Shaka's 1000 Mile Journey
How do you transport the largest animal walking on Earth 1000 miles across Europe?
No this is not a trick question... This is the mammoth task Filma King Ltd were involved in documenting as we followed Shaka's move from Tiergarten Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna to Noah's Ark Zoo Farm - a destination only a mere couple of miles along the road from Filma King HQ. Handy right? Well, before we could get to that stage, there was the small task of heading over to Vienna to film Shaka, followed by transportation across multiple countries and an ocean... Lets delve into the journey.
Who is Shaka?
Shaka is a 26-year-old African Bull Elephant who transferred from Zoo Duisburg in the summer of 2016 to Vienna's Tiergarten Schönbrunn. After warming to the Austrian zoo, he quickly became a firm favourite of his keepers with his playful personality and hardworking attitude. He particularly enjoys playing with tyres, but not nearly as much as he loves eating food...
The purpose of the project
Shaka's move was organised by the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) as part of an initiative to form the UK’s first African Elephant bachelor group. Currently, African elephants are in danger of extinction, with conservationists forecasting this could happen in the 22nd century. Due to this, breeding programmes within zoos are being meticulously coordinated in order to help preserve populations.
Shaka's move to NAZF resembles a crucial step forward in doing just this. By joining two young bulls, 9-year-old M’Changa and 12-year-old Janu, it is hoped that Shaka will act as a mentor - teaching the younger bulls social skills and new behaviours. In the wild, male elephants naturally form bachelor groups, with one elephant in particular leading the others. Therefore, the aim of Shaka's introduction is to help recreate this natural behaviour.
The journey to the UK
To begin with, Filma King headed over to Vienna in order to meet Shaka and capture footage of him alongside interviews with everyone involved - including zoo keepers from Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Sandra De Rek and Dr Harald Schwammer, who is Vice Director of Vienna Zoo.
After the filming day, the next step was to organise Shaka's journey, which was a specially made crate kitted out with everything he could possibly need. Due to it being a long journey in an unfamiliar environment, the zoo keepers in Vienna dedicated time to training Shaka to feel comfortable during the trip.
But what could not be accounted for prior to departure was the weather. Shaka was not able to travel in particularly cold conditions, and in typical British fashion the UK's unpredictable climate reared its ugly head... The initial transfer date just so happened to coincide with the abnormal Siberian weatherfront battering the UK and the rest of Europe, meaning that his journey was put on hold.
Shaka's new home
On Friday April 13th, Shaka finally arrived in the UK via a ferry across the channel and was transported to Noah's Ark, where we were eagerly waiting to capture footage of his arrival. As the lorry pulled in with the crate on its back, there was a great deal of excitement bubbling throughout the zoo's team - but also many unanswered questions. How would Shaka react to an unfamiliar environment? Would he be able to adapt?
These fears quickly diminished as Shaka was introduced to his new home. From the quick and unexpectedly easy unloading process, to his evident calmness and intrigue in exploring a new environment - the whole team were left feeling very relieved and celebratory at how smooth the transfer went.
Who can blame Shaka for liking his new environment when Noah's Ark boasts a state-of-the-art elephant house, deep sand beds, hot showers and built-in training walls.
Shaka making headlines
Shaka's move to the UK was and still is a huge deal - both for the exposure it brings to the West Country and in regards to the future hope it entails for the survival of the African Bull Elephant. As a result, his transfer attracted a considerable amount of media attention, with various news outlets including North Somerset Times, Visit Bristol and ITV all reporting on the African Bull.
Hopefully the fame doesn't go to his head... Welcome to your new home Shaka!