Sarah and Mark Tompkins, founders of Samara Private Game Reserve, explain that when they first established the reserve in 1997, their aim was to restore the area to the wildlife haven it had been before species like cheetah, rhino, Cape lion, springbok and elephant were eradicated by early farmers and settlers. “This is an extremely important area from an ecological point of view,” Sarah explains, adding that the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Thicket, where Samara is located, has been designated as one of the world’s 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots.
Samara, comprising four vegetation biomes including endangered grasslands, acts as a crucial catalyst for protecting the delicate and diverse ecosystem of the Great Karoo, as the Tompkins work with various stakeholders to create a system of corridors and partnerships that will result in the creation of the third largest protected area in South Africa.
As part of this, the reserve has long held the goal of reintroducing elephants back to the Plains of Camdeboo, made famous by Eve Palmer’s 1966 book of the same name, an ode to this semi-arid landscape, where elephants roamed 200 years ago.
This is all the more significant given that the population of African elephants is currently in a state of crisis, having declined by an alarming 30% in just 10 years. The recent Great Elephant Census funded by Paul G. Allen shows that elephant numbers continue to decrease as a result of poaching for ivory, human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss. In order to safeguard the future of the species there is a need to manage elephants as part of meta-populations – a group of spatially-separated populations between which translocations can take place to ensure genetic diversity and to establish founder populations in areas where elephants previously occurred but have since been eradicated – such as the Karoo.
- SARAH TOMPKINS, DIRECTOR OF SAMARA
The translocation of Samara’s elephants was undertaken by wildlife capture specialist Kester Vickery of Conservation Solutions, who has developed a technique for safely capturing and transporting elephants through his 18 years in the wildlife capture industry. Over the past 2 years his team has translocated more than 1,500 African elephants across Sub-Saharan Africa. His equipment has been designed and fine-tuned through this experience to create the best possible opportunity for successful relocations. The vet team in attendance was led by experienced wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds.
The founder herd that has been introduced to Samara comprises a small family group of 6 individuals from Kwandwe Game Reserve near Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Once they are settled, they will be joined by adult bulls. In time, another small family group may also be introduced to the reserve.
The initial translocation was partially funded by the NGO Elephants, Rhinos & People (ERP) and by the generosity of Friends of Samara. ERP also funded the satellite collar on one of the adult females. This will allow the Samara team to monitor the herd’s movements and their use of the vegetation on the property. An elephant monitor sponsored by ERP will track their behaviour and provide learning opportunities for two interns from the SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy, which is partly based at Samara.
- ISABELLE TOMPKINS, SAMARA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE