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It was an afternoon in October, 2011 when gunfire cracked through the air, alerting National Park officers in Sioma Ngwesi National Park of the presence of poachers. Rushing to the scene, the officers found a horrible sight – a mother elephant lay dead, killed for her ivory. Next to her was a tiny elephant calf, distressed and scared.
When the officers approached, the poachers opened fire on them. In a tragic moment, Officer Sitale Musolole was shot and killed on the scene. In their grief of losing a close comrade, the surviving officers named the young elephant calf ‘Musolole’ – a true honor in memory of their friend. The team brought the rescued elephant calf to the park headquarters and alerted our partner, Game Rangers International (GRI) for support. IFAW works closely with GRI to rescue orphaned elephant calves and provide a safe space for them at the orphanage.
Only a few months old, Musolole was both physically and psychologically vulnerable. At his young age, he was still dependent on his mother for everything – milk, safety, comfort, and protection. He had a long road of recovery ahead of him.
The rescue team, led by Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) veterinarian Dr. David Squarre, gave Musolole rehydration fluids and a mud bath to calm and reassure him. Once he was stabilized, it was time to embark on the journey to the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP). Run by our partner, Game Rangers International, the EOP team would provide long-term care to Musolole, with the goal of one day returning him to the wild. The trip itself took 16 hours, a great feat of its own.
Once at the orphanage, caretakers remained by Musolole’s side 24/7. They comforted the young calf and made him feel secure in his new home. Slowly over time, Musolole overcame the grief of losing his mother and began to bond with the keepers and other orphans in care.
Despite his tough start in life, Musolole has grown into a caring and gentle elephant. He bonded with Zambezi, a male elephant calf only 6 months younger than Musolole. In March 2016, the pair graduated from the orphanage and moved to the release facility in Kafue National Park where the older elephant orphans begin their transition into the wild. This is the final stage of rehabilitation. The release herd walk into the bush each day, interacting with wild elephants and preparing for life in the wild. Musolole was collared with a satellite tracking collar in November 2019. The eight-year-old has now started to remain out in the wild for longer periods of time, a strong step toward our goal of release and integration into the wild population.
This eight-year old elephant will soon return to life in the wild, thanks to the rangers who saved his life.
It is rangers like Officer Sitale Musolole – and their committed families and communities – who build a brighter future for elephants and other wildlife. Today, we thank every ranger and their family who protect our planet and its biodiversity. And we thank each of you who support IFAW in our efforts to partner, equip, advocate for and train rangers around the world. Together, we ensure a future where elephants and people thrive, a future that is becoming a reality.
-Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Animal Rescue
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