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Conservation Global has just returned from Gondwana having attended Thandora’s memorial service. CG attended the gathering with an open mind, keen to pay their respects to this amazing elephant together with people who understood her presence and sentience.Mark Rutherford spoke so beautifully to his entire team, highlighting the significant role Thandora played in the lives of the people who work at Gondwana and people around the world. Thandora touched so many people in so many different ways. She gave hope to those who believed animals should be free, courage to people facing challenges of their own and she showed resilience for those in need of resolve to move on in life positively.CG would also like to highlight what Gondwana did for Thandora, and how Gondwana helped her to grow in so many ways.

Herewith our observations on her arrival:

    • Diet: Technically one could debate whether she was on a diet! She certainly received food twice a day and the fact that bread formed part of her morning feeding session highlights the fact that she was malnourished. Her body condition index confirmed that she was unhealthy and her body was out of shape. How this contributed to her state of mind, we have no idea.
    • Stereotypic behaviour: Thandora exhibited numerous stereotypic behaviours. These are behaviours that are repetitive in nature. Swaying, stopping in mid stride and holding a foot in the air for some moments before moving on are two specific behaviours, , amongst others, that were repeated incessantly.
    • Self-directed behaviour: An understanding of self-directed behaviour in primates [Ellis, JJ, MacLarnon, AM, Heistermann, M and Semple, S (2011)]. The social correlates of self-directed behaviour and faecal glucocorticoid levels among adult male olive baboons (Papio hamadryas anubis) in Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria. African Zoology 46, 302-308], offers us the opportunity to draw conclusions from self directed behaviours exhibited by Thandora.
    • Body Score Index: This is a score that basically compares Thandora’s body shape to that of a healthy elephant, allowing us to measure improved body shape and in so doing apply an ‘improvement score’ or a score that defines her body shape getting worse. Her score was poor on arrival at Gondwana.
    • Social adaptation: Zero. She quite simply had no social skills.

During her time on Gondwana, we observed the following:

  • Behaviour: Thandora showed a 7% reduction in her exhibition of stereotypic behaviours and self-directed behaviours per week. After six weeks in the release Boma and two weeks free-roaming, Thandora was only exhibiting normal natural elephant behaviour. The incidence of her exhibiting self directed behaviours or stereotypic behaviour had been reduced to zero occurences. Thandora’s grazing and browsing time had increased dramatically. On arrival at Gondwana, she had to learn how to browse and graze. Initially she was only able to maintain a grazing rate of seven minutes per hour. The rest of the time she simply stood around waiting for food, and this constituted almost 70% of her behaviour in the first few weeks. After eight weeks she was walking an average of four km’s per day and grazing and browsing on an on-going basis. She was constantly on the move with ‘standing’ making up a very small percentage of her daily behaviour.
  • Body score Index: Thandora’s tone had improved dramatically over an eight week period. Her body score index had dramatically improved.
  • Social adjustment: Each time Thandora came into contact with the females or males, her time with them improved dramatically, to the point where she spent three nights with Bully on one such meeting. Her first meeting with the cows only lasted 45 minutes.

This brief analysis simply serves to highlight that it is not difficult at all to assess the overall health of an animal. Thandora arrived a zoo elephant, standing and waiting for food, not knowing how to keep herself busy, head down in a moping position. She departed from our world a radically changed elephant. You could actually see how her mind was more active as she absorbed her new life and adjusted to her new surroundings rapidly. Thandora set the tone of her adjustment and as she slowly gained confidence we gave her the space to explore her new world.

There is no way anyone can say that Thandora was better off in the zoo environment she was in. Her physical, behavioural and cognitive improvement speaks for itself and the very fact that she could freely exhibit so many different natural behaviours is testimony to her improved health. Her passing was from toxic shock and could have happened anywhere. If the team managing her through the process at the time could have manipulated her body, moved her around and relieved her of her own weight in some way or other, we could have ‘waited-out’ the time it took for the toxins to pass through her body, as they do with smaller animals suffering similar diagnosis. She could simply not sustain her own body weight for the period of time required. Dr Brendan Tindall had stabilised her in a very short period of time and we realised that her body weight would be the ultimate cause of her death.

Thank you Gondwana for offering her the opportunity to be an elephant, to be free and not have to rely on us to deliver her food, water or any other form of stimulation she might have wanted. She could spray herself with water, swim, throw mud on herself, walk, graze, browse and sleep. Quite simply, she could just be an elephant.

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My week spent on Gondwana Game Reserve with Conservation Global was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa with Franklin University Switzerland on academic travel in the spring of 2015. Bonding with the staff and learning about the animals in their natural environment made for one incredible week. Each day was filled with activities and lectures that were as entertaining as they were educational. As a group we had a lecture in the morning either from a member of the knowledge staff or from a local expert. We learned about native bee populations and were treated to honey samples from the region and were given a demonstration on the practice of tagging and tracking animals on the reserve. Perhaps the most memorable was when we were taught how to properly handle a tranquilizer gun and had a competition to see who could get a bullseye! After the morning lecture, the group would split up for the safari in which the staff took great care to make sure we saw as many animals as possible. Later in the afternoon we would regroup for a drink and to admire the scenery. I have the utmost respect for Conservation Global and the work they are doing—hoping to return to South Africa soon!

Solange Pittet March 1st, 2015

I spent two weeks in South Africa with Conservation Global in a partnered trip with Franklin University Switzerland. It is safe to say that these two weeks are by far the most memorable of my life thanks to the effort Conservation Global put into both the educational and adventurous aspects of our trip. From hiking up Lion’s Head in Cape Town, diving with Great White sharks in the Indian ocean, and near encounters with the endangered White Rhinoceros, this NGO helped plan an incredible experience for my research conservation class. If it were not for Conservation Global I do not think we could have done many of the activities we did- such as engage with students at Tsiba College on issues of sustainability on our campuses, and meet and listen to Mark Rutherford lecture on how to run Gondwana Game Reserve. I will forever be grateful for these two weeks and for all of the hard work Conservation Global put into this experience!

Taylor Deems May 24th, 2016

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