Thandora’s Diary-Gondwana Game Reserve

March 9, 2013

Thursday, 13 June

This is probably one of the hardest things I have ever written, but covered in blankets and and under the touching hands of  Gondwana’s wildlife team Thandora tragically passed away in the early hours of this morning. We were alerted to her being relatively uncomfortable and struggling to stand up late on Tuesday evening. At 11:30pm, with what was thought to be another acute case of colic, the wildlife team managed to bring her to her feet and walked her slowly to the closest water source. After what was initially very encouraging movement she lay down at about 6am Wednesday morning and was unable to get back up again…

We were able to provide medical attention to her first thing on Wednesday morning where she immediately was put onto fluids and treated with several medications as her condition was yet unknown. Through the course of the day and multiple trips back and forth to Mossel Bay running blood tests and stocking up on litres upon litres of fluids no definite prognosis could be made except for an inclination towards a condition called botulism. Botulism is an exceptionally rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by a bacteria the bacterium which is ingested. This is even more uncommon in elephants but has been recorded in a few incidents on other game reserves in South Africa. An autopsy has been completed this morning and we are getting clarity on exactly what the cause was.

It has been an exceptionally emotional 48 hours and there is an eerie silence over Gondwana today. I am struggling how to process this as if it is botulism then why did this freakish incident happen to the bravest and most charismatic animal I have ever known. Trying to look at it from a different angle to somehow find the good in this situation – we can say that Thandora died in the wild as a free roaming elephant.

What she has proven is that this can be done – a captive elephant can transition into the wild – and she has shown us that almost anything is possible.  It was only a stroke of complete misfortune that ended her journey. We are going to use all these lessons learnt from this historical event to continue the process of releasing more captive elephants into the wild. We owe it to Thandora and to all the people that dedicated themselves and cared for her over the past few months and those that facilitated her relocation – not to stop here but to continue the legacy of this amazing animal.

Thandora, we miss you already.

Mark Rutherfoord

Director – Gondwana Game Reserve


Friday, 7 June

If Thandora had entered the Comrades Marathon, I’m relatively sure she would have received a medal. For an animal that is not accustomed to space, she sure knows that there is lots of exploring to be done, and that is exactly what she has been doing.  Thandora has been left to her own devices. She is currently discovering all that Gondwana has to offer, from investigating the hippos to dismantling infrastructure. Thandora has shown a preference for one of the older bull elephants. They often spend a few days together before parting ways.

If we look back at how far Thandora has come and how she has progressed: From a pumpkin-loving, companion craving,  captive elephant, to an independent liberated wild animal.

Elephants  formed an  integral component of lowland Fynbos ecology. To imagine there were an estimated 3000 Thandora look alikes occupying the Western Cape prior to the onset of colonisation. Early explorers described the large herds of elephants that they encountered near Mossel Bay. The presence of such mega fauna resulting in severe hunting pressure along the Garden Route. The area known as Outeniqualand was nearly eradicated of elephants with only few remnants  that took cover in the dark forests around Kynsna. It is unsure as to how many of these forest dwelling elephants survived but it was believed to be about 5 individuals.

Conservation perceptions and actions have dramatically been altered with time. Areas such as Gondwana have been set aside for species conservation such as elephant. As Gondwana grows, it provides what animals need most, space.


Thursday, 23 May

It’s Happened!!!

We are ecstatic to announce that Thandora has joined up with the Bull Elephants on Gondwana. She has been walking and foraging with them for the past four days.

After a month of 24-hour monitoring, Gondwana’s wildlife department believes Thandora is both safe and comfortable walking with her new herd.  She will now be monitored sporadically on a daily basis.

One can imagine how much speculation and questioning there has been through this process, as Thandora took time to engage with our wild elephants.        We constantly had to consider various behavior scenarios as we mobilized Thandora to try to join her up with the cows and their baby.  This was a learning experience for all and the results hopefully will be used for future, similar, relocations and introductions.

Did we think that the bulls were going to be the ones to walk her away from her beloved Land Rover? No, but that is in fact what happened despite our continual efforts to join her up with the cows and their elephant calf who are currently walking separately from the bulls on the reserve. She obviously felt more confident and secure with the bulls for whatever reason that enabled her not to come back to the Land Rover and the human contact inside it.

