On a warm morning at the end of the dry season, early November, a red and black Bell Jet Ranger helicopter raced eastward above the palm savanna of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.
Mike Pingo, a veteran pilot originally from Zimbabwe, controlled the stick; Louis van Wyk, a wildlife-capture specialist from South Africa, dangled halfway out the right rear side holding a long-muzzle gun loaded with a drug-filled dart. Seated beside Pingo was Dominique Gonçalves, a young Mozambican ecologist who serves as elephant manager for the park.
More than 650 elephants now inhabit Gorongosa—a robust increase since the days of the country’s civil war (1977-1992), when most of the park’s elephants were butchered for ivory and meat to buy guns and ammunition. With the population rebounding, Gonçalves wanted a GPS collar on one mature female within each matriarchal group.