Wildlife Team Moves 13 Elephants That Threatened Village

"You can't capture elephants without a plan."

elephant tranquilized for rescue

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When wildlife biologist Forrest Galante heard about a huge bull elephant that was threatening a village in Mozambique, he got more than he planned when he offered to help. He found more than a dozen elephants that were endangering local people and their homes.

He recruited dozens of experts to help capture and relocate them for the safety of the villagers and the animals. Using two semitrucks, three helicopters, and many tractors and land cruisers, the team performed what is believed to be the largest elephant translocation in the country’s history.

Galante filmed the risky operation and documented it in his new series “Mysterious Creatures with Forrest Galante,” streaming on Discovery+.

Galante talked to Treehugger about how the operation unfolded and all the steps in such a massive relocation.

Treehugger: What were you expecting when you heard about an enormous bull elephant damaging a village? Did you originally think the animal might be injured?

Forrest Galante: Well, truthfully we were expecting AN elephant, what we weren’t expecting was an entire family herd, which posed its own enormous set of logistical nightmares, as you do not want to separate a family herd as elephants are such emotional creatures. There was no doubt that some of the animals were likely to be injured in their ongoing conflict with the local communities. 

What happened when you realized that it wasn’t just one elephant, but an entire herd?

It’s hard enough capturing one elephant or finding a place to put one, but a full herd is a mammoth-sized (pun intended) ask.

How important was it to find a safe place to relocate the elephants before you planned the operation?

Extremely. You can’t capture elephants without a plan. The animal can only be sedated for a limited time frame and without a safe place to translocate them to, the entire process is pointless. So ensuring that they had a good and SAFE environment to move to was critical. Further to that, knowing that Zinave National Park needed elephants to balance the ecology of the environment was a “win-win” all around. 

elephant being rescued by crane

Phantastics Pictures

The mission included 10 trucks, two cranes, three helicopters, and dozens of experts. Did you ever think it wouldn’t work? What were some of the most fulfilling and harrowing moments?

I wouldn’t say we ever thought that it wasn’t going to work; we knew we would have to just keep going until the mission was accomplished. I think the bigger fear was killing an elephant, separating a mother from a calf, losing track of a part of the group, or even injuring our own personnel, all which are very real risks when undertaking a translocation of this magnitude. Fortunately, everything worked out, but the stress level was unbelievably high!

The relocation was stressful for the animals, but why was it the best solution?

There was no other solution. It’s either relocation or death in that situation. It was made clear to us that the elephants would be eradicated if we were not to move them, due to the harm and destruction they were causing to the local community. Now, the animals live human-free in a massive national park with far more resources, less competition, and no people constantly harassing them. 

When you tranquilized the elephants, you saw that some had bullet and snare wounds. How hard is it for both the animals and people when there is a human-wildlife conflict like this?

I think the question is also the answer here. Both people and animals are suffering in a conflict scenario like this. The people feel uneasy and in danger constantly; they try to react and further the problem causing stress and injury to the animals that then are more dangerous to the people. It’s a vicious negative feedback loop that is very difficult to break. Ultimately the animals always end up losing, but no one wins. 

Forrest Galante

Phantastics Pictures

This was the largest operation of your career. But what other missions have you undertaken to save wildlife?

This is a lengthy list, from a young age, I’ve been rescuing wildlife. In recent years, we have saved several species from extinction, captured multiple man-eating crocodiles, discovered new populations of presumed lost animals, relocated problem bears, brought awareness to dwindling wolf populations, and much, much more. Ultimately, the goal is to just spread awareness so that missions like this elephant rescue won’t need to be performed in the future.