Thandora at home in her new reserve

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Mariné Jacobs

“Thandora is doing fantastic; she is getting an A+ in class! She is already grazing, walking about inquisitively and exploring.” This was according to Wendy Willson, National Wildlife Inspector for the National Council of SPCA. Bloemfontein was very sad last week to say goodbye to Thandora, the elephant that was part of the Bloemfontein zoo for 24 years. Thandora, who is between 28 and 30 years old, was relocated to the Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay for introduction into a free-roaming herd. After her partner was relocated four years ago, she has been alone in her enclosure causing her to develop some behavioural problems. “Elephants held in captivity need much more space than what is currently allotted to them. In addition to the usual assortment of challenges inherent in the housing and care of any large, intelligent, wide-ranging animal in captivity, zoo elephants are often plagued by a host of physical and psychological ailments that are not observed among their free-living counterparts,” said Willson.

Some of the best specialists in the country were called in to help with Thandora’s relocation. “She was first darted and after she had fallen asleep, a crane entered her enclosure. She was hoisted with ropes and loaded onto the back of a flat-bed truck,” explains Willson. “She was then taken to a recovery truck where she was given an antidote to wake up and then allowed to stand up. She then walked over to the transport crate.” Willson explained there are many risks when relocating wild animals, including transport- and drugging risks, but the risks are reduced by using experts who are highly skilled in their different fields.

According to Willson, Thandora is very unfit because she did not move around much in the last 24 years. Her fitness levels and muscle development need to improve drastically and she needs to learn to forage for food. This is all part of her rehabilitation programme. “When we dropped her off, the other elephants were about 15 to 20 km away. So, she hasn’t met them yet, but they will soon come over to introduce themselves.”