Orphaned elephant joins Kafue release herd

Tafika has spent his first day independent from keepers with elephants in the Release Herd, including Chamilandu and Rufunsa, whom he joins for a mudbath.

Tafika reached a milestone in his journey back to the wild.

Seven years old now, Tafika just spent his first full day independent from the keepers and younger orphans at the Kafue Release Facility when he joined the EOP Release Herd roaming around Zambia’s Kafue National Park. Tafika clearly enjoyed his day with Chodoba, Chamilandu, Batoka and Kafue; he then decided to spend his first night outside of the gates of the elephant boma as well.

Tafika has come a long way since he was orphaned at only nine months old. His herd had rampaged through a village in South Luangwa and in the commotion Tafika fell into a pit latrine and was abandoned. At such a young age he was very milk dependant and would not have survived without help. For a long time he was the centre of attention among the elephants, until he assumed a big brother role as younger orphans joined the herd.

Tafika was rescued nearly six years ago, when his herd rampaged through a village and he had fallen into a pit.

He has strong attachments with the younger orphans and great affection for the keepers, and didn’t appear to be ready to progress to a more independent level any time soon. However, Elephant Orphanage Project staff has observed him displaying aggressive behaviour towards Maramba, a five-year-old male).

The staff interprets this behaviour as frustration over a lack of playmates of the same age, as his closest age mates Batoka and Kafue have been with the Release Herd for a few months now. Playing and sparring are essential behaviours for every young bull to practice and every time the Release Herd joins up with the younger orphans, Tafika immediately greets and spars with his good friend Batoka (below).

Batoka and Tafika sparring.

This lack of age mates might have given him the final “push” to leave the younger elephants. When the Release Herd once again joined the younger orphans on a walk, Tafika was distracted playing with Batoka for over half an hour, and didn’t realised the younger orphans had strayed far away from him.

Batoka and Tafika then rushed to join Chodoba, Chamilandu and Kafue and remained with them. Tafika remained very close to them and didn’t appear to be searching for the others.

The Release Herd remained close to camp in areas that Tafika knows well (and therefore he knows the way home). He could have returned to the elephant boma and the safety of the keepers if he felt unsure of his decision. As the Release Herd now totals five individuals, risk of predation is limited. Luckily all five of them have been recently collared so their movements can be closely monitored.

READ: Five elephant orphans fitted for satellite collars

Tafika choosing to stay outside of the boma is a positive sign and the staff at the Kafue Release Facility are looking forward to see how long it lasts, when he will decide to visit, which new areas he explore – or, if one night was enough and he makes his way back to sleep in the stables again.

Tafika can return to the facility whenever he chooses to do so.

At the release facility all these actions remain the choice of the individual elephants to move on to the next stage of their development when they feel ready and so the staff excitedly (if a bit nervously) watch Tafika’s progression back to the wild.

--LO

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