His current role in this reserve is to not only educate the young bulls and take special care of the Orphans (the story of how he encouraged them to join him in this reserve is told a little later), he has sired 90% of the new elephant generation and is the protector of the whole herd. When he is around the elephant Matriarch, critical to the intricate network of social relationships within the herd, is relaxed – his size and wisdom has a settling effect in the whole elephant population at PGR.
Sadly, two years ago he was sold to a hunter.
In small reserves elephant management is challenging and although one of the land owner’s fulfilled his childhood dream by bringing elephants back to this reserve, he was under pressure to get rid of this magnificent elephant. This land owner became discouraged by the ongoing complaints of fellow land owners who were concerned that the elephant population was increasing to beyond the carrying capacity of this small reserve. The bulls were always blamed for habitat destruction but few recognize that elephants feed in a conservationary way that changes the landscape from thick thorny scrub to a more open landscape and thus create ecological systems that make life better for many animal, bird and plant species who make their homes and feed from vegetation they can now access and pioneer grasses are able to reproduce under the protective shade of toppled trees. Many also do not recognize these important cycles of change in habitats are beneficial over time. Recent research has also indicated that undulates – buck species, are more responsible for habitat degradation than elephants, because they eat the little shoots that never get to grow into larger trees. Their actions are less visible to the untrained eye.
The hunter decided not to hunt Ngani immediately he was purchased as he was not ‘big’ enough for a trophy. In his wisdom and defence Ngani engaged in some sort of fight or activity that led to the loss of the majority of his right tusk.
The owner was worried that Ngani’s right tusk may become infected and an exposed nerve would lead to aggressive behavior, or that Ngani would make use of his ‘good left tusk’ too much and cause a break in the latter, too. This would mean that his value as a trophy would be affected. The hunter halved the amount he was willing to pay for Ngani because he now only had one tusk.
As the breakage in Ngani’s tusk in no way changed his character, the owner wanted to keep Ngani alive. The plea to the hunter for Ngani to be re-purchased was strongly endorsed by Space for Elephants, the researcher in the reserve and an Ecopsychologist who had researched the mothering behavior of these elephants.
Ngani is quite a character with a big heart and lots of courage. When he first arrived at Pongola Game Reserve he followed Douw and Joachen around, as young elephant bulls do – to learn from their elders. This is one of the significant roles Ngani now fulfills at Pongola Game Reserve, having sired many of the new elephant arrivals over the last 13 years; he passes on his wisdom teaching the younger bulls about how to behave and where to feed.
Unfortunately one of his earlier mentor’s, Douw was killed on the train line and his other mentor, Joachen, almost lead him astray. Joachen broke out of Pongola Game Reserve, with Ngani initially in tow, not too long after their arrival because none of the ladies there were in estrous and Joachen was bulging with musth-full testosterone.
Joachen was not used to the fences man put up to protect his habitat. He was used to the wider spaces that he roamed at the Kruger National Park. Unfortunately his inexperience led to his demise as he had eaten a few crops and caused some havoc amongst his human neighbours. A permit was issued by Kwa-Zulu Natal Parks Board for him to be shot. Ngani, was not in musth, but curious. He did not continue to follow Joachen after they both broke out, but went on his own adventure. He visited the ‘Orphans’ who lived forty kilometers from PGR at a reserve called Milimani (now known as Somkhanda). There were four adolescent elephant cows in the Orphan herd, which were later named Charm, Constant, Charisma and Curve and one adolescent elephant bull, later named Tusker. They were orphaned as three to five year old youngsters during a big elephant cull that took place at Kruger National Park in the late 1980’s. The cull happened because humans thought there were too many elephants living there. Charm, Charisma, Constant, Curve and Tusker watched as their mother, aunts and older siblings were shot.
We are not sure what communication went on between Ngani and the Orphans after he left to return to PGR, but we believe that because of his big heart he encouraged them to join him at PGR where there was plenty of food and water, and more importantly where they could learn from and become a part of the two elephant families who already lived there. Ngani in his wisdom knew that the Orphan ladies were about to become capable of calf-bearing. Maybe he had other more naughty thoughts as well?
