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Kafue Release Facility

At the start of 2022 heavy rains result in emergency elephant orphan relocation and camp damage at the Kafue Release Facility.

The original camp for the Elephant Orphanage Project, known as Camp Phoenix (after the first elephant orphan rescued) was built in southern Kafue National Park in 2008.

At the time all orphaned elephants were brought here for rehabilitation until numbers had increased enough to warrant building a designated Elephant Nursery in Lusaka for the youngest and most vulnerable orphans. Camp Phoenix thereafter became a dedicated release and research facility, catering for all orphans who had been milk weaned and were beginning their journey of release. This journey is a lengthy investment of patience and time as the once traumatised maturing elephants learn to live as a herd, to become familiar with their surroundings for food and water sources and importantly, they begin to establish relationships with local wild elephants who will one day guide them into full release and living back in the wild where they belong.

The site for the Release Facility was selected for its strategic location:

  • The Nkala River provides year-round water source for the orphans and is an attractant to the wild elephants.

  • Proximity to the Ngoma Forest, home to approximately 1,000 wild elephants

  • Communications reach this far into the Park.

  • Accessibility to the camp year around, with many other locations in the Park becoming inaccessible during wet months.

  • 12km from the National Park HQ, providing nearby security to the elephants and team.

However, as climate change impacts weather patterns we need to prepare for an increase in dramatic and variable condition.

At the start of 2022, unusually heavy rains have caused the Nkala River running alongside the Release Facility to break its banks and create large pools of water around the camp infrastructure rending many areas unusable. The primary area of concern was the elephant boma which filled up completely. Thankfully, with the support of David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, we were in the last stages of building a new boma 500m away on dry land, and during a dramatic relocation, all 16 elephants swam across the river to safety.

The elephants now have a place to keep their feet dry and are safe at night from lions. The team left behind on camp however are little bedraggled. The camp is now 14 years old, and due to this year's rains, which we fear are going to be the trend to come, have highlight the need for improved and more permanent structures.

This means relocating and rebuilding many of the existing structures to ensure they can provide long-term functionality, security and comfort for our hard-working field teams who live in Kafue National Park for 3 weeks at a time before they rotate duty for rest. In the dry season the camp can be full of dust and average summer temperatures of 38°C, in the winter night temperatures can plummet to -2°C, whilst in the wet season the team live in rubber boots and rain jackets, carry umbrella’s and are plagued by mosquitos. Camp living is not for the feint hearted, especially when you couple these conditions with the wildlife with whom we must coinhabit. Crocodiles, lions, and deadly snakes all who pose a very real daily threat to the safety of our team. Addressing the Kafue Release Facilities needs is therefore our number 1 priority for 2022 to ensure sleeping quarters, ablutions, dining areas, storage and desk workspace are all fit for purpose and enhance staff welfare and well-being.

Thanks to the loyal support of our amazing donors, we have already been lucky enough to secure funding for:

However, our camp office, which is the epicentre of the Kafue Release Facility, was built traditionally utilising mud walls and thatched roof and cannot withstand another wet season. Walls are falling down around the teams'ears and we need to provide them with an infrastructure to keep supplies safe and dry and that will enable them to operate as the professionals we need them to be. With $50k as the target, Vrienden Van De Olifant has been instrumental in supporting us in this fundraising drive, reaching an incredible 60% of the target so far!!

We can’t hope to save the elephants without first saving the people dedicated to helping them.

Would you like to get involved?

Join Vrienden Van De Olifant in their support for the rebuild of the Kafue Release Facility Office space.


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