The meeting with the bulls happened by chance.  Last Saturday while guiding Thandora to where the cows had been foraging overnight the Bulls appeared out of nowhere. Thandora casually moved away from the vehicle towards them and after an hour did not return. Our surveillance vehicle had not been more then 200m away from her but she showed very little interest in it at all.  Testing her bond the surveillance vehicle left her for hours at a time and would return to her happily grazing and browsing with the herd and little concern of the missing Land Rover.  After 2 days of this independent behavior, we started to allow guests in Game viewers to view them all together at an appropriate distance. If Thandora showed interest in the game viewer the field guide would slowly move off and she would happily return to her new herd.

This has been an amazing journey of one of the bravest animals I have ever come to know and the most dedicated team of people I have ever worked with. We still have a long way to go with Thandora but each and every little milestone that we achieve motivates the team to continue. I would like to give a special thanks to John Vogel, Taylor Hawkins, and Greg Vogt for their perseverance and care.

Mark Rutherfoord, Director, Gondwana Game Reserve

Thandora and bully

Monday, 13 May

I need to constantly remind myself that Thandora is an elephant. A 3 and a half ton pachyderm designed to be wild, and free.  As I struggle to protect my lunch from her coarse cobra like trunk  sporadically covered in fine black hairs ,she cautiously retracts her limb and decides that ham and cheese sandwiches are not worth any conflict . She looks at me with much disgust and sulks off into a nearby thicket. I try convince myself  that elephants don’t eat ham and cheese. As a blanket of guilt cascades on my conscious,  on cue she stomps out of the bushes, and like a gold fish cannot remember what our feud was about. She is hauling half a shrub with her. Leaves and branches wedged between her worn down ivory and trunk. I lose all sense of culpability.

The last rays of sun have vanished and the temperature drops instantaneously. The distinctive scream of a fiery necked nightjar resonates somewhere in the darkness. Thandora,  like a young child is vigilant of the black that has fallen upon us. She approaches the Landrover seeking comfort in the metal mass. Thandora has an amazing ability to recognise individuals. She has formed different relationships with us all by interacting and behaving  uniquely with each. She makes you feel special:)

After Thandora’s colic experience, we have remained with her in a section of the reserve where we continually monitor her.  We are trying hard to gradually encourage her to accept the Gondwana cow herd. They have met up on several occasions and she is showing more interest in them as she becomes more comfortable with the situation. The cow herd travel vast distances and by dawn will most likely be somewhere unknown to us. We optimise on each and every meeting with them by providing her the opportunity to familiarise and form a relationship with her new family, that of her own model and design.- John Vogel, Gondwana Wildlife Manager.

Wednesday, 8 May

While the world watched Thandora’s historical translocation on Sunday night on Carte Blanche the Gondwana Wildlife team worked through the night comforting Thandora through a severe case of colic. At about noon on Sunday Thandora started to show signs of discomfort and uncharacteristically went to lie down. She remained in a static place for an extended period of time and no matter how much encouragement was given, she did not want to move. The Gondwana team did what they could to keep her cool and comfortable. She showed all the sign of colic by stretching out her back legs, biting on her trunk, gridning her teath and swaying her head back and forth. The team worked with her and kept water close on standby. Dr Brendan Tindall was continuously on the phone and talked them through it. At about 8pm just after the Carte Blanche show had finished she stood up and started drinking and moving around. By 9pm, still with her back legs being stretched out behind her, the team managed to get her walking around which was important. She drank more and started to feed more consistently. By about 10pm she was fully recovered but still a bit sensitive and by Monday morning she was 100% and up to her old antics again.

Thandora has made tremendous strides over the past few weeks however we knew that it would not always be easy for her. This incident was all part of her transition and by her getting through this it has just made her a stronger elephant. Her diet transition was one of the most important aspects of her reintroduction and over the past 10 weeks we have been slowly weaning her off the food that she had at the zoo and is now completely on vegetation that she forages on her own.

Since Sunday she has shown no signs of colic and is looking as strong as ever. On Monday afternoon she walked over 6km in two hours and looked fit and healthy.

