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Chipembele takes to the wild

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

A surprising turn of events from the field as Chipembele, lovingly known as Chip, one of the newest graduates to the Kafue Release Facility decided to pursue a life in the wild at only 3 years old.

Our ground-based conservation partners were very shocked to see Chip, leave the Kafue Release Facility herd!

Image credit: Game Rangers International

The team in Kafue Release Facility use a ‘soft release’ programme with the orphan elephants. As the orphans get older and closer to expected release (usually around 12 years old) they are fitted with satellite tracking collars so that they can monitor their progression in the wild. Due to the weight of satellite collars (approx. 8-10kg), it is only the larger, older orphans who wear these, as they are most likely to leave the orphan herd. But Chip is too small to wear a satellite tracking collar!

The catalyst for his departure was a herd of zebra who caused some commotion and dispersed the elephants. Along with other youngsters Chip ran off into the dense thickets, however, all were located other than Chip.

Thankfully we believe he has left in the company of a wild herd!

Extensive search efforts by ground and air could not recover him, and there were no sightings for a month. At 3 years old he can feed himself, but the protection of a herd is vital for his survival and defence against predators, and this was our main concern.

In early January, KRF Manager, Tim, caught sight of a wild herd of 18 elephants at the pools adjacent to camp. Within the herd there were four young calves, one of which he noted did not obviously appear to be with a mother. In the images gathered the likeness to Chip is remarkable. There is a female within this herd who is one of the ten we have satellite collared, so we have since been trying to follow them remotely and aim to get further visual sightings of this potential ‘Wild Chip’!

Image credit: Game Rangers International

With the very wet weather Zambia is currently experiencing, the team have not yet been able to get near the herd again and they have moved off into the forest. Efforts will continue, and we are very hopeful that he has been adopted into a wild herd, which would mean he is safe, and his release has been fast-tracked, putting him in the best place possible to gain all the skills required for life; back in the wild!

During our search efforts we are seeing elephant herds combine in large numbers (which is usual ‘fusion’ activity during the rains) which would be such an attractive option for a young elephant, who lost his natal herd at such a young age, to now be surrounded by these giant, reassuring and protective bodies.

Chip is now a wild, free roaming elephant!

Our research team will do all they can to monitor him remotely and follow his progress back in the wild, exactly where he belongs.

You can help to support other orphaned elephant, like Chip back into the wild by donating here: Donate – David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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