2023 began with a surprising turn of events as Chipembele, one of the newest graduates to the Kafue Release Facility decided to pursue a life in the wild at only 3 years old.
Chipembele at Kafue Release Facility in the summer 2022
The orphans in KNP are part of a ‘soft release’ programme and as they get older and closer to expected release (usually around 12 years old) they are fitted with satellite tracking collars so that we 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 there are always exceptions, and we have recently been very surprised to see Chip, leave the KRF herd! Thankfully we believe he has left in the company of a wild herd.
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, towards Chamma’s herd and a wild herd. All the elephants were located except Chip who had bypassed Chamma and according to our satellite data it seemed he was headed towards some wild (collared) elephants. Despite extensive recovery efforts (foot, vehicle, drone and helicopter) we had no positive sighting of Chip throughout December.
This situation is very similar to that in 2018 when two young elephants, Kakaro and Njanji, who had recently arrived at KRF decided to leave the orphans and follow a wild herd. They saw a large matriarch near camp and rapidly attached themselves to her herd. They were seen days later with her and choose to stay by her side rather than return to the Keepers who had raised them.
More recent images of Chip at Kafue Release Facility (far left in image 1 and nearest to camera in Image 2)
During searches for Chip we found no evidence of lion and with the boom of young at this time of year the lions are kept busy with antelope food sources throughout the Park. We also felt confident that Chip would have been able to communicate (through infrasonic comms) to the other orphans and return to KRF if he had wanted to, as they were close to camp when he ran off. He is now old enough to proficiently feed himself, however he does require the protection of a herd against predators for his survival.
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’. With the very wet weather Zambia is currently experiencing, we 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!
Sighting of potential "Wild Chip" by Tim Hammond
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 giants, reassuring and protective bodies.
Chipembele 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.
To everyone who has supported Chipembele on his journey with us, we would like to extend our gratitude. If you would like to adopt an orphaned elephant, like Chipembele, you will be able to follow their story through regular updates, first shared with the adoptive parents.
Game Rangers International’s Wildlife Rescue Programme is supported by our partners in conservation, Department of National Parks and Wildlife, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, IFAW and Olsen Animal Trust.
Chipembele's successful rescue, rehabilitation and recent release was made possible by the support of our donors and Chip's adopted parents. Please consider adopting an orphaned elephant to support them on their journey back to the wild where they belong.