Home News Elephants Collaring of Chamilandu’s Herd 

Collaring of Chamilandu’s Herd 

Chamilandu, better known as Chammy or Chamma, is our beloved species ambassador and the matriarch of our project partners. Chammy was the first now-wild-orphan-herd who roamed Kafue National Park independently and now has a beautiful herd. 

A significant strategy in keeping eyes on the Elephants once they are released is through satellite collar technology. However, in nearly all orphan collaring operations to date, the orphans were still part of the Kafue Release Facility herd and usually returning to the boma each night. This provided a very controlled and safe opportunity to sedate the elephants for collar implementation. Now, for the first time in our history, under Chammy’s leadership we finally have a ‘released herd’ of orphans moving freely in Kafue National Park together, completely independent of the Release Facility. 

Therefore, today marks a momentous occasion as the team has successfully implemented GPS satellite collars across Chammy’s herd in the wild, treating them the same as any other wild elephants! 

Chammy (left) leads her calf Mutaanzi (middle) and Rufunsa as they forage along the Nkala River boasting their new satellite collars | Image credit: Game Rangers International 

Chammy, now 17 years old, has displayed strong matriarchal qualities since her early years and this is evident in her ability to keep together her current herd which is comprised of all male elephants; Tafika (14.5yrs.), Mosi (13yrs), Rufunsa (13yrs) and her calf, Mutaanzi who will soon be 4 yrs. These older male elephants should naturally be dispersing from their herd at this age, but their presence provides the added security that Chammy needs for the smaller, more vulnerable, Mutaanzi against predators. 

To safely collar elephants in the wild aerial support is required, our partners (Game Rangers International), fixed wing savannah plane was used to track and locate the orphans. The team was then able to ensure the elephants were in a good location to dart the orphans from the sky.  

Our aim was to sedate and collar the elephants one-time to minimize stress to the herd, however, once an elephant is darted it can take a few minutes to succumb to the sedation. Three vets were on hand for the operation, led by Principal Vet, Dr Innocent Ng’ombwa. We also had three grounds teams ready to assist in collar fitment, collection of biological samples and to support the monitoring of vitals.  

GRI’s Research Coordinator, Webster Mwaanga, was on the ground coordinating the operation and reported…  

“Chamma’s herd have been moving together for nearly a year, so we were provisioned to collar the herd as a unit. However, on the morning of the operation Tafika provided us with a perfect opportunity when he made a guest appearance at the dry season boma. Since he was virtually on camp it was easy and safe for us to dart him from the ground as the landscape was grassy plains with few trees, so it was easy to maintain visual of him until he laid down. The grounds team then quickly moved in to replace his expired collar and within 15 minutes the sedation was reversed, and Tafika was getting back up on his feet.  

We then proceeded to track the rest of Chamma’s herd by plane and ground simultaneously using a VHF receiver since none of the GPS collars were still functioning. It took many hours to locate them, but eventually they were found Southeast of the Release Facility, in the company of another sub-adult bull elephant.  

Chammy’s herd spotted by air: Chammy (left), Mutaanzi and a wild bull bunched together, with Mosi and Rufunsa who peeled off at the back. | Image credit: Game Rangers International 

Highly skilled AP helicopter pilot, Brad, pushed the herd into an open area for Dr Innocent to dart, but in the process Mosi and Rufunsa separated from Chammy and Mutaanzi and the wild bull stayed with Chammy.  With good positioning in the open, the vet darted Chammy and Mutaanzi. The wild bull refused to leave their side and showed defensive behaviours over Mutaanzi, so for safety he was also sedated.  

As soon as the elephants had gone down the helicopter landed, and the ground teams were able to move in. Chammy was quickly collared whilst Mutaanzi and the wild bull were stabilized. This provided us with a good opportunity to collect biological samples (blood, dung, tail hair) and take growth measurements from all three elephants. The process went very smoothly with all three elephants soon back on their feet and this marked the end of the first day of collaring as it was getting late. We hoped that overnight Mosi and Rufunsa would reunite with now collared Tafika or Chammy.”  

– Webster Mwaanga

Keeping Chammy cool and monitoring her vitals as her collar is replaced.  | Image credit: Game Rangers International

The next day the newly deployed collars on Tafika and Chammy were set to issue frequent GPS positions and the plane took to the sky as teams also headed out on the ground, guided by the new-collar readings. We were quick to locate Chammy’s herd and found that overnight Mosi and Rufunsa had reunited with them as hoped. The helicopter team was then called in to ensure these two sub-adult bulls were driven into a safe location for darting.  

Elephants are a family-oriented species and in the wild a breeding herd is mostly comprised of closely related individuals. But with the case of the orphans, they have made these bonds from living together over the years and supporting each other to overcome the trauma of their initial losses.  

Heave-ho!  The team are quick to push Mosi and help him onto his right side to ensure a good position while he is under anaesthesia.

Rufunsa, and then Mosi were successfully sedated and the grounds teams quickly moved in to stabilise them, fit the collars and collect samples. When Mosi went down, he remained on his knees, so the team were quick to push him onto his side. Due to an elephants’ immense weight, it puts too much pressure on their diaphragm if they go down and tip forwards, and this is where access to manpower is essential to prevent accidental suffocation. Mosi was quickly moved on his side with his trunk stretched out straight for a clear airway as this collar was replaced.   

With the four teenage elephants now collared we really have been able to get a much better insight into the released herd’s dynamics. Although they are witnessed together frequently, we are now understanding more about their progress, and in particular Tafika’s demonstration of independence as he splits away from to Chammy’s herd more regularly than we had realised.  

Having eyes on the Elephants and this greater depth of knowledge will inform our release strategy moving forwards as we learn from every elephant’s progress and individual journey. Mosi and Rufunsa have also taken some bold steps away from Chammy recently and this provides us with further reassurance that despite their traumatic and unconventional start in life, these young elephants can recover emotionally, socially, and physically and will be able to truly live back in the wild where they belong.  

If you would like to donate towards our vital work and support Chammy’s incredible journey back into the wild, please consider adopting here. Your support will help give these orphans the second chance for life they deserve. 

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Andrew White
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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