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IFAW: Epic rescue of around 60 elephants begins in Malawi

Rescuers have started evacuating the first of around 60 elephants persecuted in human-elephant conflict in the southern African country of Malawi, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) announced today.

"A group of nine elephants, including three young calves, have been successfully darted and tranquilised and are en route from Phirilongwe, just south of Lake Malawi to Majete Wildlife Reserve," Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW Director Southern Africa said.

The journey to Majete is expected to take around six hours.

Mr Bell-Leask added: "The capture team report that the start of this epic rescue to save the more than 60-strong Phirilongwe elephant herd got off to a smooth start this morning and IFAW fully anticipates that the capture of the remaining elephants will be equally hitch-free."

IFAW has partnered with the government of Malawi to rescue the animals which are at the centre of fierce human-elephant conflict in an area populated mostly by subsistence farmers just south of Lake Malawi.

"For years the herd has been maimed by local villagers, sometimes using appallingly cruel methods to protect their crops and granaries from raids by the elephants," said Bell-Leask.

"To bring this desperate situation into sharp focus, our team on the ground reports that one of the elephants darted this morning is missing the bottom portion of her trunk - probably as a result of a snare."

At least 10 people and numerous elephants have lost their lives in this conflict. The decision to translocate the elephants to a protected area is the only answer to a situation that would have seen the elephants culled through problem animal control if they were not moved.

IFAW said the Malawi government has taken an ethical, pragmatic approach to solving the dilemma of the Phirilongwe elephants by partnering with them to move the elephants to Majete Wildlife Reserve, which is formally protected and offers the elephants a safe, secure home for the long-term.

The capture and translocation of the elephants is being managed by a South African-based wildlife capture operation. The company specialises in the capture and translocation of large African mammals and is widely acknowledged for its expertise and ethical approach.

"This translocation project to move the Phirilongwe elephants represents a viable and long-term solution to a major conservation management problem and ultimately ensures the safety of both animals and people," said Bell-Leask.

"It is a reminder that throughout Africa and Asia, where conflicts between humans and elephants also arise, we must develop skilful and thoughtful approaches to human-elephant conflict to prevent these dangerous and deadly circumstances from arising."

IFAW said it remained dedicated to focusing on regional conservation efforts such as trans-boundary wildlife linkages to pre-empt human-wildlife conflict situations similar to that which has existed in Phirilongwe.

For more information on the translocation and on making a donation to support the move, please visit www.ifaw.org. Also, for frequent updates on the move, visit IFAW's Animal Rescue Blog at www.animalrescueblog.org.

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