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Ivory Coast elephants transported to new home as regular habitat shrinks

DALOA, Ivory Coast--As the spooked elephant starts to run, the vet pulls the trigger. Just a few minutes later the huge beast slumps to the floor unconscious, ready for Ivory Coast's first elephant relocation.

These hunters are not interested in the elephant's ivory. Instead, they want to protect people from the animal — and vice-versa — around Daloa, a town in the center of the country where humans and elephants have recently come into conflict.

This is because the animals' local habitat, the Marahoue national park, has been eaten away bit by bit by agriculture.

“The forest was devastated and the animals fled the park,” said Ibo Nahonain, head of Tapeguhe village just outside Daloa. “Gradually they came here.”

Life with the five-ton beasts has its upsides and downsides. “Sometimes they come within 100 meters of the village and everyone goes out to have a look at them,” said Nahonain.

“But the women and children who have to go out to the fields go with fear in their hearts.”

Three people have died, trampled by elephants, and others have been injured, while the animals also destroy the villagers' crops.

“They came three days in a row,” said Aristide Sery Brito. “They spoiled my cocoa plants and my banana plants, and devastated some of my yams.”

It became clear that one of the area's two groups of occupants would have to leave, and the government decided to resettle the animals in the Azagny national park, 20,000 hectares of virgin forest 400 kilometers to the south of Daloa.

“In moving this herd of elephants we are acting as conservationists. At the same time, we are ensuring the wellbeing and safety of the population,” said Elvire-Joelle Mailly, director of wildlife at the ministry for forests and water.

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An elephant walks away from members of a team from the NGO International Fund Animal Welfare (IFAW) after being released in Azagny national park, southern Ivory Coast on Thursday, ...

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