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Elephants rescued in Malawi

July 7, 2009 |  4:09 pm

Bull 2-S

In a mission completed over the weekend, wildlife activists plucked 83 elephants from the ground in Mangochi, Malawi, and drove their drugged bodies over 100 miles to the Majete Game Reserve. The effort cost an estimated $170,000 and required the use of a helicopter, a crane and two large flatbed trucks.

Subsistence farmers in Mangochi had been shooting or trapping the elephants to stop them from thundering through their villages and raiding crops. At least 20 people have been gored or trampled to death by elephants in the area in recent years, activists said.

"There's violence on both sides of this human-elephant conflict," said Chris Cutter, communications director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Cutter said elephants and people compete for water and other resources amid drought and food scarcity.

The international organization, which has completed similar projects in India and Kenya, paid for the effort using private donations from members in Europe and the United States.

The intervention began in May, when villagers were informed of the project. Dirt roads leading to the region had to be graded to accommodate the trucks that would transport the elephants. As the team drove the animals out of town starting last month, cheering villagers lined the roads, Cutter said.

Malawi, in southern Africa, is one of the world's poorest countries. In 2008, an estimated 12% of the adult population was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and less than half those infected were receiving antiretroviral therapy. The average per-capita income is $250 a year.

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: A tranquilized bull elephant is loaded onto a truck in Mangochi. Credit: Trevor Samson / IFAW (used with permission)