JOHANNESBURG – Diamond producer De Beers said on Monday it was relocating 200 elephants from its private reserve in South Africa to neighbouring Mozambique, part of wider efforts to restore wildlife populations ravaged by conflict there.
The Anglo American unit said its 32 000 ha Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve could support around 60 elephants but now had 270, causing "extensive damage to an ecosystem that must sustain a diverse wildlife population."
The world's largest land mammals have a jumbo-sized impact on their terrain and in many South African parks, which are fenced to contain them, populations have reached levels where the vegetation cannot support their numbers.
De Beers said the elephants would be moved 1 500 km to Mozambique's Zinave National Park, which has over 400 000 ha and an elephant population of only 60.
Mozambique's wildlife numbers were badly hit by a 15-year civil war that ended in 1992. In more recent years, its remaining elephant populations have been targeted by ivory poachers.
The operation is being conducted with the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) conservation group, and De Beers said it was providing it with $500 000 to support anti-poaching efforts.
"Ecosystems require a range of fauna and flora to stay balanced. If you remove one species, such as elephant, it has a ripple effect on the whole system," said Werner Myburgh, the chief executive of the PPF.
"The reintroduction of elephants to Mozambique will bring us one step closer to achieving our dream of restoring the landscape."
Elephants are extremely social animals and family groups will be kept together for the translocation, a huge logistical undertaking that will include darting operations and the movement of tranquilised animals over long distances by road.