Herd Of Nearly 600 Elephants Moves Into Nature Reserve And Decides To Stay

More than 580 Savanna elephants have migrated to the Virunga National Park. A migration like this has not been seen for more than 45 years! Elephants are considered 'ecological engineers' because of their positive impact on the ecosystem. They dig up riverbeds, make trails, uproot trees, and remove invasive species. This herd is already restoring the savanna grasslands around Lake Edward!

The migration is a tribute to the tremendous work that has been completed in the park.

Emmanuel De Merode, director of Virunga National Park, was quoted on the park's Facebook page saying:

“The return of large elephant herds to Virunga is the outcome of decades of extraordinary efforts on the part of Congo’s park rangers… considerable work remains to ensure that the park makes a significant contribution to the wellbeing of the local community.”

Such a large herd is rare.

Nick Colwill, a spokesperson for the park, explained to Gizmodo:

“Herds of this size are very rare, so it’s an incredible success story—it’s the result of many years of work by Virunga’s Rangers, and it will take many more years of work to maintain and improve the conditions that meant the herd migrated back to the park.”

In the '80s, the park looked very different.

The lush park houses an estimated 8,000 elephants. Unfortunately, poaching and illegal agriculture decimated the population. By 2015, there were fewer than 500 elephants. That number was even lower at the beginning of this year with only about 120 elephants. The future was looking bleak. Covid-19 strained the park's tourist income, and attacks on animals surged.

To respond to the crisis, the park received emergency funding from UNESCO.

The money was used to build walls, hire guards, and remove traps set by poachers. Much of this work was done with community support. Colwill said:

“The park has an ambitious strategy...to support the socioeconomic development of the wider region and provide economic opportunities and livelihoods for the approximately 5 million people that live within a day’s walk of the park, and these efforts are all contributing to improved security situations and reducing the presence of armed groups.”

Their hard work paid off!

Thanks to the migration, there are about 700 elephants in the park. And the elephants' presence further helps the conservation efforts. Anthony Caere, from the Virunga National Park, said in a statement:

"They’re restoring everything back to what it was 50 years ago and doing so much faster than we could have imagined [...] If the elephants continue to stay here in these numbers, this place will look totally different in just a few years."

h/t: Gizmodo

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