IMAGE: ELEPHANT ON TRAILER
Sayyid Azim  /  AP
Kenyan Wildlife Service employees struggle Thursday to load an elephant onto a truck that was to carry it 220 miles in an unprecedented relocation project. The truck didn't get far, however, breaking down under the pachyderm's weight.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/26/2005 11:31:25 AM ET 2005-08-26T15:31:25

An ambitious plan to relocate 400 elephants was reportedly back on track Friday after suffering a breakdown, literally, a day earlier when a truck broke down under a pachyderm's poundage.

Kenyan officials launched the plan Thursday after a first elephant was tranquilized, bound with rope and loaded onto a truck’s trailer.

The 22-year-old elephant’s weight was not known, but it took nearly a dozen chanting, grunting men pulling ropes to move the trussed-up and tranquilized beast.

The truck didn't get very far, however, because the trailer broke under the elephant's weight.

The bull was to have been the first taken on an eight-hour, 220-mile drive from overcrowded Shimba Hills National Reserve to the Tsavo East National Park.

It wasn't clear Friday if the elephant had been moved to another truck, but Kenyan officials  did say a family of elephants had been trucked out Friday.

“Today's operation went very well,” operation director Patrick Omondi said in a statement. “It took only two hours to capture and load the entire family. They are now on there way to Tsavo in the company of two veterinary doctors and capture wardens.”

Pachyderm-people conflict
The $3.2 million exercise is the biggest elephant relocation Kenya has ever attempted.

Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Edward Indakwa went further, calling it “the single largest translocation of animals undertaken since Noah’s Ark.”

IMAGE: TRANQUILIZED ELEPHANT
Sayyid Azim  /  AP
A 22-year-old elephant is bound Thursday after being tranquilized at the Simba Hills National Reserve in Kenya. It was later loaded onto a truck, but proved too heavy a load.
Shimba Hills has 600 elephants, three times what it can comfortably handle, resulting in the animals moving into populated areas, destroying crops and injuring people. Elephant-human encounters have been increasing as Kenya’s population grows and more people move to elephant habitat to farm, at times close to national parks.

Tsavo East National Park has 10,397 elephants, down from a peak of 25,268 in 1972. The park suffered a heavy loss of elephants during the 1980s and early 1990s when poachers devastated Kenya’s pachyderms. Poaching has since subsided, helped by a 1989 global ban on the ivory trade that has seen prices drop.

Preparing the new home
Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng’etich said his organization has increased security in Tsavo East. “We deployed 83 young ranger recruits to Tsavo East last month .... If the poachers come, they will find us ready,” Kipng’etich said. He said that they will also have regular aerial patrols.

Kipng’etich also said that steps were taken to reduce the possibility of elephants damaging farms near Tsavo East.

“We have dug five water holes to discourage elephants from wandering into community farms and erected a 41-kilometer electric fence along the most vulnerable spots on the park boundary,” he said.

“We have also radio-collared six matriarchs ... and will be monitoring their movements using Geographical Positioning Systems or GPS so that our rangers can drive them away before they reach private farms,” Kipng’etich said. “We want to be pro-active in our management of problem elephants.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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