As a result of Ngani’s visit and his ongoing communication with the small Orphan Herd, fifteen months after his visit, they walked into Pongola Game Reserve along the same route he had left to visit them. He was at the fence to meet them and they broke in.
Ngani’s connection with the Orphans highlights human – elephant conflict issues: when man builds fences elephants have to live with constraints that inhibit their natural lifestyles. If they break out, their neighbours feel threatened and if they don’t, the land owners where they live complain that they are degrading the natural habitat and minimizing certain other indigenous species of flora and fauna. Thus Ngani became the inspiration and icon for Space for Elephants (please see website for more info about SEF: http://www.space4elephants.org/), an organization that tries to work with land owners and neighbours to ‘drop their fences’ so that land can be linked and elephants can walk their natural pathways again. The gift of the elephant species in our modern day lifestyles is to link us – to each other and to former lifestyles where animals and humans lived side-by-side respectful of our essential interdependence. Space for Elephants are active in trying to extend the space the elephants enjoy at PGR to include a further 17,000 hectares of land in the Pongola Poort area. The ultimate aim is to link Pongola Game Reserve to Mkhuze Game Reserve, a distance of 65 kilometers. It would be wonderful to have a Pongola / Lebombo / Mkhuze Peace Park.
Ngani as the dominant bull at PGR has grown in stature. His ongoing life is critically interlinked with the mentorship and protection of the elephant population of Pongola Game Reserve, but he has a greater voice to link people so that space is created for elephants to roam their natural pathways again. As human populations increase and wilderness places are encroached by human habitation and activity, it is essential to hear the voice of Ngani, so that all species on our earth can live together in harmony as we used to do. Ngani reflects the voice of Mandela who said at the recent opening of another shared space where animals and humans live together across international boundaries, at the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Park, ‘I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it in fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all. In a world beset by conflicts and division peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in the process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world.” (Cape Times, Monday 22nd August, 2011).
If we do not have the monies available by 16th September, 2011 to repurchase Ngani the hunter will arrive to hunt him on 17th October 2011.
The people who know and love Ngani also realize that no price would ever come near to his actual worth: his wisdom, his mentorship abilities and his actions in the past have made this very clear. He has taught us humans so much, including compassion. His death would devastate not only the herds of the Reserve but also anybody with knowledge of elephants and their importance!
Even though we feel that the hunter is exploiting the situation by asking for the very high price mentioned, we need to save him and therefore require this funding.
If you are willing to contribute there are several places where you can place the funding:
Save SGR Elephants (SGR = Small Game Reserve)
Account no. 62326189364
Branch code: 250655
International Swift Code: FIRNZAJJ(XXX)
Space for Elephants Foundation
ABSA bank Pongola
Branch Code: 334-724
Account No: 4055718662
Whichever option you choose please will send an indication of your payment to Mandy Young at firstname.lastname@example.org, who you are and your reasons for contribution so that I can respond to your generosity.
Please would you also indicate whether you would like your money return if enough is raised for Ngani’s repayment over and above your contribution, or whether you are willing for this funding to be used for a Documentary that details the challenges of Elephant Management in Small Game Reserves. Through this Documentary we would like to:
1. Tell the stories of these special elephants to raise awareness that elephants have a sense of who they are, intricate social relationships and they feel.
2. Hear the voices of all the land owners in the hope that the elephants would work their magic which is to not only to link land through Space for Elephants so that they can work their ancient pathways again, but also connect these land owners with a similar vision to live together and to live interdependently with nature that surrounds them.
3. Hear the voices of the experts:
a. Gay Bradshaw – author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach us about Humanity
c. Digs Pascoe – chair person of Space for Elephants
d. Audrey Delsink Kettles and Heike Zitzer– specialist and researcher respectively of Elephant Management and Contraception.
e. Bruce Page and Wayne Mathews – Ecologists, Researchers and Elephant Behavior Specialists.
f. Mandy Young – EcoPsychologist with research expertise with animals with social
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