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Bushlife Safaris July 19, 2020

Collaring Boswell the Iconic Elephant Bull

Collaring for Conservation

In 2015, the team at Bushlife Safaris saw the need to collar the iconic elephant bulls of Mana Pools. At that time, these majestic elephants with their long tusks were being poached which was an awful loss to Mana Pools, and one that Nick and Desirée wanted to help stop. They set up the Bushlife Support Unit that year, as well as approached the Zimbabwe National Parks to start a collaring programme. The Zimbabwe National Parks agreed to the initiative and have been a committed partner from the beginning. The aim of the collaring is firstly to protect the animals as the collars act are a deterrent and to track the animals’ movements to determine possible human/wildlife conflict zones as well as territory size and population growth. The elephant collaring programme has been extended to painted wolves in the past few years, and now for the first time in 2020 collars have been put on large carnivores, including leopard, lion and hyena – blogs coming soon on these!

The elephants that have been collared in Mana Pools are Boswell, Fred, Tusker (Spike), Grumpy, Chitake, Bruce, Mrs Tusker and Lisa. In March and April of this year, both Boswell and Tusker lost their collars. The collars have a lifetime of about 2 years as they get some serious wear and tear, on the elephants in particular. When it is green season, the bush is exceptionally thick and it is thought these bulls followed the cows into the thick Jesse bush on the western side of Mana Pools and lost their collars there. Fred had also lost his collar, so the Zimbabwe National Parks team decided to re-collar these bulls. We filmed the collaring of Boswell – the full story below!

Collaring Boswell in 2020

The team searched for Boswell for 5 days, with 2 vehicles driving up to 60km in a small area to try and locate him. On day 5, the team were in a thickly wooded mopane area when Boswell appeared out of the bush (0.10 sec in the video) and walked straight up to the car as if to say, “Looking for me?!”

(0:45) Now that they had found him – or more like Boswell had found the team – everyone sprang into action. On a collaring expedition, every member of the team has a duty to perform and they know exactly when and what they must do in order for it to go as smoothly as possible.

(0.57) Once the team was ready to go, Nick darted Boswell with a tranquillizer when he was in a clearing away from all small sticks and tree. The tranquillizer takes a few minutes to work, (01:30) so Nick and the team start to cautiously walk up to Boswell carrying the collar. Nick carefully observes how the elephant is reacting to the tranquillizer, and once Boswell started to sit down, (02:00) Nick and the team quickly moved forward with the collar to put it on before Boswell gets to the ground. This is a learning that has comes with experience – once an elephant goes down, to manoeuvre the collar under their neck is an enormously difficult task – watch this video here!

Boswell collaring team 3
Boswell collaring team 2
Boswell collaring team 1

As soon as Boswell had gone down, (2:23) Nick moved his trunk straight to ensure he can breathe properly. Elephants have very slow breathing – only 7 breathes a minute, but this is carefully monitored during the collaring. Boswell’s eyes were covered first by his ear, and then with a blanket so that they do not get burnt by the sun. On a hot day, an elephant is also kept cool with buckets of water but during this collaring with Boswell, it was cool and cloudy. (2:38) As the team tightened the bolts on the collar, the veterinary team took blood samples, checked his feet, assessed his general health and carefully monitored his vital statistics.  We are sure that you noticed that Boswell has lost about 50cm of his right tusk. We think it is from fighting when he was in musth earlier in the year.

From the time of darting to standing up after the collar has been fitted, it only took 25minutes, which is very quick. Once the collar is secured, (2:55) another drug was administered to bring Boswell out of his slumber. As you can see, (3:52) Boswell gets up very easily and walks off without even checking his collar – he is used to it!

It was a privilege to assist the Zimbabwe National Parks team in their continued conservation work, and we hope Boswell, Tusker and Fred all wear their collars well for the next 2 years at least.

Boswell collaring team

From left to right:
Back Row: Abdul Pote ( Bushlife Safaris), Jed Murray.
Middle Row: Tait Murray, Augustine Malunga (Zimbabwe National Parks), Columbus Chatezvei (the lead veterinarian of Zimbabwe National Parks), Nick Murray,  Marvellous Moyo (Zimbabwe National Parks Ranger)
Front Row: Freedom Hlongwane (Bushlife Conservancy), Cain Finoza (Zimbabwe National Parks)

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