• lisaharrisracing


Updated: Mar 15

At first, he stole our breath, and then he came back the next day for our hearts. It is our Kilimanjaro that I am talking about, or Mondzweni, as he is called by the Kruger National Park officials.

Befitting of a name that describes the fourth most topographically prominent peak on Earth, Kilimanjaro is currently the pride and joy of the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve.

The removal of the north-eastern boundary fence between Thornybush and the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in 2017 allowed the great Kruger tuskers to extend their range, much to the viewing delight of guests at Thornybush.

It was not always like this though, and Trevor Jordan, founder of the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve reminisces about the early elephant days of Thornybush. Not long after the reserve assembly had commenced in 1992, lions and elephants were introduced to the property to grow the vision of making the reserve a big-5 tourist destination.

The first elephant introduction however, while very entertaining, was fraught with anxiety and tension. Adult elephant relocation was not permitted in those early days and had never been done before. However, the word ‘no’ does not resonate with Trevor and before long, he had a permit to relocate a family group of adult elephants. The catch: The herd were a partially tame, mixed group of ex Zimbabwean and South African cull-orphans, mischievous, manner-less, matriarch-less and most memorable!

The first group of elephants on their way to Thornybush in a cattle truck!

Off to wreak havoc at Thornybush!

With the necessary permits in hand, thanks to the help of Dr. Piet Botha and Department of Transvaal Nature Conservation boss, Lampies Lamprecht as well as the supporting vets, the elephants were relocated to a specially built boma on Thornybush, where they were kept for a week before being released onto the reserve. Unbeknown at the time, this was the start of an epic trail of destruction!

Like a class of naughty school children just out of detention, they headed straight for a parked caravan that Lampies’ was using as his office while researching the elephant relocation. With no-one in sight it was quickly, and without remorse, converted into a high-speed, one-metre-high caravan. They sat on it, lay on it, tusked holes in it, kicked it over and back up again searching for maize-meal and perhaps some other treats that they had become accustomed to at their previous home. From there, they moved on to modify a water-drilling rig, removing all the hydraulic pipes as well as its rear-view mirrors. Moving onto the runway, Trevor’s beloved 6-seater Centurion was re-hangered amongst a thicket of sickle-bush, its cowling resembling the fitting of a giant irrigation sprinkler once they were finished.

On another occasion, they visited the Monwana Lodge kitchen. After ducking under the beamed entrance to the lodge, the elephants discovered a feast waiting to be served. The resident chef was greeted on return from his proud menu presentation to his guests, all seated patiently and looking forward for dinner service to begin, with the remnants of his carefully prepared dinner strewn around the kitchen!

The antics of these naughty elephants continued for two years. A trunk would surreptitiously appear in the dark, snaking its way over the low boma walls sending guests screaming for cover. Fences, in the elephants’ mind were a simple nuisance, there to be breached, with further trailers modified and converted at their whim. Eventually, the reserve management could no longer deal with these elephants on a commercial property, and they were re-homed to a private reserve.

Having learnt a hard and expensive lesson from the first elephant translocation, round two consisted of a family group of wild pregnant cows and a couple of young bulls that came from the Shingwedzi area in the Kruger National Park. This was a great success with their matriarch even arriving one morning at the security gate of the Thornybush Main Lodge, a year or so after their introduction, to show off her brand-new baby to Trevor and the lodge staff. This family group is still seen on Thornybush, but today, share their playground with multiple Kruger herds as well as the magnificent tuskers like Kilimanjaro.

The original Kruger tuskers all lugging ivory weighing at least 50 kgs apiece became known as the Magnificent Seven. They were first celebrated in the 80’s when the chief warden at the time, Dr. Pienaar, publicised the large tuskers as a successful example of Kruger's conservation work. Although none of the original members of the Magnificent Seven are still alive, their celebration ignited a public fascination with big tuskers. This lives on in their successors, like Kilimanjaro. His towering frame and exceptional ivory are a conversation stopper for River Lodge guests on safari and seeing him is such a special privilege considering the number of great tuskers that have been decimated by ivory hunting and poaching.

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