Prince Harry, 31, is in Malawi as part of the 500 Elephants conservation initiative, which aims to repopulate the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve after decades of poaching
There’s no stopping Prince Harry.
While most people use their summer vacation to kick back and rest, the royal conservationist is currently helping to transport 500 elephants across the southern African state of Malawi as part of the 500 Elephants initiative, a palace spokesperson confirms to PEOPLE.
“We are delighted that Prince Harry has joined us on this very important project,” added Frances Read from nonprofit Africa Parks, who is organizing the relocation of the elephants from the Liwonde and Majete wildlife reserves in southern Malawi to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, a 220-mile journey.
While the exact details of Harry’s duties are a closely guarded secret, it is inevitable that the royal will come nose-to-trunk with at least a few elephants during the process of “human-assisted migration,” which involves immobilizing the animals by tranquilizing darts fired from a helicopter and then moving them onto trucks with a crane.
“As you can imagine, everything is on quite a significant scale,” says Read. “A helicopter goes up with a vet and they identify a cohesive group of elephants, which is really important because you’ve got to keep the family groups together. Then they try to flush them out of the woodlands and onto the floodplains, which makes it a lot easier and safer to dart.
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“As they are being darted, cars move in on the ground. So as soon as the elephants start to go down there are people to assist and make sure they are breathing properly and are positioned safely, so that they haven’t fallen on their chest or against something, or on one another.
“Then the trucks come in and they get roped and lifted onto flatbed trucks, which are used to move them to another site where they are woken and moved into a transport truck. All that happens quite quickly. From the time they are darted to the time they are woken is no more than two hours because you want to keep them immobilized and under sedation for as little time as possible.
“At every moment of the operation every elephant is being monitored and being looked after. Their wellbeing is our foremost priority.”
With 200 elephants already moved and happily ensconced in their new home in the north of Malawi, the project is running ahead of schedule and well on its way to repopulating the Nkhotakota Reserve after decades of poaching.
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The trip marks the second year in a row that Prince Harry has worked on African conservation projects during his summer break from royal duties. In 2015, Harry, 31, enjoyed three months working his dream job in Namibia and South Africa, helping to de-horn black rhinos as part of an anti-poaching strategy.
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In December, he returned to South Africa and was visibly moved by the sight of a female rhino that had been slaughtered for her horn in the Kruger National Park. Frustrated and angry, the fifth-in-line to the throne gestured at the carcass and said, “This belongs to South Africa and it’s been stolen by other people.”
He also forlornly suggested that unless more was done to protect rhinos in what he called the “killing fields” of Kruger, then the prized animal would be extinct by the time his niece Princess Charlotte turns 25.