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Elephants Move to New Border Wildlife Reserve - 2001-10-04

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has given some elephants a new home. The event took place in a game reserve straddling the border between South Africa and Mozambique.

Former President Mandela opened the South African border gates to let seven elephants pass through into Mozambique. They are among the first animals to be relocated in a massive effort called "Operation Ark."

In all, 40 elephants crossed the border Thursday. Eventually, South Africa will give its neighbor 1,000 of them, plus a large number of smaller game animals.

Mr. Mandela joked that the elephants were his gift to Mozambique for allowing him to marry his wife, Graca Machel, the widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel. He said he never paid the traditional "lobola," or marriage fee, to her family.

"Today," he said, "I pay that lobola."

The elephants moved from South Africa's famed Kruger National Park to the Coutada 16 conservation area in Mozambique. The two reserves are being combined to form the largest cross-border park in southern Africa.

When complete, it will be the first trans-frontier park in the world to straddle the borders of three countries. The massive conservation area will eventually span more than 35,000 square kilometers in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

The cross-border nature of the park will give tourists a larger area in which to view wildlife. It will also allow migratory animals, such as elephants, to return to their historic migration routes, which have long been severed by national boundaries. The relocations will also reduce the overcrowding on the South African side, which has too many elephants.

In its planning stages, the reserve was called the Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park. But it has now been renamed the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, after the massive river that forms its border on the Mozambican side.

South African Environment Minister Valli Moosa says the new name is a symbol of unity among the neighboring countries.

The fences are already coming down between Mozambique and South Africa. The Great Limpopo park is scheduled to open in the year 2003.