Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery and the Zambezi-Kazuma Landscape Conservation Project

Annabelle and Tulku at the Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery (ZEN).

The Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery (ZEN) outside of Harare is home to six young elephants who were rescued from certain death: Annabelle, Matabele, Tulku, Kura, Moyo and Sizi. Please try to remember their names. As an IFAW supporter, you’ll hear more about these lucky elephants over the coming years as our life-saving new project in Zimbabwe unfolds.

Annabelle, Matabale, Tulku and Kura were each found severely injured when they were rescued. Moyo and Sizi were orphaned when their mothers were killed by poachers. Until ZEN was formed in 2013, injured and orphaned calves like these in Zimbabwe – still dependent on mother’s milk, lacking basic survival skills and unable to protect themselves from predators -- were certain to die.

But no more. Thanks to ZEN and IFAW, these six calves have a second chance. In the coming months and years, they will complete a circle of life from rescue to rehabilitation to release back to the wild in a protected area.

Tulku, found severely injured upon rescue, is recovering at ZEN.

ZEN began as a public/private partnership between Wild is Life Trust and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA).  IFAW became an official partner last year. Together, we are strengthening and expanding the project.

The six youngsters are growing up fast; they are healthy; and they have formed close bonds of friendship and trust with each other. They are ready to start the next phase of their lives. And so are we.

IFAW and ZEN have leased 34,500 hectares (85,215 acres) in the Panda-Masuie Forest Reserve, a critical tract that adjoins Zambezi National Park in the north, Kazuma Pan National Park in the south and allows safe passage for elephants and other wildlife to huge swaths of protected land. The 20-year lease we’ve signed helps safeguard the land where we plan to release the six orphans as soon as possible in 2018. And it will help secure the land for other wildlife as well.

The elephants and their keepers will be transported from the ZEN nursery near Harare to a newly built “boma” -- a protected enclosure in Panda-Masuie which will serve as their transitional home while they adjust to life in the wild. Over time, they will explore their new surroundings, learn new skills and either establish their own herd or join a wild herd passing through the area.

This “soft,” or assisted, release of six elephants at once is not the norm in elephant reintegration into the wild. Although orphaned elephants in rehabilitation usually form their own surrogate family group over time, they are often released alone or in pairs as they become more independent, usually in their teens. In this case, the goal is to release the six juveniles as a group. Our hope is that an existing wild herd will accept these youngsters into their extended family, or that their presence in the area as an unusual “blended” herd will be tolerated.

While the orphans are adjusting to their new situation, IFAW and partners will be working with Zimbabwe’s wildlife and forest authorities, and with local communities, to ensure that these elephants are safe, the overall landscape secure, and that local people and animals are co-existing harmoniously.

IFAW’s holistic rescue and conservation approach – combining individual animal welfare, community engagement, and landscape-level habitat protection – will be in play in this project for many years to come.

The young elephants will be collared and monitored … local people will be trained as forest rangers … livelihood initiatives and community-empowerment centers will be established to ensure that local people benefit from conservation … poaching and human-wildlife conflicts will be addressed forcefully and sensibly … and thousands upon thousands hectares of forest and field will be secured.

IFAW, Wild Is Life and our other partners are doing all we can to help these six orphaned elephants once again live free in the wild. And we are working to safeguard this land so that they, and other wildlife, can move safely from protected area to protected area in Zimbabwe and across international borders to other sections of the vast Kavango-Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA).

--JO

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