Home News News Mbila and Zongo – going back to where they belong! 

Mbila and Zongo – going back to where they belong! 

Just when the rest of the world was unable to catch a flight due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, two young elephants took to the air and flew across Zambia when they were rescued due to a human-elephant conflict (follow this link to the double rescue’ film series).  

Three years later, after intensive rehabilitation from our partner in Zambia they have recovered physically, emotionally and socially, and have made the exciting journey back to their homelands in Kafue National Park. 

Zongo and Mbila before Relocation | Image credit: Game Rangers International

At 3years 6months and 3years 5months respectively, Mbila and Zongo were very ready to graduate to the Kafue Release Facility to become part of this bigger release herd, to understand herd hierarchy and dynamics, improve their foraging skills and learn to navigate the landscape and environment that is going to be their new home for many years to come. The two elephants have been best of friends since their rescue and this alliance has provided them with comfort and reassurance to aid this significant transition in their rehabilitation process. 

Research Assistant, Mary Muyoyeta, was on the ground to support the translocation and she reports:

Image credit: Game Rangers International

“As the sun rose the team assembled at the Elephant Nursery for this big day. Mbila and Zongo were let out of their stables and DNPW vet Dr Chadzaantso Phiri quickly darted them both. It took around 10 minutes for the drugs to take effect and once the elephants were down, we worked quickly to ensure they were in good positions to facilitate breathing. Team members had various roles to ensure we monitored their vitals, took biological samples for health checks and research, and fitted tracking collars.  

Mary collects blood, hair and dung samples from Zongo whilst Keepers monitor her vital signs | Image credit: Game Rangers International

They were then lifted one at a time, using a cargo net inside the wildlife truck, Mbila first, then Zongo. This part is a really tough job as both elephants weighed over 670Kg so a lot of manpower is required. Once in the truck, the veterinary team administered the reversal drug and very quickly both calves were up on their feet. The Keepers gave them a bottle of milk to reassure and hydrate them, and their 400km journey to Kafue National Park began. 

Image credit: Game Rangers International

To ensure their welfare we made regular stops, every two hours to offer them milk, electrolytes, fresh browse and to cool their bodies with water. Their Keepers Sunday and Miyanda, who they are fond of, travelled with them and provided reassuring words at each stop. They were mostly calm during the journey, browsing and seen waving their trunks out the top of the truck on few occasions. Both refused to drink milk at the first stop (which is not uncommon due to the stress of travel), but each took some milk on the following stops. 

Zongo and then Mbila are finally encouraged out of the truck and into the KRF boma where rehydrating bottles and a stable with a thick hay bed and lots of browse were at the ready | Image credit: Game Rangers International

Despite it being a long journey, we reached the Release Facility within 9 hours which is good timing (as it usually takes 7 hours without elephants) and we arrived in the early evening in the daylight.  Unsure of their new environment at first and shaken by the journey, Mbila and Zongo were reluctant to get out of the truck when the doors were opened for them. Not even milk bottles could lure them out! Thankfully, their Nursery keepers were right by their side when they needed comfort and the reassurance that it was Ok. After about 20 minutes of gentle persuasion, they finally walked down the sandy ramp and into the boma where they were rewarded with bottles of milk, which by now they hungrily accepted.

After their milk, Zongo and Mbila scanned the new environment, periscope sniffling with their trunks, as they took in all the new smells, and were then led into the stable by the keepers where they would spend the night and have a chance to lie down and recover from the long journey. Few minutes later, the KRF herd returned from their walk, and they become aware of the presence of Zongo and Mbila. 

Image credit: Game Rangers International

While most of the elephants did not show too much concern about the newcomers, Olimba and Ludaka seemed to have recognized Zongo and Mbila (they were herd mates at the Nursery), sniffing their trunks towards them and producing deep rumbles. Olimba, as soon as she finished her milk bottle, immediately went to their stable but because it was secured and separated by the boma poles, she went in the side and managed to get her trunk far enough in to interact with Zongo. However, with the exhaustion of the long journey it was important that Mbila and Zongo were given a full night’s rest to recover their strength, before interacting with the KRF herd. 

Both elephants slept really well that night, sharing a stable for comfort and completing all milk feeds throughout the night like usual. The following morning, while the keepers were opening the secured stables, Musolole, who is renowned for his friendly nature, was the first to enter; even seen pulling at the poles to access the newcomers. Once the gate was opened, Muso went inside the stable, forcing Mbila to move outside and start socialising. Mbila was a little startled by this large new elephant and went straight to Zongo and Olimba outside the stable where they stayed close together. The threesome walked together and joined the rest of the herd who were waiting at the Boma gate to head out for their first walk.”

As Mbila and Zongo took their first steps back into the wild of Kafue National Park we are filled with an overwhelming sense of joy and achievement at getting these elephants back into their native homelands. With their initial interactions demonstrating respect to the older herd members, we feel confident that Mbila and Zongo will settle easily into the KRF herd and flourish back in KNP where they belong. 

Zongo and Mbila’s rehabilitation and relocation has been made possible with thanks to your support.  

Help us continue to support orphan elephants like Mbila and Zongo by donating today.

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Andrew White
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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