Two elephant calves, delivered in good order, join a new family in Zambia

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The invoice book read: “Two elephants – one male, one female. Delivered in good order. Sign here.”

Thus concluded the relocation of Kavalamanja and Maramba this week, two elephant calves of around three to four years old, from bustling Lusaka to the most remote possible location in Zambia’s Kafue National Park.

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It took 11 hours to truck the two calves from the Lilayi Elephant Nursery to the Kafue Release Facility of the Elephant Orphanage Project. The day had started early. By five am we, the humans, were busy scurrying back and forth loading various 4x4’s with mattresses, bedding and the provisions necessary for the coming days in the wilderness.

At six am sharp keepers released the calves from their stables and walked them out and away from their baby herd, and into the unknown.

Much, much later while drifting off to sleep in my tent on Monday evening, I could hear the agitated screams of a herd of wild elephants.

Disturbed by what who knew?

Perhaps a nearby pride of lion, or hyena on the prowl?

Certainly there were plenty around that night. Their distinctive “whoop whoops” are pretty much a standard night chorus in the African bush. And from time to time I also heard the throaty “hurh hurh” of a leopard.

It set me thinking about Kavalamanja and Maramba.

Both left orphaned at less than two years, rescued by Game Rangers International, and ever since they have received the most intense care and love possible. The move to Kafue marked a rite of passage, a time “to leave childish things behind” and to make the next steps towards life as true wild elephants.

IFAW supports a unique programme founded by Game Rangers International. As poaching takes its grisly toll on elephant herds in Zambia, GRI’s Elephant Orphanage Project, rescues and rehabilitates its tiny survivors. 

Kavalamanja and Maramba are the innocent victims of the cruel crime of poaching. While mother elephants die for their ivory tusks, their babies become the living victims. Starving and emaciated, frightened and traumatized, rescued calves require hands-on care if they are to recover from their experiences.

At Lilayi, rescued calves are never left alone.

They are bottle fed nutrient rich milk every three hours, day and night; they spend their days foraging in a secure nature reserve, attended by their keepers; at night their keepers sleep on a raised platform in the middle of the “wagon wheel” stable, meaning they can keep an eye on each youngster.

The keepers are so in touch with the calves, they can predict their moods.

At Kafue NP, GRI has a second group of elephants. Each orphaned, they are slightly older and are in the second-step of moving towards being free roaming elephants. One young bull Chodoba now lives outside the secure area of the release facility and regularly interacts with the wild herds of elephant that inhabit a nearby teak forest. But Chodoba is always there to greet his “family” when they go on their morning walkabout.

On Tuesday morning, after the previous day’s long and tiring journey into Kafue NP, soft sand sucking at the tyres and never allowing more than a 40 kilometres an hour pace, Kavalamanja and Maramba finally met their new herd.

The previous night these two had emerged bewildered from their truck, nervous and unwilling to be barricaded into stables they had never been into before. Later, alone, they must have heard the same sounds as me, hyena’s whooping, angry screams from a herd of anxious wild elephants, the menacing throaty call of a leopard. These would have been new sounds to them, and probably confusing.

But just after 06h00 on Tuesday, they met their new herd – and it was magical.

Kavalamanja and Maramba, rusty red in appearance from the iron-rich soil in Lusaka, were in stark contrast to the grey Kafue herd (the light Kalahari sand doesn’t stain their hides) and so there was no mistaking the welcome they received from their new friends.

Cautious and clearly nervous (Kavalamanja and Maramba kept dashing back to their keepers for reassurance) the Kafue herd were gentle in their welcome. Trunks delicately sniffed, draped and wound around the newcomers. At one point the eldest female in the group chased Maramba, a young male – just to let him know who the boss was.

And then it was all over.

The grey herd was ready for their morning forage in the bush, and the two red youngsters were going with them. They lumbered through the gate in that wonderful way elephants have, one after the other, the younger ones in the middle and the older ones in front and bringing up the rear.

We have an incredible debt of thanks to IFAW’s supporters.

It is thanks to you that elephants like Kavalamanja and Maramba will one day live as they are supposed to, as wild elephants. Where the sounds of the wilderness at night, won’t be strange but commonplace and perfectly normal.

Thank you for giving them this chance.

--CP

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia