Hanging upside down from a crane, a carefully sedated baby elephant is descended into a truck for the only trip of a lifetime as part of the most ambitious wildlife project ever done.
This week, a similar scene will greet Prince Harry, who has returned to Africa to continue his conservation crusade and play a frontline role in the extraordinary effort to save the continent’s greatest beasts from extinction.
As a pilot with experience in the war zone, the prince is expected to be deployed within the careful encirclement of family elephant groups to be launched from the air before loading 200 miles to a sanctuary across Malawi, as part of the extraordinary initiative ‘500 Elephants’.
Harry will spend a second consecutive summer in Africa, this time working with the NGO African Parks, which said it was ‘delighted’ to have the bearded prince on board.
The 31-year-old royal brings valuable field experience from the last three months with bush veterinarians and anti-po.ach.ing teams, gaining a range of hands-on skills with the animals known as the Big Five of Africa.
Fran Read, from Africa Parks, said, “We are delighted that Prince Harry will be joining us for this significant project.”
Harry’s latest project is the £1million transfer of around 500 elephants to a wildlife sanctuary in central Malawi from two parks in the south of the country, where food and space are becoming increasingly scarce for the animals.
The new elephant base will give them more space to breed and help restore populations of animals whose numbers are dwindling in other parts of Africa, mainly due to poaching.
The elephants seem to have a particular fascination for Harry, who left the army last year. The prince released an Instagram photo of himself lying face down with arms outstretched on a sedated elephant during his previous stint as a conservation volunteer in Africa.
The role of the pilot in the ‘500Elephants’ project is to flush elephants from wooded areas onto the plains to enable them to be more easily darted by the onboard vet.
This would be a task Harry could easily carry out, along with watching the animals sedated after they were immobilized.
One of the prince’s duties he took on while assisting wildlife veterinarian Peter Morkel in Namibia was to measure vital signs and administer fluids to sedated rhinos, whose horns were removed to make them less attractive to po.ac.hers.
After they were sedated and recorded, the elephants were revived by injection in a ‘wake-up’ crates, and cattle prods are used to load them onto flatbed trucks for the day-long journey to their new home.
There is some risk and stress when anesthetizing and moving elephants over long distances, although the procedure has been successful in other parts of southern Africa, and most animals have adapted to the new environment if it is the same as their old one.
Bas Huijbregts, African species expert for the WWF conservation group, said the resettlement in Malawi is “a win-win for elephants and people” and is an example of wildlife management.
Africa Parks hopes the elephants in Malawi can eventually act as a ‘reservoir’ to restore other African elephant populations. One estimate says Africa has fewer than 500,000 elephants, down from several million a centuries ago.
Last week, Harry was in South Africa for an Aids conference in Durban, where he shared a platform with Sir Elton John. The prince regularly makes official and private visits to Africa – the continent where he was first introduced by his girlfriend Chelsy Davy, originally from Zimbabwe.