When elephants at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka reach the age of 3-4yrs old, they are translocated to the Kafue Release Facility where they move on to the next stage in their release. Typically, if possible, elephants are not moved on their own. To provide some emotional support, the babies are translocated with another herd member of a similar age.
With this, there are many factors that every single elephant - in both the Lilayi Nursery herd the Kafue herd - has to adapt to. In this blog post, we take a look at how this affects the Nursery herd members who are left behind.
It's a strange morning for the Nursery Herd as two members are taken out of their stables by the Keepers. Elephants are creatures of habit, so this break in routine spikes their interest. Once the truck with the elephants being translocated leaves, and the rest of the herd go on their daily morning walk, the herd notices the absences. The calves who shared a particular bond with those who have gone start to show signs of being uneasy.
For example, when Maramba (male) and Kavala (female) graduated from the Nursery in 2014, Nkala (male), who was incredibly attached to Kavala was then very distraught - running around, screaming, and looking for Kavala. Before Kavala's departure, Nkala would suck on her earlobes for comfort, treating Kavala as his surrogate mother. With Kavala gone, Nkala had to divert his attention to Musolole (male) who then became his new "mummy", as no other females were around. This caused distress for Nkala and inevitably affected his relationship with the other elephants.
The herd dynamic will always change when there is a translocation. The extent to which it changes completely depends on the relationships between the elephants and how attached they are to one another.
When Kakaro (male) and Njanji (male) were translocated in 2018 there wasn't as significant of a change to the herd dynamic as they were closest to each other and had already grown rather independent from the rest of the Orphan Herd. Although the rest of the elephants looked for the two young bulls, they didn't experience as much emotional distress as when a female who is nurturing a younger calf is taken away.
Unfortunately, all of the orphans have experienced loss before in their lives. Although this is a short term separation, there will still be a certain level of stress. To minimise this individual stress, we always try to ensure that there are more elephants being left behind than leaving.
Contributors: Rachael Murton (Wildlife Rescue Director)