We would like to thank John Vogel, Gondwana’s wildlife manager and Tayla Hawkins for the dedicated hours they put in to help Thandora on Sunday.

Gondwana’s entire team has rallied around Thandora and everyone is doing their bit to contribute to this historic event. From our dedicated wildlife team and Conservation global, to Theo Kluits our head of security who was with her overnight on Monday to the lodge staff, who arrive in the middle of the night to ensure the team with Thandora had hot coffee and sandwiches.

Thandora is being monitored 24 hours a day and to achieve this everyone contributes in some way or another. We are very proud of you all.


Thursday, 2 May

23h22: At this very moment it is pitch dark outside. The two bulls have discovered Thandora beside my  vehicle and they are all moving around ever so silently.

This all began about twenty minutes ago. When I discovered that I was forgetting to breath, of thought I would write a blog for you guys to take my mind off the tension.

These bulls are huge and they dwarf this vehicle and Thandora. They move so silently. All I hear is their skin rubbing together. The moon is not out yet, however when they come past my vehicle I can’t see their white tusks. I have given up trying to work out what is happening outside. I hear the rustling of thorns; that must be one of the bulls grazing on acacia. Thandora has finally relaxed and is grabbing at grass.

They seemed to have given up on smelling one another – eating has taken priority.

There are no words to describe what it feels to be part of this encounter. I cannot help wondering whether it will take as many to settle the elephant score here at Gondwana? Well based on the fact that an elephant is leaning against the car right now, that means that Thandora is to shy to go out and browse with them! Who knows, the slow approach might just work. My nerves are still in a knott as the car is bumped from time to time, by whom, I have no idea? I can’t tell you though that every muscle in my body is aching from the tension.

I am sure it is going to be a long night at then Hidden Dam on Gondwana. – Greg Vogt, Conservation Global

Wednesday, 1 May 

The Gondwana team had given me a location on  the females when I took over duty from John, just after five pm on Tuesday. Looking surprisingly fresh for someone who had been with Thandora for an entire evening and the better part of the day, John explained to me where they thought the females were.

We started our slow march towards the spot through breathtaking fynbos fields. I stopped on a high point with magnificent vistas highlighted by the brewing sunset that was promising to be fierce-red.

Thinking I had time for a photo session, I leaned over to get my camera, only to witness two huge shapes bearing down on us.

How foolish had I been. Thandora had assumed the, “females are very close” pose, right next to my vehicle, whilst I was taking pictures like a tourist.

I noticed this but thought she was just tired from the long walk that day.

Their large shapes consumed my vehicle and another interaction began. It is really amazing to witness these interactions, but they get scary when Bonnie loses interest in Thandora and begins testing the car. Those who know me well will laugh when I say, you just have to sit still and keep quiet.

I sat dead still. The interaction was one of cat and mouse. If the girls approached her she would back off, then they would begin grazing  and she would edge closer, almost saying, “I want to be closer to you guys”.

I called Mark and John, speaking in soft tones I explained what was going on. We agreed that if they moved her off the vehicle, as they had done before, I should leave them be. They did exactly that, they moved her off my vehicle, by each taking a side and edged her into the fynbos field.

They disappeared into the pitch black moonless night. I waited for a half an hour in the silence of the night before moving away as agreed.

It was so difficult having to just ‘ trust’. At sunrise today, Mike and I headed off to look for her. We picked up the calves tracks very close to the villas and later we found more tracks of the group, moving towards the villas. We found Thandora close to a villa that was being built. She was alone…

There was enough evidence to show that she had been with them for most of the evening and this is encouraging enough for us to simply stick to the plan of keeping up with following the females and letting them meet. Only this time, we will try to engineer the meetings during the day.

It is just so amazing that these huge creatures can appear and disappear so quickly.

Whilst we wait for a location on the females, Thandora is grazing about fifty metres from the Vehicle. If she approaches the vehicle, I simply back away quietly, and do not provide her any positive stimulus to make another approach again.  She is now spending more time browsing and grazing like a wild elephant, and has almost lost al her zoo personality characteristics.

Now we just persist with the plan. – Greg Vogt, Conservation Global.

