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Five elephant bulls returned to Kruger while search continues for others

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Five of the 11 elephant bulls who have travelled from Mozambique were brought into Kruger by truck on the evening of 10 May. Among these bulls was Trailblazer, an elephant collared by The Mozambique Wildlife Alliance (MWA) earlier this year. Of the remaining bulls, five have yet to be located and one bull had to be euthanised due to injury.
Read: Roaming elephant bulls reach Kruger border after 700km journey

SANParks deployed helicopters to help locate and dart the roaming bulls. Photo: Bronwyn Kotze

Elephants Alive say their hardest leg of an almost 800km journey has been this last stretch to Kruger. ‘As a group of young and adventurous bulls, they moved over 500km across the Mozambique landscape and 128km across Eswatini in a very directional manner towards South Africa (SA). In SA they pushed hard to head home to the Kruger National Park (KNP). On 7 May they entered SA in the early hours of the morning and travelled a further 100km north. The last leg of their journey has been the hardest as sadly they were shot at, soon after entering SA.’

‘This ordeal resulted in them splitting up temporarily, but after regrouping they continued with their northern trajectory. We got word of an injured bull who was desperately trying to keep up with the group. We immediately rallied an expert vet and wildlife pilot to be on standby to treat the bull as dusk started approaching. Again, the group had split into three. A decision was made by the Kruger veterinarian team and the provincial administration (Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency) to have him euthanised.’

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Trailblazer being loaded onto a game capture truck to be removed from Riverside farm and taken to Kruger. Photo: Bronwyn Kotze

Trailblazer was the only bull who managed to find the Kruger border in the early hours of 10 May. He paced the fence for hours before being loaded onto a KNP truck, along with four other bulls who had been located on nearby property at around 5 pm. The five elephants were driven almost to the north of Shingwedzi and offloaded early in the morning of 11 May. Elephants Alive say the others are still out there trying to navigate a very fragmented conservation landscape.

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A fleet of large mammal relocation trucks and cranes at Kruger’s Malelane Gate. Photo: Bronwyn Kotze

‘Trailblazer has been through more than most elephants would ever face in their lifetime. Why he and his 10 companions have chosen to walk close to 800km ever since he was collared on the 30 March 2022 in Mozambique by our passionate partners The Mozambique Wildlife Alliance, is something we urgently need to understand and has thus become our mission.’

Elephants Alive believe Trailblazer may originally be from Kruger due to his relaxed demeanour around humans. ‘When Trailblazer was collared in Mozambique he had moved with another collared elephant (Cumbana) whose tracks showed that he had recently exited the Kruger. The bulls were also not aggressive and appeared used to tourists.

This suggests they are from Kruger but continually watching their tracks over time will let us know for sure. We have a number of collared elephants that are moving between the south of Kruger across Mozambique to either enter South Africa again (in places like Tembe Elephant Park) or to head back into Mozambique via Eswatini. These pathfinders are teaching us daily about the routes that are available to elephants outside of protected areas.’

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