Rescued calf admitted to Zambia Elephant Orphanage Project

Muchichili

A team from the Zambia Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) drove down to Lower Zambezi to rescue an abandoned and orphaned elephant calf, the latest addition to the orphan herd at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery (LEN) outside Lusaka.

The lonely calf was was spotted alone on the little island of Hulungwe in the Zambezi River by staff at Muchichili Safari House. EOP Senior Keeper Ivan, who was in the area conducting an “Orphaned Elephant Awareness Campaign” to build positive relationships with local communities and encourage prompt reporting of lone elephant calves, responded immediately.

Thanks to the support from Kanyemba Lodge and Jacana Enterprises, Ivan was able to access the island, locate the elephant and determine that it was a milk-dependent youngster. Reports from local fishermen suggest the calf may have been on the island by himself for up to two weeks, and no herds had been seen on the island since Thursday.

Since his condition was relatively stable and the island a safe environment, EOP decided to monitor the calf for a couple more days to allow every opportunity for a natural reunion with his herd. Ivan was ably assisted by Francis Muchinyu, a Wildlife Police Officer (WPO) from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW, formerly ZAWA) who has previously trained with EOP, in monitoring the calf.

The EOP rescue team assembled at Kanyemba Lodge, where they were generously assisted with boats, staff and equipment. As they arrived at the island, 30 minutes by boat from the lodge, the orphan was temporarily out of sight, and the island had to be searched thoroughly before the young male was found and sedated by the NNPW Vet Dr Innocent N’gombwe.

Ten people were needed to carry the calf to the boats. By this time the calf was slightly overheated, but after being cooled down with water he quickly regained a normal temperature.

Back at Kanyemba Lodge, even more manpower was required to carry the calf, still sedated, from the boat up to a Land Cruiser, kindly provided by Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ) with the EOP rescue crate ready with dry grass and browse for the journey. During the drive back to LEN, the calf was calm and standing up the whole time. When he was let into the LEN boma he was understandably exhausted after the traumatic day.

The calf is approximately 1½ years old and despite being dehydrated and malnourished he still seems strong. A closer inspection revealed exposed ribs, thin and patchy skin and warts on his trunk; all common symptoms for elephants in distress and poor health.

He has been named Muchichili, which is the Goba word for Winterthorn, a tree that grows in abundance on the island where he was found.

When Muchichili saw the other three elephants at LEN, he was very excited and sought close contact with them. The two older elephants took great interest in the new member of their herd. During his first night at the Nursery, Muchichili allowed the keepers to handle him and it seems like he is desperate for company after his time alone on the island.

The others were very sweet to him, although Nkala was scared and kept running away. This only caused Muchi to chase him!

To coax him inside a stable we used Zambezi to guide him but also it was as if once he had seen the other elephants  being handled he realised it was ok.

To date for a calf of his size we have never seen such cooperation so quickly. Poor little chap was exhaused but stood by us whilst we scratched his head and sides as he started to doze.

Muchi experienced the post rescue 'crash' yesterday.

Despite his apparent strength the day before, adrenaline had been keeping him going. Once that dropped yesterday he started to fade rapidly. We became very concerned around 17 hrs as he had refused to drink fluids all day and had not managed much the night before.

We put a drip into him around 18 hrs and supported him intensively until 1am! The turn around happened at about 23hrs when he finally was brought back to life by the fluids and continual love and encouragement that he desperately needs. He started to show appetite for water, browse and milk we let him rest with keepers paying close attention and by 5am we were again giving him IV fluids to give him a boost. But we are happy to report that he has been tucking into milk and electrolytes all day and is grazing really well.

We are still concerned by his strange jaw action which may indicate a source of discomfort inside his mouth. But the main thing is that he is taking fluids and eating.

Muchichili will receive a high level of care around the clock in order to recover physically and gain the necessary confidence to one day live back in the wild where he belongs.

--RM

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