Thandora in the wildThandora 1 May

Monday, 29 April

Whilst the rest of the world was doing what they do on a Saturday night, I was preparing to spend the next two nights with Thandora. The sun was about

to set and I could not help thinking that I was the only person in the world about to baby-sit a thirty year old female elephant in the wild.

I had last seen her on Wednesday evening and was interested to see what new nuances she had developed since then. The evening approached quickly and I

could not help notice how loud the evening sounds are….. You can close your eyes and try to hear how I judge what Thandora is doing at night. It was the change in the sounds of what she was doing that alerted me to the fact that she was disturbed. Heavy rumbling ensued and she came close to the vehicle adopting behaviour we witnessed when seeing the female group.

Crackling in the distance was evidence that an elephant was in the vicinity, however judging distance at night is difficult. The last time she exhibited these behaviours the cows were about 250 m from her. Thandora then disappeared into the nearby thicket. At that moment my cell phone bleeped ………., yes, contact with the world. It is so strange how one gets signal in a square meter of space in the middle of nowhere – this is just what I needed. I messaged John, hoping he would be available: “John, where were the cows last seen?” The conversation began.

We worked through various scenarios trying to work out whether it was a bull or whether it could have been the cows. The outcome was that they were most likely the cows who had come down from the valley for a visit. Thandora seemed more open to interacting with them vocally and they rumbled to eachother for almost a half an hour. Then everything went silent at 9pm. It was over, they left.

I was encouraged by the interest that Thandora is showing in the cows now. She is also spending more time away from the vehicle exploring, grazing and browsing selectively. Just before sunset on Sunday evening she came upon a Hare. The bold little fella hopped right past her and it was hilarious to watch her reaction. This was excellent practice because there were bigger visitors to come. With light disappearing fast I saw the female Rhino appear!

Message to Mark: “Mark, does Thandora bonding with the female Rhino count?” A joke made in jest, however, one that could pan out….

Thandora certainly showed interest in the Rhino cow, however the Rhino cow was not sticking around and moved off after a few minutes.

The Thandora mission continues as the team strives to get her to lock with the female herd and stay with them. We are patient and we realize that after twenty three+ years in a zoo, she needs us to be patient with her.

Thandora with Blanket on her head

Thursday, 25 April 2013

After displaying much interest in Thandora, the elephant cow herd has moved into a remote section of the reserve. The rugged terrain has made it rather difficult to locate them. Thandora is currently in a valley where there is abundant water, optimal feeding and a good possibility that the herd will enter the valley again. At the moment we are trying to locate the herd and once this happens, we will try to encourage interaction between the animals again. – John Vogel, Gondwana Wildlife Manager

Thandora on her stroll to freedom

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

07h54 Relationships are hard work. Female relationships are of such a nature that one should not try to understand their ecology, but rather just accept what comes from the dynamics they present.

Late yesterday afternoon, the two female elephants, Thambile and Bonnie, decided they would get over their ‘ moment’ they had the other night and be more acepting of Thandora. As good hosts should, they took the time to find her and extend a trunk of friendship.

They made such an effort that it was easy to forgive them for their unwelcoming attitude  the day before. Now it was Thandoras turn to have issues. The moment was clearly to big for her and she hugged her security blanket (the vehicle that has been escorting her) for comfort. The moments that followed  will probably rate as one of the most significant in their wildlife encounters. Two resident females from Gondwana, dropping in to welcome Thandora with their baby calf in tow, greetings in all the elephant ways possible, across a vehicle rather than over the garden fence.

The encounter was electric, broken from time to time with pauses for baby to drink. Now this brings me back to female relationships. So often during student trips females are always willing to share the ‘only’ double bed available. Guys would never do this and would  rather opt  for sleeping on the floor. Well, during a pause in the lengthy greetings Bonnie allowed Thambiles young calf to suckle from her, a gesture that is just so woman. Baby calf promptly went over to Mum later for a comfort suck.

Whilst Thandora remains shy, keeping to her human blanket, she remains close to her human comfort blanket, however shows interest in the friendly neighbours. The greetings continued into the early hours of the morning whilst we all covered distance moving to the places the females want to be.

