Samara: How are Kahle and Mvula doing at Samara

After releasing Kahle and Mvula on Samara Private Game Reserve, we left them alone. Considering what they had just been through, humans were probably not high on their list of favourite things for a while.

Kahle and Mvula sliding down the dam wall on their tummies at Samara Private Game Reserve. Photo: Penny Pistorius

Kahle and Mvula sliding down the dam wall on their tummies at Samara Private Game Reserve. Photo: Penny Pistorius

The ERP Team (Dereck, Daviid, Penny and Ida) took the opportunity to eat a proper meal, have a shower and get a bit of sleep. Some more than others. Dereck and Daviid were left to sleep, as they had carried most of the burden on the road. Ida and Penny took turns. One sleeping while the other monitored Kahle’s movements on the app. We had intentionally set the updates to every 30 minutes to be able to keep a close eye on him. If the bulls decided to try to return home, we wanted to be ready to respond quickly.

The next morning, we were up before dawn, heading to the area that Kahle was in. He had crossed the width of the reserve and had finally stopped at the perimeter fence, moving up and down the fence throughout the night. We did not want to disturb either of the two. But we needed to locate Mvula, who did not have a collar on, which meant we had no opportunity to track him remotely via the app. And he might be with Kahle.

Female cheetah with her cubs at Samara Private Game Reserve. Photo: Ida Hansen

Female cheetah with her cubs at Samara Private Game Reserve. Photo: Ida Hansen

On our way to the area, we happened to come across one of the female cheetahs and her cubs. A sight such as this is a rare one that should be savoured. We stopped, got out and approached them carefully. The cheetahs at Samara are accustomed to having people on foot, and did not change their behaviour just because people were now watching them. Watching the cubs climb a tree one by one and then disappearing in the bush, tailing their mother out of sight was delightful.

Back on the vehicle, we continued the search for Kahle and Mvula. Tracks along the fence told us that at least one elephant had been walking up and down this stretch. As we drove down the fence, we finally spotted Kahle, about 40-50 meters from us. He was walking calmly away from us, glancing back over his shoulder at us. But Mvula was not with him. Happy that we had seen Kahle and that he seemed well, we now searched for Mvula. We went to the area where the female elephants were, hoping that Mvula had joined them. The females were far up on the mountain slopes. But there was no sign of Mvula. He was somewhere else on the reserve. With just under 13,000 hectares there were a lot of possibilities for Mvula to hide. While driving back in the direction of the release site, we spotted elephant tracks along another part of the reserve’s fence. Mvula’s tracks. These were heading south of where we had found Kahle.

We asked the reserve staff to check along the fence line to see if there were any breaks. Just in case. The bulls had not broken fences at Phinda, their previous reserve, but there is no way of knowing how elephants will react to a translocation. Breaking fences to walk home is not an uncommen reaction. When the news came in that the fence was intact, it confirmed our expectations that these two bulls were not fence-breaking elephants and that they just needed a bit of time to settle in, before they started exploring their new home.

The following morning we went out again. We headed straight for Kahle. He was in the same general area as the night before, but in much denser vegetation. It was so thick that we would not be able to see him, even if he was just 15 meters from us.

Kahle the morning after his release, glancing back at us. Photo: Ida Hansen

Kahle the morning after his release, glancing back at us. Photo: Ida Hansen

We got out of the car and climbed up on the mountain side to get a better view of the area. When we could not spot him through the binoculars, we deployed the drone. Even with the drone, the vegetation was too dense for us to spot him from above. Moments later Penny spotted him, or rather the dust he was spraying. In the distance, up on a ridge a cloud of dust blew in the wind - like a whale exhaling but in a sea of deep green instead of blue. That was all we could see of him.

Along the way we happened to come across Pokkie, trainer at the SAT Tracker Academy on Samara, out with with his students following tracks and signs in the bush. Penny asked them to keep an eye out for Mvula and his tracks and if they would let us know if they saw anything.

Dereck, Daviid and Ida had to go back to Pretoria. Penny stayed to continue monitoring all the elephants, particularly Kahle and Mvula.

Penny found Mvula the next day with help from Samara’s rangers and the Tracker Academy that had seen signs of him in the southern section of the reserve. The younger of the two bulls had taken up residence in the riverine thicket, feeding on the lush vegetation there.

In the following days Penny continued to monitor the two bulls and the group of females. On the 25th of November, we got happy news. Kahle and Mvula had finally met up. They were walking and feeding together, and seemed to have settled in at their new home. Now everyone wanted to see Kahle and Mvula join Nombeko and her family.


Watch the video with the update on Kahle and Mvula here:

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