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  1. ITV Report

Starving wildlife saved in mammoth rescue operation from private reserve in South Africa

Wild animals found on the brink of starvation at a private hunting reserve in South Africa have been saved in a mammoth operation funded by The Aspinall Foundation.

Elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and wildebeest were discovered in the Eastern Cape region of the country, malnourished and gravely ill.

The animals had been left in an overstocked fenced area without water during a sustained period of drought.

The uncompromising reality of life on the private reserve was indicated by the carcasses which littered the property.

"My team in South Africa had heard about this reserve, they went to check it out and they said it was the worst they had ever seen," Damian Aspinall, Chair of conservation charity The Aspinall Foundation (TAF) told ITV News.

He said the animals "would have certainly died" if the charity had not stepped in, with the help of Wild911, an American NGO.

The elephants had to be transported using cranes. Credit: The Aspinall Foundation/Wild 911

A "huge logistical job" took place to rescue the animals, find them new homes and relocate them.

More than 60 animals have so far been rescued and transported to other wildlife reserves in the region, including Buffaloo Kloof Private Game Reserve.

Elephants, too weak to stand on their own legs, were transported using cranes, their four legs tied together as they were hoisted into containers provided by Conservation Solutions.

A total of 11 elephants, including one bull, were rescued in the operation.

Despite the obvious threat to the animals, the owner of the private reserve tried to enforce an injunction against the team to stop the rescue taking place.

But the injunction was successfully defeated, with help from Peter Chadwick at the Mount Camdeboo Reserve.

"This is a sad case of a very rich man who owned this reserve and had allowed it to simply fall into disrepair, obviously didn't care about the animals," Mr Aspinall said.

"The way we look at it, is the cool hand of man has done enough damage to the world and it's our job to try to rectify it when we can.

"Even though this seemed like an impossible job, because of the scale of the problem and the logistics, what we do is solve those problems and go in and actually help the animal world."

The elephants have been released in well protected reserves. Credit: The Aspinall Foundation/Wild 911

The elephants were released into two separate reserves and having been saved from certain death, they are beginning their new lives in well protected and well supplied reserves.