to go much further afield and has since then predominently spent his time around 10-20KM away from the Facility in the company of wild elephants. Tafika finally made the move to join Batoka this January when Batoka arrived on camp to ‘collect him’. The duo spent 16 days in the wild together before Tafika returned by himself to the Release Herd last week.

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We currently have 7 satellite collars deployed on the oldest orphans within the programme in order that we can monitor their movements when they are out of sight, and since Tafika’s return we have used this opportunity to replace his collar which had stopped transmitting.

With thanks to DNPW’s Senior Vet Dr Katampi, we were able to successfully re-collar Tafika on the outskirts of camp as he came close to join the orphan herd first thing in the morning.

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We also took advantage of this opportunity to provide essential training for our GRI Vet Fellow Dr Darlington Kafula who is developing his skill set as a wildlife veterinarian. Since Tafika is in his final stages of release we treat him as if he is a wild elephant, which means the Keepers do not talk to or engage with him, we avoid and minimise his exposure to our team and the Release Facility Camp. Therefore in order to fit his collar Tafika was darted with a sedative to make him fall asleep. Once the drugs took effect the collaring process went smoothly with everyone in the team playing their part, and involved removing the old collar, fitting the new collar, collecting biological samples for routine analysis, growth rate measurements and close monitoring for a healthy heart rate and respiration throughout.

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Within 20 minutes the collar had been replaced and everyone stepped away as the sedation was reversed and Tafika woke up and slowly got back onto his feet. Maison, one of our most experienced Keepers, and a ranger monitored him for a number of hours to ensure that he continued to respond well and come around fully from the sedation as he resumed his feeding regime in the Park.

 

With his new collar giving us a GPS location every 1 hour, we are able to closely track Tafika’s movements around-the-clock and look forward to watching for signs of his increased independence of the Herd and place he knows as ‘home’. Hopefully it will not be too long before Batoka, his surrogate sibling of 11 years, comes to pick him up again and helps him to take this important next step back into the wild where he belongs.

 

With huge thanks to DNPW for their partnership and dedication to this long-term elephant release programme, and the long-term partners who have continued to support us along this special journey in particular: the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the Olsen Animal Trust, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who have provided technical development of our research capabilities.