The morning sun is rising, putting a close to the antics of an electric evening of female displays of greetings.

Thandora has found a place to rest in a beautiful valley, as I contemplate the gift of being with this group in this magical space. The cows have moved off and we will keep vigile over Thandora until their next meeting – Greg Vogt , Conservation Global

female encounterThandora female encounterFemale greeting of ThandoraThandora's Comfort Blanket

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

“This is a dynamic we face daily. Woman are incredibly compassionate. They care, nurture and love, so how difficult can this be? We simply have to bring one woman who has had a tough life to another two who have shared similar lives but now occupy this piece of paradise called Gondwana.
But, we all know that in the book That explains which planet men and woman are from. Us men learn that  woman can be Very Very dnbb ifficult at times. I mean, where was the love last night when Thandora met the girls and their baby. A simple Hi- welcome to Gondwana would have been great. But NO, Big issues…..”who is this chick with The Ear” in our turf.
Now I will retain my faith in the opposite sex, hoping the two girls have a chat about this, remember where they came from, and find that compassion and love that makes them so special…… lets hope a meeting takes place today and that the the  girls show some love….. “- Greg Vogt, Conservation Global.

14h00 -The Wildlife team and Thandora are about 400m from the Herd. Thandora is smelling the air and rumbling. (communicating) In between Rumbling she enjoys some bottled water from John Vogel – still a Diva:)

 Thandora drinking bottled water

Monday, 22 April 2013

Thandora was released from her boma this afternoon. She was reluctant at first as this has been her home for almost 2 months, but eventually she slowly made her way out. She has now traveled about 2km while grazing and drinking. She is progressing very nicely and is slowly being guided down into the valley where the other elephant cows are with their young. This is an amazing moment for both Thandora, Gondwana and all involved. We are looking forward to watching her enjoy her new found freedom. Stay posted for more updates.

Thandora Free on Gondwana Thandora free on Gondwana Game ReserveThandora exploring Gondwana Game ReserveThandora saying hi to Gondwana wildlife team

21h09: Thandora met the girls after a day of hard work walking from the boma towards an area the other female elephants have been feeding in.
They met in the dark. lots of trumpeting and trees crashing. She has not followed them and is currently sleeping beside the vehicle as we keep watch over her. Tomorrow morning we will move her in their direction again, in the hope that they can meet again.

Between grazing Thandora has been sleeping up against the vehicle.

Thandora sleeping up against vehicleThandora grazing near the vehicle

Friday, 5 April 2013.

See below Thandora’s behaviour report to date:

Thandora's Behaviour_Page_1Thandora's Behaviour_Page_2Thandora's Behaviour_Page_3

Monday, 1 April 2013

Whilst most people were celebrating Easter Sunday, I had the pleasure of observing Thandora.  Spending 24 hours doing duty involves conducting what we call activity budgets on her. This basically means that we count behaviours and through a complex program, we are able to evaluate the change in her behaviours over time. Zoo animals tend to stand for a long time in one spot, exhibit what we call stereotypic behaviour and they tend to wait for their food rather than ‘work’ for their food.
Our mission is to get Thandora to exhibit as many natural behaviours as possible and our success at achieving this is measured through conducting activity budgets.
Sunday was extremely misty and wet and it was exciting to see her using the thicket to protect herself from the wind and rain. One of our objectives is to get her to utilize as much of the space available to her as possible. She is also using the thicket to scratch her back, another exciting discovery.

Lay people who witnessed  her coming in, all commented on her skin. A quick scan of her environment at the zoo shows that she could never really scratch the top of her back. It was wonderful observing her scratching her sides using a huge branch that she had broken off. The Afrikaans expression, “…sy het so lekker gekry …” really describes that amazing feeling when your back scratcher really hits the right spot. Watching an elephant scratch is hilarious, especially when she starts bending her body to get ‘the spot’.

Being with Thandora is always a highlight for me. This Sunday I spent the night with her (I slept in the observation vehicle) to assess her evening activities. My Easter Greeting was so much more than I expected. Just before sunrise I heard the hippo grunting and they waltzed right pass me, probably on their way back to their water hole. Then I heard some other strange noises. A lion pride with cubs came bounding past. I dived for my camera and was able to get a few pics (under very trying circumstances). They all walked right past me. What a gift.

