An exciting day is here for two very special elephants as they take a big step towards their eventual release back into the wild.
Today, Olimba Mtima and Chipembele are being relocated from the Elephant Nursery to the Release Facility in Kafue National Park.
Olimba has been a resident of the Lusaka Elephant Nursery for three years, since her rescue at 1 year old. Like all the elephants we rescue, she suffered a traumatic start to life when she lost her mother and herd through poaching. As did Chip, who has enjoyed a much shorter stay at the Nursery. He was rescued when he was almost 2 years old and is now moving only a year later as he is about to turn 3.
There is quite an age difference between the two elephants moving out of Lusaka tomorrow and the decision behind their relocation at this time has depended on several factors.
Olimba was just under 1 years old when she was rescued around 3 years ago.
Age and physical readiness
The main precursor to taking the ‘next step’ is ensuring that the elephants are in good physical condition and are nearing readiness to be weaned from milk. Graduating to the Release Herd is not as easy for the elephants as might be expected and there are a lot of stressors for them to overcome: walking further each day for food, beginning to be weaned from milk, spending their nights in the paddock with the herd where there is competition for resource and exposure to a range of naturally occurring pathogens that they have not previously encountered.
Being a younger bull, Chip is likely to be more adaptable to these changes as and to be respectful towards his new peers. Olimba is now physically very robust and ready to be milk-weaned but both will be supported with specialised milk formula until they have fully settled into the new environment, and we can see they are maintaining good condition. The gradual weaning process mirrors that of wild-elephant mothers and is critical to ensure they maintain optimal condition after their hard start in life. Olimba’s age and Nursery Herd status has empowered her and resulted in her starting to challenge the Keepers. This is a good indication that she is very ready to move to the Release Herd where the older elephants will ensure she maintains the level of respect appropriate for her age as she will now be one of the lowest ranking herd members, but being a female we expect to see her behaving respectfully towards her new herd.
Chip was already nearly 2 years old when he was rescued, so his time at the nursery has been shorter.
Relationships and herd dynamics
Olimba is nearing 4 years old. Her relocation was delayed as she has played a significant role as Mini-Matriarch and brought much needed stability to the Nursery Herd over the last few months as they faced the relocation from Lilayi to Lusaka National Park. She has been pivotal in the early days of other young elephants’ rehabilitation, providing comfort after the trauma of their loss and rescue.
Olimba and Chip are the oldest two elephants at the Nursery and so make the appropriate pair to graduate together. Whilst they have not been particularly close, more recently they have been sparring and developing bonds, and it is this relationship that will bring them great comfort as they make the transition to a new location and meet new elephants. Of course, there may be some familiar faces… Olimba should well remember Lani who was the last orphan to leave the Nursery and it is these reunions which will also aid in this significant and exciting transition.
Of the remaining Nursery Herd, Mbila is beginning to demonstrate maternal instincts and will naturally follow in Olimba’s stead as the matriarch of the group.
As Olimba and Chip travel they be supported by the Keepers who have cared for them since rescue and who will remain in KNP until they have settled well into the Release Herd. They will be closely monitored as they take their first steps into the boma to meet their new family and as they experience the wildness of Kafue National Park for the very first time.
Both Olimba Mtima and Chipembele still have a long way to go in their journey back to the wild where they both belong. Please consider adopting an elephant today and directly support the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of a young, orphaned elephant.
Olimba and Chipembele’s rehabilitation would not be possible without the support of our partners in conservation, Department of National Parks and Wildlife, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, IFAW and Olsen Animal Trust.