Elephant Orphanage Project in Zambia

Watch "Jumbo Hopes: Securing a bright future for Zambia's elephants" - an overview of the work being done to help these orphaned elephants.


The Elephant Orphanage Project’s (EOP) Lilayi Elephant Nursery on the outskirts of Lusaka is the first rehabilitation center of its kind in the Southern African region.

Rescued baby elephants undergo intensive care, with comprehensive physical examinations, dehydration treatment, and dressing of any wounds. A team of locally employed, highly trained keepers spend time with the elephants around the clock in an effort to provide stability and help with recovery from the emotional damage the elephant has suffered, taking them out for daily walks, or sitting close by their stables at night.

As soon as the calves can be weaned from milk they are moved to the Kafue National Park to join other older orphaned elephants at the EOP’s Kafue Release Facility, where they are more independent of human support and spend most of their time browsing freely in the park. The Facility backs onto the ancient Ngoma Teak Forest, where there is a 1,000-strong local elephant population, which maximises the opportunity for the orphans to eventually reintegrate with fellow elephants back in the wild.

There are four key initiatives designed to safeguard the orphans once they begin their reintegration. They are:
1.       Predator school
Since elephant orphans are not familiar with predator threats because they’re raised in a protected environment, we’re working with our partners at the EOP to design and implement the first-of-its-kind lion recognition and avoidance program. This “predator school” will help teach young orphaned elephants the life lessons their mothers and herds were unable to teach — how to recognize the threat of lions, snakes, and other dangers, and how to behave to avoid or survive such threats.
2.       Human-elephant conflict reduction
After decades of habitat loss and the encroachment of food crops along the borders of Kafue National Park, elephants and people are in greater danger of conflict due to crop raiding. To keep the EOP orphans out of trouble and danger, we work with communities to establish measures to reduce or eliminate  this conflict — such as special fences, elephant-safe ditches, beehives to keep the elephants out of the fields, and growing crops the elephants are less likely to eat.
3.       Elephant tracking
Satellite collars help us keep elephants safe and track their reintegration into herds. We need to collar every one of our elephants who begin to roam freely and remain outside the boma’s enclosures in the evenings. And we need purchase the best and most reliable collars money can buy.
4.       Post-release monitoring
Even the most effective lion predation avoidance training and anti-conflict strategies aren’t 100 percent foolproof. As a result, we employ a highly-skilled Post Release Monitoring Specialist — someone who knows both elephants and the landscape, someone who will live in the bush and track the elephants, visually as well as through analysis of data obtained through the satellite collars.

The Elephant Orphanage Project is a project of Game Rangers International, established by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation in close collaboration with the Zambia Wildlife Authority and IFAW.

Poaching for ivory has reached epidemic proportions in Southern Africa. Wildlife-human conflicts and accidents have caused an additional number of tragic deaths. Baby elephants are often the indirect victims of such cruel circumstances. Without the essential natal care and nutrient rich milk from their mothers, orphaned baby elephants are left to perish. Even if they survive, they have ongoing problems foraging for food and socialising with others of their kind without the sufficient parental modeling. They can suffer from a condition similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in humans, often exhibiting extreme behavioural problems and having trouble reintegrating into a new herd.