Then out of the thicket the huge shape of Bully emerged for the third time since our observations. This time, in typical male fashion, he was not really interested in Thandora, but her Lucerne stash. I thought this might be a good thing because it provides Thandora with a less threatening encounter, with the huge bull working out how he could get the Lucerne rather than focusing his attentions on lady Thandora.

So in summary, our friend Thandora is becoming more of an elephant as each week goes by. Today four weeks ago, she arrived at Gondwana.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Bully visiting Thandora

Bully one of our elephant bulls visiting Thandora at her boma! This is the second brief visit in the last 24 hours.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Thandora's trunk - Gondwana Game ReserveLions Visiting Thandora at Gondwana Game Reserve

This 4 ton pachyderm has been surprising us on a daily basis. We have gradually been reducing the amount of feed that is not naturally part of a wild elephants diet and increasing the amount of indigenous foliage. Thandora was initially uncertain how to feed on branches, but has rapidly adopted various methods to remove the foliage off the branches. The use of her trunk is instrumental in optimizing feed intake. She is starting to use tools such as her trunk and tusks more and more often. She is gaining the ability to make powerful twisting and coiling movements in the grass that allows her to collect food. Thandora is rapidly starting to display natural wild elephant feeding behavior. She is adapting so well and we are very proud of her. Lions and their cubs have been regular visitors to Thandora’s boma.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Thandora browsingThandora at her waterhole

Only a mother really understands the relief and depth in the words, “She slept through the night!”
Well, technically speaking, Thandora slept through Thursday night. It was so beautiful to experience her find her first level of comfort at Gondwana.
I knew she was comfortable in her new space when on Wednesday night she lay down just after midnight. On Thursday night she lay down at eleven pm. Elephants do lie down when they sleep, however, not for long periods of time. The younger they are the longer the period of sleep and they sleep more often during the night.
Thandora is now lying down about three times per night for about twenty minutes per sleep. The rest of the evening she will sleep standing up for naps of around ten to fifteen minutes and she grazes and browses the natural food we provide.
She is starting to graze like an adult elephant now, rather than an inexperienced juvenile learning to gain control of its trunk. She has developed a technique of twisting the grass into a knot and then snapping the chosen tuft off with a quick yank of her trunk. She deftly shakes all the sand off with all the confidence and technique of an adult elephant. A week ago, she was a beginner!

We watched her playing in the sapling section of the wattle thicket at sunset last night.  The outcome of the game was  a scratching session. This is so important for her skin. The topic layers really need a spa treatment. Her venturing into the thicket will clear the old skin that has hardened on her back – elephant acne.

The first week of her life at Gondwana has been eventful, yet fruitful in terms of her progress.

Let’s conclude by saying that she has had a spar treatment of scratch and tickle and feeling like a new elephant.

Brendan Tindell, the Vet, took the opportunity to take a look at her eye infection when she was sedated on the day of her independent walk.
He gave her an anti biotic injection which seems to be helping allot. Her eye has improved so much already.

Photo 1: Showing how she has been starting to understand the many uses of trees, like scratching herself, browsing, breaking branches and finding shelter from wind and rain. She is adapting so well to this natural environment and learning quickly.

Photo 2: Playing in and around her mud bath, where she also likes to

Wednesday,13 March 2013 – update in pictures

Thandora eating breadObserving Thandoras behaviour  CG team discussing next steps of thandoras rehabilitationwendy and ben giving thandora some human love  documenting thandoras progress

Images from left to right:

1. Thandora is learning fast and starting to browse on her own which will be part of her survival skills in the wild.

2. Thandora enjoying some Bread which was part of her previous diet. We are slowly replacing it with a more natural diet.

3. The team observing Thandora’s behaviour on the day she took her independent walk.

4. The Conservation Global team discussing the next steps in the rehabilitation process.

5. Ben and Wendy giving Thandora some human love and companionship which will be replaced with other animals in the wild.

