Two orphan elephants graduate, move from nursery to release facility

Musolole (centre) is greeted at the Release Facility by Tafika.Orphaned elephants Zambezi (Bezi) and Musolole have taken their first steps towards a life back in the wild.

Last week, they were relocated from the Lilayi Elephant Nursery outside Lusaka, Zambia, to the Kafue Release Facility in Kafue National Park.

The translocation began very early on Tuesday morning with both elephants being sedated for the long journey. Musolole happily went into the truck following his milk bottle, but Zambezi refused (knowing his character well, the team was not surprised by this independent behaviour). 

After an hour of coaxing him it became apparent he would not enter the truck of his own accord and the wildlife vet provided a second sedation, which then required a lot of manpower to push a dozy Zambezi into the truck.

Zambezi refuses to enter the transport truck, even with the encouragement of his beloved milk.

With both elephants safely loaded and on their feet, the relocation convoy could finally take off towards Kafue National Park. Wildlife vets from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and the GRI–Wildlife Veterinary Project assisted throughout the translocation.

Despite the long journey, Bezi and Muso were calm the whole way, drinking fluids and eating browse whenever the vehicle stopped (one time unfortunately when the truck experienced a flat tyre).

En route, a pit stop to check on the elephants’ well-being.

It was almost midnight when the convoy reached its destination. The elephants were offloaded quickly and quietly and led straight to the stables, where food was waiting and they managed to lay down for a well-deserved sleep.

Offloading Musolole at midnight.

The following morning, the rest of the herd immediately realised that two newcomers had arrived.

They came running across the paddock to investigate, led by Tafika who was the oldest elephant inside the boma that morning and who therefore took on the role of herd leader.

While Musolole respectfully interacted with his new surrogate siblings, Zambezi was shy, trying to isolate himself from the herd. However, when the orphans went out for their daily walk, both Muso and Bezi were in the middle of the herd.

Walking in the wild, the orphan herd suddenly encountered Chamilandu and Batoka, two of the oldest Release Phase elephants who come and go to the facility as they please. Chamilandu (the herd’s matriarch) immediately realised that the herd had become bigger and she started smelling and touching Musolole and Zambezi.

When keepers Aaron and Victor, who had accompanied the orphans from the Nursery, went away for lunch, Musolole became a little distressed. He started pacing around the boma looking for the keepers, who had been with him since the day he was rescued as a tiny, vulnerable calf.

This clearly shows the strong bond between the keepers and the orphans and the importance of not cutting that bond too soon. Aaron and Victor will stay at the Release Facility until Muso and Bezi have settled in properly and feel at ease with their new herd.

At the Release Facility, Musolole and Zambezi will form bonds with the other orphans and together they will learn about life in the wild. One day when they are big enough and confident enough, they will wander off into the wild as truly independent bull elephants.


The GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) operates in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).

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