Orphaned elephants struggled to maintain weight in dry season

During the dry season Musolole and his surrogate siblings have had to learn how to find the best food when there is very little around.The El Nino effect has hit southern Africa hard this year. It’s been super-hot and dry, and it’s not just crops that are withering but the plants and trees that are a primary source of food for wildlife offer precious little for hungry young elephants.

At the Zambia Elephant Orphanage (ZEO) just outside Lusaka, four year old Musolole (the oldest of the elephant orphans we are caring for) started to lose some weight around September as the plant life dried up and there was little green food upon which to forage.

Musolole was less than six months old when he was found by ZAWA Officers in Sioma Ngwesi National Park in the Western Province of Zambia. His mother had been shot by poachers and his body had struggled to cope for over a week without essential milk from his mother.

By the time he was rescued, he was weak, severely dehydrated and covered with sores.

Thankfully Musolole – proudly named for the brave ZAWA Wildlife Police Officer who gave his life defending wildlife from the same poachers who shot the calf’s mother – recovered well, and is very much the leader and top dog of three orphans currently residing at ZEO.

A gentle soul, he is happy to walk and browse in the more than 600 hectares of grassland that surround our facilities, and during the dry season Musolole and his surrogate siblings have had to learn how to find the best food when there is very little around.

From the end of August there was not much green food available, and the elephants have relied on branches, roots and the bark of trees to provide their nutrition. By September Musolole had started to lose a little weight, which is perfectly normal for wild elephants as the dry season progresses.

At ZEO, the orphan’s weight losses are monitored very carefully and the milk formula, which is being given through bottle feeding, is adjusted if necessary.

Musolole's milk formula has been slightly increased during the dry season to make up for the lack of food. Later his formula will be reduced, and he will be weaned from the bottle as soon as he makes the journey to Kafue National Park and enters Stage 2 of his rehabilitation at the Kafue Release Facility.

Musolole responded very well to his dietary changes and regained all his lost weight and even increased weight to a very respectable 705kg. Nutritional management is very important for the elephant orphan’s development; they have to learn how to take the bad times with the good. When Musolole is living independently out in the wild, he will have learned enough about how and what to eat to sustain him through the whole year.

For the moment, however, Musolole is very content living with his surrogate siblings Nkala and Zambezi in the safe and caring environment of ZEO. No doubt, all three of them will enjoy the new rainy season, which should start later this month, and the bush gets green and lush again.


Do you want to help support Musolole and the other orphaned elephants at the Zambia Elephant Orphanage? Your Holiday Gift today will help animals like the orphaned wildlife IFAW cares for.

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