On July 15 2009 Mthondo, a 36-year-old male elephant, was released from Abu Camp’s captive herd into the wild. This release is a vital part of the original vision of the Abu Concession and Elephant Back Safaris (EBS) to return elephants that have spent much of their lives in captivity, back into the African wild. As a result, over the last four years, five elephants from the Abu Camp riding herd have been released into the Okavango Delta wilderness area with the cooperation of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Mthondo, the latest to be released, is a magnificently-proportioned bull with a broad head and splayed tusks. Born in Zimbabwe in 1975, he was transferred to Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa where he missed the parental guidance and control that adolescent elephants require. He joined the Abu herd in 1993 and under Abu’s firm guidance, developed into a quiet and dependable adult.
Abu Camp is unique in that it allows guests to interact with the resident elephant herd, meeting each individual and learning about their complex behavior, while Seba Camp is the base of the elephant research project that includes the release program.
The research is being carried out by Dr. Kate Evans of the Mammal Research Unit of the School of Biological Science at the University of Bristol in the UK and her assistants. Sponsored by Randall Moore, Kate completed her PhD based on the research – work that will help the Botswana government in its management of the country’s 110,000 elephants, the largest remaining elephant population in the world. The research is focused on adolescent male elephants and the transition from herd to bull life with an emphasis on research into the viability of releasing elephants into the wild from a captive environment.
All the released elephants have been fitted with collars and are being tracked by satellite, enabling the researchers to pinpoint their exact locations three times a day. The tracking is backed up by on-the-ground monitoring and observation of their behavior. Mthondo now joins these animals in being monitored; so far he was recorded as heading north of his release site and clearly enjoying his newfound freedom.