17 May 2013 by Kate Turkington

Will there be a happy ending?

Gondwana Game Reserve in the Western Cape, the Bloemfontein Zoo and Conservation Global have joined forces to return Thandora, a female elephant, to the wild after 23 years in captivity.

Thandora – now in the wild after 23 years of captivity

It’s an animal fairy story – one to tug the heartstrings.

For 23 years, Thandora, a female elephant, was confined in captivity in Bloemfontein Zoo in the Free State; her only companion, another elephant.

But when her friend died, the idea was born that Thandora should be returned to the wild, and try to become part of an established herd.

Gondwana Game Reserve in the Western Cape’s Garden Route was chosen to be her new home, and plans started to become reality.

Thandora hesitated, took a couple of steps, hesitated again. Would she or wouldn’t she? The team held its breath.

Thandora was successfully relocated to her new home – to a large boma (enclosure) in the 10 500ha reserve, where she learnt to get used to her surroundings and to feed herself.

She was exercised daily so that she could become fit enough to keep up with a free-roaming herd. As you can imagine, after 23 years in captivity, she wasn’t in the best shape, with low muscle tone and poor fitness.

In April, after two months, stronger and fitter, she was finally released into the wild, closely watched by John Vogel, Gondwana Game Reserve’s wildlife manager, and his team.

The gates of the boma were opened.

It was a nerve-racking moment.

Thandora Thandora

Thandora hesitated, took a couple of steps, hesitated again. Would she or wouldn’t she? The team held its breath.

Then, finally, and ve-ery cautiously, Thandora, after two decades of living in a zoo, took her first steps to freedom.

The first day or two, she browsed, grazed and drank, travelling a couple of kilometres, but always coming back to the attendant vehicle at night – her safety blanket.

Since then, in the past weeks or so, she has met up with the herd of elephant cows, with much tummy-rumbling vocal interaction.

Two of the cows even brought their babies to meet her.

But Thandora was still not confident enough to go with them when the herd moved off to a remote, rugged mountainous region.

In the meantime, she has been startled by a passing scrub hare, had a brief encounter with a young female white rhino, but still stays near the vehicle at night.

Will she, or won’t she?

Will they all live happily ever after?

Find out for yourself and follow Thandora’s diary on www.gondwanagr.co.za.

Category: Wildlife

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