Who cares for orphaned African elephant calves left motherless by poachers?

The images above were taken at the Zambia Elephant Orphanage.


For anyone who looks at the news, he or she is surely aware that the poaching of wild animals is at crisis levels. Elephants are particularly targeted and slaughtered for their tusks in order to feed the illegal, booming ivory trade.

If allowed to continue at its present rate, very soon there will be no more elephants left in the wild.

But one thing that isn’t usually shared in the media is: What happens to the baby elephants left behind on these horrific mass killing raids that take the lives of mothers, aunts and other family members?

SEE ALSO: United in Southern Africa against poachers and wildlife traffickers

Who takes care of a baby crying piteously and wandering among the death and mass destruction left behind by these poachers; who don’t bother with babies because they have no tusks and therefore have no monetary value?

Elephants mourn much like people do and I can only imagine the heartbreak of seeing your mother killed and cut up before your eyes.

There is an organization in Zambia who does care for these babies left behind and the work they do with these orphaned elephants is amazing. Game Rangers International’s (GRI) Elephant Orphanage Project rescues and rehabilitates orphaned baby elephants and then will reintroduce them into wild elephant families who live in protected habitats.

I had the opportunity late last year to visit the project in Zambia and view first-hand the remarkable work its staff does.

First the rescued baby is taken to the project’s nursery in Lilayi where it undergoes intensive care. Physical examinations are given, dehydration is treated, and wounds are dressed.

Equally important to recovery is the assignment of a keeper who spends night and day with the elephant in an effort to provide stability and help with recovery from the emotional damage the baby has suffered. After a period of months or sometimes years, the elephant is moved (called translocation), to the protected Kafue National Park where it hangs out with the other elephants and continues its rehabilitation.

After some years it will eventually say goodbye to its keeper and integrate into an existing wild family.

Not a quick turnaround time for these animals, but so very rewarding.

In the process of getting to know this organization, both IFAW and GRI came to realize what a perfect partnership it could be. Included in the partnership would also be the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation who was and is so instrumental in establishing and maintaining the project. The project also has the added advantage of the support from the Zambia Wildlife Authority.

In October the memorandum of understanding between IFAW, Game Rangers International and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation was signed, and our new partnership began.

We all anticipate sharing expertise, learning more about the baby elephants in care and are looking forward to their return to the wild. I hope in the coming years IFAW supporters will read the stories and progress of the baby elephants in care and learn to love them like we already do.


For more information about IFAW efforts to save elephants in Africa, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
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