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Friday, 8 September, 2000, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Jumbos journey to Angola
Animals have been caught in crossfire, and trapped in minefields
Animals have fallen victim to crossfire and minefields
By Paul Danahar in Johannesburg

A batch of 30 elephants began their journey to Angola on Friday in a plan to try and rebuild the country's war ravaged nature reserves.

The elephants, from two families, are being donated by the Madikwe game park in South Africa as part of a five-year project called Operation Noah's Ark.

They are expected to arrive on Saturday at Quicama national park, south of the capital Luanda.

The project has been criticised by some animal welfare groups who fear the elephants will fall prey to poachers.

The 25-year civil war in Angola has taken a heavy toll on the country and its people.

Noah's Ark

It has also nearly wiped out Angola's wildlife, which has been killed in crossfire, by landmines or deliberately hunted down by poachers.

Map of southern Africa
But Operation Noah's Ark, which is being run by the Kissama foundation, is not just about restoring wildlife, it is intended to help revitalise the Angolan economy.

Game reserves are a huge tourist attraction and they bring in thousands of holiday makers and their dollars every year.

Some wildlife groups have objected that, with the country still in a state of civil war, the authorities are gambling with the elephants' lives.

But the organisers say they have picked the Quicama National Park because it has escaped the worst of the war.

Deserted and silent

The area is free of landmines and when the elephants arrive they will be fitted with radio transmitters and placed inside a protective fence patrolled by armed guards.

Stock pile of ivory
It is feared the elephants could fall prey to ivory poachers
Between 10 and 15 animals are being rounded up from the Madikwe Game Reserve.

They will be loaded into what are described as family-friendly crates, which secure the adult animals but allow the younger ones to move around freely.

The second batch will be rounded up on Saturday.

They will be driven south to the town of Mafikeng from where they will be flown in crates in a cargo plane for the 2,200km to Luanda.

The elephants are just the first of a variety of animals to be donated to Angola over the next five years.

In the end it is hoped the project will bring back to life the Angolan parks, which at present lie deserted and silent after the years of destruction by man.

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