Chamilandu’s story begins twelve years ago in South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia. When she was just one and half years old, a group of poachers shot her mother while the two elephants walked through the forest. In a flash, Chamilandu’s life was forever changed. She was orphaned and in dire need of rescue.
The little calf was brought to the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP), where our partner Game Rangers International took her under their care. The first elephant orphanage in Southern Africa, EOP specializes in rehabilitating rescued elephants and returning them back to the wild. Here, Chamilandu was safe and could embark on her rehabilitation journey.
The first few weeks at the nursery were difficult for Chamilandu. Traumatized by her mother’s death, she was haunted by tragic memories and often woke in the middle of the night suffering from night terrors. With the support of her keepers, Chamilandu grew more comfortable and began to develop into a confident young elephant.
As the years progressed and more rescued elephants arrived at the nursey, Chamilandu took on the role of surrogate mother. Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional animals, who require affection and strong leadership at a young age. As matriarch of the herd of orphans, Chamilandu assured the elephants felt protected and helped them develop crucial life skills needed for life in the wild.
Not wanting to abandon the calves, Chamilandu stayed with the young herd until 2015 when she finally showed interest in exploring the wild. The team fit her with a satellite-monitoring collar and encouraged her to venture outside on her own. Soon, she was a free-roaming elephant, socializing with wild herds. Never too far, Chamilandu returned to the boma on most days to visit the calves during their daily walks. These interactions not only helped her remain emotionally close to the calves, but also enabled her keepers to monitor her health.
On September 19th, 2017, Chamilandu was spotted venturing off into the distance with a large wild male elephant. In heat, she stayed with the bull for three days before returning to her local stomping grounds. Could she be pregnant? With a gestation period of 22 months, it would be many more months until our research team could confirm her pregnancy. From that day forward, we took special precautions to monitor her movement and note her appearance and behavior.
In the spring of 2018, Chamilandu’s bulging stomach, swollen mammary glands, and tired behavior confirmed everyone’s suspicions. She was pregnant and on track to deliver a calf. As a young female, Chamilandu faced higher pregnancy risks than older elephants. The team continued to monitor her health and wished for a safe delivery.
On September 9th, 2019, Chamilandu returned to her “safe place” at the EOP release facility boma and gave birth to a healthy male calf. In a monumental moment for IFAW-GRI, Chamilandu and her beloved keepers worked together to help the baby stand and take his first steps. The years spent mothering orphaned calves at EOP have prepared Chamilandu for this new stage of motherhood. She is an extraordinary mother, showering her baby with love and caring for him with great patience during this crucial developmental phase. Under EOP’s care, Chamilandu has transformed her life from tragedy to success. And now thanks to her triumph, there is an additional elephant to contribute to the health of Zambia’s wild elephant population. We can’t wait to watch the young calf grow into a strong, influential elephant just like his mother.
-Kaila Ferrari, Digital Communications Specialist