The herd of blue wildebeest, 30 strong, thundered in to the boma, nearly blinded by a cloud of dust raised by beating blades of the SA National Parks (SANParks) helicopter as it drove them towards the trucks which would be their home for the next 26 hours.
As the animals passed the cut-off point, pilot Grant Knight flicked the helicopter around to marshal the speeding wildebeest into a narrowing channel.
When he saw the animals were in the initial capture zone, he sounded a siren and the hiddenfrom- sight ground teams exploded into action, drawing large curtains behind the racing creatures, cutting off their escape.
Stage by stage, 49 wildebeest were corralled and inside the trucks before they knew it, sedated and ready to hit the road to Zinave National Park in Mozambique. Each tranche of animals took minutes and in about 30 minutes, the entire operation was over, bar the paperwork.
Earlier in the morning, in Kruger National Park’s Tshokwane section, a bitterly cold 4am drive left journalists grateful to see the sun peek over the nearby Lebombo Mountains.
At the briefing, SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services operations co-ordinator Lourens de Lange warned Kruger’s animals were notorious for fighting back. “So we try to work as quickly as possible, so the animals are not stressed too much,” De Lange said.
The easy part was finding, herding, and loading the animals. The hard part, De Lange said, was keeping them alive while driving near 1 200km away as stress took its toll each trip, with a death rate of up to 3%.
The plan is to move 150 wildebeest, 200 zebra, and 520 impala to Zinave as part of an attempt to rewild the park.
So far 300 impala, almost 100 wildebeest and 50 zebra have been translocated – species which are so numerous in the park they won’t be missed.
There was about a week left available for rehoming, as temperatures were beginning to rise in the park with winter drawing to its natural close.
“But, we’ll continue next year again,” Lourens said.