Arrival, Release and a Stampede
PhotographyMargaret Lansdown
Date15 Jul 2021
Arrival, Release and a Stampede

After the meticulous planning for the re-location, the day had finally arrived when the giraffes would experience their new home, albeit in a holding boma until ready to be released into the reserve. The exit to this boma, out of which giraffes would eventually move when they were released, had to be facing in the direction Ted an Andrew wanted them to go. Because, according to Tol Pienaar - the direction the giraffes come out of the boma is the direction in which they would continue. Without this information, it would have been tempting to use the entrance as the exit, which would have sent the giraffes straight back the the Transvaal - at a time when the border fencing was not as formidable as it is now. 

On arrival at Tuli the offloading went without incident and the giraffes, having not eaten or drunk for 36 hours, went straight to the water trough and drank deeply, thereby ingesting the local bacteria which had been placed there by Andrew (see previous episode).

The giraffes were kept in the boma for 30 days to allow acclimatisation to their new area. This is so they could get used to the new sights, sounds and smells, particularly as they had come from an area where there were no carnivores. The biggest threat to the animals at the time of their release into the boma is panic where they could stampede, fall, and hurt themselves or, in a state of panic become easy prey for lions. Secondly, they needed to get used to local vegetation which, to everyone's relief, was not an issue as they took to it immediately. 

During the acclimatisation period, Andrew set up a workstation right next to the giraffe boma, armed with cans of spray paint in different colours. Whenever a giraffe came close enough to a gap in the hessian around the boma, he would spray it on the rump until each one had a different colour. He then took head and neck photos of each, from which he produced a catalogue of each giraffe. Copies were given to each game scout, which enabled them to know which giraffe they were seeing to avoid duplication in counting and to help identify any that were missing. 

Before releasing the giraffes, Ted and Andrew were told to wait 30 days or until 50mm of rain had fallen in a relatively short space of time to make sure the Acacias were in full leaf. Throughout the 30 days, there were days of drought where they had visions of keeping the giraffes in the boma for years. Much to the delight of all involved in the project, exactly on the 30th day of acclimatisation about 50mm of rain fell. On the 32nd day, the fourteen giraffes (one having died after the arduous journey, and one having been off loaded at a farm en-route as it was 'kicking up a storm' in the truck) were ready to be released. On opening the boma's exit gate, everyone gathered to watch this historic event unfold before adjourning to a nearby house for a welcome cup of tea. 

Suddenly, the thundering of approaching hooves was heard and the giraffes were galloping past both sides of the house. They took off, exactly as predicted by Tol, in the same direction they came out of the boma. The team took off in vehicles to try and keep tabs on how the new residents progressed. Thankfully, none of them fell and they eventually stopped 3/4km north of the Limpopo where the release team were able to observe them through binoculars. By the late afternoon, they had settled down in the region, north of Mashatu Vlei, seemingly none the worse for wear after the excitement of the stampede. 

Overall, it was a successful translocation. This was due to the excellent expert advice from all team members that made the translocation happen. This project had the backing of all landowners and created a bonding effect as it demonstrated visible benefits from supporting communal conservation projects. 

The following year another eight giraffes rom Lang Jan Reserve in South Africa arrived, introducing a good mix of genes which appears to avoid inbreeding. The translocation was done with the same acclimatisation process, releasing without the loss of casualties. The South African heritage animals are much darker in comparison to the Namibian heritage animals but socially became thoroughly integrated. 

In the 2017 aerial census, 690 giraffes were identified. Bearing in mind 22 were originally released this was a major conservation achievement. 

We think all readers will agree that Ted Steyn was an exceptional man - a visionary with the focus, pragmatism and dedication that enabled his vision to become a reality, ably assisted by Andrew McKenzie and all the re-location team. Because of this remarkably successful conservation project, Notugre is much enhanced by the return of these magnificent creatures.