6. Documenting Thandora’s progress on camera.

Sunday 10, March 2013


We woke up on Day 3 to discover Thandora had broken out of her boma into the game reserve.  It was unclear what provoked this, possibly a visit from a member of the free roaming elephant herd during the night, but it is clear that Thandora has great strength as she crunched a 4 strand electrical fence with steel cable reinforcing and walked nearly 3 kilometres!

She moved north west of the boma and stayed in a Fynbos thicket. The team found her quickly in the morning and talked her out of the thicket and helped her to drink water out of a temporary trough. She ate well and enjoyed the human contact and nearby running vehicle.  Once she was relaxed we tried to get her to follow the vehicle back to the boma but she was uneasy to leave her new comfort zone. The Team remained with her throughout the evening in shifts in a monitor vehicle which she nuzzled all night.  The decision was made to immobilize her and transport her back to the boma on a truck, as we felt that her rehabilitation would be more effective in the boma rather than trying to do it out on the reserve. We are happy to say that she is fit and well and back in the Boma since 10am Saturday morning.

Thandora will now be monitored 24 hours a day to avoid this situation happening again. We are unsure why she broke out but we doubt our initial assumption of other elephant being involved. We feel that she may have been spooked by general game that were walking past the boma in the night. The 24 hour monitoring will provide her with security until she gets to know the natural movement of general wildlife during the night.  These assumptions were made when the management team witnessed her reaction to a herd of Gemsbok walking past the boma today which alarmed her. She is relaxed, feeding and drinking well and is back on track regarding her rehabilitation. The past 48 hours have provided us with critical information and given us a much better understanding of her current situation and emotional and physical condition.

*Photos above show Thandora the day she was relocated back into her transition boma.  As you can see she is eating and drinking out in the reserve and has an eye infection which was treated by the vet while she was sedated.  During the relocation process and monitoring of Thandora while she was outside of the boma it became obvious she liked having people and a big vehicle around for company.  So we now have someone permanently parked inside the boma with her.  She often nuzzles up to the vehicle and it gives the person monitoring her some protection and a place to sit through the night shifts!  Amazingly she causes no damage to the vehicle and gets incredibly close to it but never puts any weight on the vehicle.  She often explores the vehicle and people inside with her trunk.
In time as she gets more comfortable in her new space, it will be important to desensitize her from both people and vehicles so she can live and behave more like a wild elephant in order to thrive in a natural environment.

We apologise for our delay in updating the public about this event but our focus was on Thandora during the last 2 days.

Saturday 9, March 2013

Thandora in her Boma at Gondwana Thandora having a snackThandora posing for a photo

We seemed to achieve a degree of normality from around midday yesterday. Most of the excited onlookers and press have now moved on and the research team was able to finally progress with Thandora.

Her arrival was without incident, however it is obvious that her life was thrown into a turmoil. To stand for fifteen hours in a truck is taxing and this must have pushed her to the limits of her physical ability. She was extremely stiff the next day, walking with a slight limp and her gait reflecting the challenges she was put through physically.

Her zoo routine was followed immediately the next day to ensure that some consistency was maintained.

Thandora will be weaned off the zoo diet regime and from the first day browse from the reserve has been placed into the release Boma. The release Boma is about one hectare and is the transition area between the zoo and her finally living as a wild elephant.

Currently we are faced with having to achieve a number of targets:

1.       We will need to ensure that we maintain her condition by not changing her diet radically.
2.       She is physically unfit and we will need to up her fitness to the point that she will be walking on average 8km’s per day.
3.       She will need to be eating the natural food from the reserve before being released.
4.       Her final challenge will be social adaptation to the Gondwana herd.

On the afternoon of her first day we walked her for one kilometre. This was probably more than she walked in a day at the zoo (considering that her zoo enclosure is probably one third of her release Boma.

On the second day we pushed this to 1,5 km’s and we noticed her gait is more continuous, with no stopping and the length of her stride is longer. There are however still signs of the drugs she received during the journey. This was manifest through the slight shaking in the trunk and legs during rest phases of the walk. We have begun her social interaction process by finding dung from the other elephants and dropping this dung into her camp. She did smell this dung. We will also be dropping her dung into the reserve near the other elephants in the hope that the other elephants will read her chemical fingerprint.

In our next update we will describe the process of how we will achieve the above targets.