A saga of survival

Elephants return to Botlierskop


In September 2003, during the time of political instability in Zimbabwe, war veterans invaded Viv Bristow’s property. In order to save as many animals as possible, Viv moved some of his animals to the Ranch Hotel near Polokwane (former Pietersburg) in the north of South Africa. The owners of Botlierskop Private Game Reserve approached Viv in the beginning of 2004 in order for him to bring his elephants to Botlierskop and continue the educational program he started in Zimbabwe here in South Africa. Through activities such as elephant back rides, Viv was able to earn additional income which came in handy in sustaining the elephants and other animals still in Viv’s Zimbabwe-based training camps.

In June 2004, two elephants, namely, Sam and Tsotsi, joined the Botlierskop team. In August 2007, Tsotsi gave birth to a healthy male calf, Tshima, meaning “surprise”, as he truly came as a surprise. In August 2014, Botlierskop made the decision to stop all elephant-back safaris following the birth of Thambile. This decision was followed by the process of releasing the family of elephants back into the wild in order to have as little as possible human interaction. This process took much longer than initially anticipated and in mid-2015, Tsotsi died from natural causes.

The goal of freeing the elephants continued with the addition of more elephants to join the herd in order to help with their social behaviour and adjustment.

Shaka and Clyde

In May 2017, Shaka and Clyde joined the game reserve. Shaka arrived as a young orphan at Knysna Elephant Park, rescued from a culling operation in 2004. As can be expected, he was initially extremely fearful of his new environment. However, he was soon introduced to elephant members of the herd based in the park and became a full-time member of the growing herd. Harry was the dominant bull at the time and, together with the matriarch Sally, provided the adult guidance that a young bull of Shaka’s age would need. Between 2004 and 2013 Shaka remained with the herd. During this time Shaka was part of the interactive tours and riding safaris as well.

Clyde arrived at the Knysna Elephant Park (KEP) in November 2009. Originally from a circus, Clyde had been relocated to Elephants of Eden in the Eastern Cape in 2008. On arrival he was severely malnourished, and, following a slow process of rehabilitation, he was moved to Knysna Elephant Park. At this time he was joined by his handler from EOE, Josiya. During his introduction to the elephants and the staff of the park, it became clear that Clyde was nervous and uneasy, particularly when faced with people he did not know. His bond with Josiya was very strong and in his presence, Clyde was relaxed and comfortable.

With this said, the lack of trust and inherent nervousness seen in Clyde when he first arrived never disappeared completely. He also never completely fit in with the herd at Knysna Elephant Park (KEP) as the matriarch and older females were continually displacing him and keeping him from forming stronger bonds with the herd. For this reason, he was always an ‘’outsider’’.

In July 2011 Clyde was vaccinated as part of an international Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) research trial, together with Shaka and several other bulls at sister facilities. The vaccine appeared to have a marked effect on his behaviour, making him less uneasy and calmer. In this way, management was able to use the social relationships between elephants to improve behaviour, as it would happen in the wild. Clyde’s behaviour improved considerably under this management style, allowing a more varied team of people to work with him and a more comfortable relationship with other elephants.

Mission accomplished: elephants living freely

Upon arrival at Botlierskop, both elephants reacted in a nervous fashion and with trepidation to their environment, but with the option of more space, more food, and various new experiences, both elephants have settled in quickly. After only a few weeks they were ready to meet the other reserve elephants (Sam, Chima and Thambile). This interaction went well and a successful introduction was achieved. Now, three years after the release process began, the elephants are interacting with each other positively and their bond is growing stronger as they roam freely.

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Issue 63


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