Two orphan elephants rescued in two parks in Zambia


This weekend, staff from the International Fund for Animal Welfare partner GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) responded to two elephants, orphaned and in distress.

One of the wildlife police officers from Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park had been watching an orphan for a few days to confirm the separation from its mother. He observed it trying to attach itself to another herd. However they were rejecting it, as is common in the wild; milk is a precious resource for female elephants, and they tend not share their milk with calves who are not their own.

As the rescue team—led by Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) Dr Innocent Ng’ombwa—prepared to dart the orphan it became apparent that a teenage elephant in the nearby herd was struggling to walk from a snare around its right leg. The team took swift action to dart this injured elephant, remove the snare, treat the wound and get him back on his feet before they returned their attention to the orphan, who had separated from the herd in the commotion.

Within 10 minutes the orphan was located. He was also darted with a tranquiliser and fell down next to the railway line (Njanji) once the drugs had kicked in.

The little elephant, approximately 1.5 years old, was then stabilised within the National Park for two days where he was observed to eat browse and drink water and electrolytes from a bucket. This behaviour was essential as he was malnourished and dehydrated and desperately needed to get some energy before his long journey to the EOP-Lilayi Elephant Nursery.

Within the first 24 hours, the elephant, named ‘Njanji,’ started to bond with elephant keeper Elvis. This relationship was important to give him the will power to survive.

After loading into the DNPW trailer, he had a smooth journey to Lilayi and despite the initial stress caused by the move, he calmed within 24 hours and was soon suckling the fingers of the keepers and drinking milk from a bottle – a very promising sign.

Soon after Njanji settled at the nursery, EOP received another call the next day, this time from Kafue National Park. A team from DNPW and the EOP-Kafue Release Facility responded quickly and returned to the stables with a 2.5-year-old orphan who was also dehydrated and malnourished.

With a new orphan inside, the release herd was very curious to come back to the boma (their night time protective enclosure) and the matriarch of the herd, Chamilandu, was walking around the boma fence smelling him and sharing rumbles back and forward. Young Zambezi was also reluctant to leave the boma for his walk the following morning, seemingly wishing to find out more about this newcomer.

He has been named ‘Mwembwe’, a shortened version of Namwembwe Hill, where he was found.

It’s still early days for both orphans and the next week is critical. They need to keep drinking milk formula from a bottle to ensure we can get into them the essential nutrients that they would have received from their mothers to enable them to return to good condition.

Mwembwe has collapsed from exhaustion once already and both are being monitored around the clock. Both elephants are being stabled until the vets give them the all clear.

In both cases there is no direct evidence for why these little elephants have become orphaned, but mother elephants do not leave their babies unless there is an underlying health issue or when conditions are so tough they cannot continue to feed them.

With an on-going increase of elephant poaching (which often includes lactating mothers) across the continent, coupled with a particularly dry season, it is likely that the number of orphans needing to be rescued will only increase.

GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project would like to thank the dedicated staff of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, who have worked tirelessly to secure and transport the orphans once spotted. In particular we thank Dr Innocent Ng’ombwa, Dr Jackson Katempi, Warden Mwale Mosi-Oa-Tunya NP, Rabson Zimba, Elvis Likando, Ivan Sihubwa, Warden Daka SKNP, Charles Chongomoka, Daison Mwinga and Eric Mwanakezwa.

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


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