Saturday 20th August was the ‘Elephant Epic’ – Elephant Orphanage Project’s (EOP) annual fundraiser, a 75km mountain bike race that attracted 142 riders! The EOP team were busy preparing for the event when an orphan alert was called through by our partners at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) – rescues always seem to occur when we are already very busy!

Dr Innocent Ng’ombwa, DNPW vet, led the rescue in Livingstone supported by Wildlife Police Officers from Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, Warden Mwale, Dr Katampi and EOP staff.

Officer Zimba had been watching the 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 which are not their own. As the rescue team 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 2 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 ‘Njanji’ started to bond with Elephant Keeper Elvis, which was essential to provide him with comfort and the confidence to accept these new fluids from a human, and give him the willpower 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 can now be seen suckling the fingers of the keepers and drinking milk from a bottle – a very promising sign.

No sooner had Njanji settled at the Nursery than EOP received another call from DNPW Officers on Sunday, this time in South 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 were 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 start 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.

With a growing family of orphaned elephants at the Elephant Orphanage Project we are desperately in need of more funds to help support and nurture them in the months ahead. Help us give these orphans a second chance for life in the wild by donating here:

Press release courtesy of Game Rangers International