New Life for Elephant Orphans!

Their mothers were killed by ivory poachers, but last week two elephant orphans began a whole new life at a national park in Zambia – thanks to the support of DSWF.

Elephants Kakaro and Njanji had to endure a ten-hour cross-country road trip to reach their new home and begin a whole new chapter in their rehabilitation story.
A small team from DSWF travelled out to Zambia to witness the translocation of the animals and the amazing moment when the orphan elephants met their new herd for the first time.

The young elephants have spent their early years in the nursery at the DSWF-funded Game Rangers International Elephant Orphanage Project at Lilayi on the outskirts of the capital Lusaka.
But this week, the time had come for their transfer to the special release facility in Kafue National Park – a journey of more than 350 kilometres!

The trip began at first light, when Kakaro and Njanji were coaxed into their transit vehicle – prepared with calming essential oils and disguised with branches to lessen the stress on the elephants.

During the long road trip, the orphans were checked every two hours and fed with bottled milk and fresh browse to keep them happy. Their keepers from Lilayi and a vet also travelled with them to reassure and monitor the precious passengers.


Late that night the elephant convoy arrived at the Phoenix Release Centre and Kikaro and Njanji were bedded down in the stables for the night.

When they went to explore their new surroundings the next morning the 12 other orphans came rushing towards them – especially Chamilandu, the matriarch of the orphan herd, who ran from one end of the boma to the other to greet the new arrivals!

After saying hello through the fence, Njanji and Kakaro joined their new herd on the morning bush walk in very unfamiliar territory.

Lauren from Game Rangers International said: “The new orphans are familiarising themselves with the environment and their new surrogate siblings and this is the start of an extremely important stage in their rehabilitation.

They will be exposed to sounds, smells and sights that they have not experienced before, which will prepare them for living in a much more wild environment.

The new-comers stood out from rest of the elephants, because they were covered in bright red Lilayi dust – it won’t be long before they take a bath in the Kafue mud and they will fit right in!

The Phoenix release facility in Kafue National Park – one of the largest parks in Africa – is where the elephants begin the re-wilding process. They will take long and regular walks into the bush and browsing in the safety of the outer boma. It is here that they come into contact with the wild herds that they will one day hopefully re-join.

The GRI Elephant Orphanage Project is supported with funds from DSWF. Our CEO Karen Botha, who travelled to Zambia to witness the translocation of the orphans, said DSWF was ‘very proud to fund this truly inspirational project’.

The uncompromising attention given to ensuring minimum human contact with the orphans at Lilayi Orphanage has prepared these baby elephants for the best possible chance of full release back into the wild one day,” said Karen.

The professional elephant management team at Camp Phoenix at Kafue carries on this work, bolstered by intense research and data collection (Behavioural Observation Studies), which will eventually be published to the benefit of many similar organisations around the world, who are committed to true rewilding programmes.

To find out how you can help our work protecting elephants and fighting illegal wildlife crime across Africa and Asia click here.