We all know elephants are in trouble. Nearly 35,000 are killed every single year to fuel a burgeoning ivory trade, spurred by demand in China where a growing upper class views the tusks as a prime status symbol.
Many elephants across Africa now live in protected reserves or national parks, some with full-time anti-poaching details aimed at curbing the rampant poisoning, shooting and outright slaughter of the creatures. Governments and wildlife organizations have gone to great lengths to protect the elephants, and when they're at risk, it's often a race against the clock to find them safety before poachers can go after a hefty payday.
Photographer Pete Oxford was along for the ride as a team rushed to capture nearly 80 elephants that escaped from a protected wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe. The elephants needed to be approached from a helicopter and split into family groups before a team of veterinarians was able to individually tranquilized each animal based on its size. Once the animals are sedated, the vets work against the clock to make sure they're safely loaded onto flatbed trucks "like sardines" and transported as a family back to the reserve, Oxford told The Huffington Post.
He said elephants are increasingly under threat as ivory demand booms and rhino populations dwindle. The animals are now under threat almost "everywhere."
"Where we are today, where man has got to take extreme measures to save wildlife ... this is Africa's most iconic mammal and it's still under threat. It's a growing shame, really," he said.
Take a look at the photos below, and check out more of Oxford's work here.