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. With this, there are many factors that every single elephant - in both the Nursery herd the Release Herd - has to adapt to.
In this blog post, we take a look at how this affects the Release Herd who gain a new member.
When new members join the herd, depending on time of arrival, the Release Herd are either out on their walk or are moved into the side paddock so there is no disruption during the new arrivals' move into the stables.
They are initially stabled and kept separated from the rest of the Herd for the first day and night to allow them to settle in, and are offered milk formula and support from Keepers who have travelled from Lilayi with them. (The elephants are slowly weened off milk as they start to gain enough nutrition from grazing in the National Park.)
The first interactions between the Release Herd and the new members occur over the stable fence. There is always a great deal of inquisitive behaviour, especially from Chamilandu, the matriarch.
When Mkaliva and Kasewe were translocated in 2019, the Release Herd were still on their daily walk when the young calves arrived and were moved into the stables. Immediately, the elephants returning from their walk noticed that there were new elephants. Chamilandu was the first to check them out and try to get as close to the newcomers as possible. Having been the 'big' elephants at the nursery, it can be quite stressful for new arrivals to now have 15+ larger elephants around them trying to smell them, hence being kept in the protective stable.
When the calves are let out of the stables the next morning, a large factor that effects how the Release Herd react is the etiquette shown by the new arrivals. If they are showing signs of submission, being respectful and polite, they will be accepted very easily and you will see friendly and reassuring behaviours from the older elephants. In cases where some of older orphans have grown up alongside the new-arrivals at the Nursery, and are now being reunited, those relationships usually pick up again. However, if the new elephants don't show submissive or respectful behaviours it will take them a bit longer to learn the elephant etiquette and be accepted by the herd.
The translocated elephants are often very nervous and will stick to each other for comfort and support. Over time, they become more comfortable with the Release Herd and start to form new relationships.
Every introduction will vary depending on the existing relationships and personalities of the Release Herd and new arrivals. Generally, the trend stands that if the translocated elephants are respectful and submissive, they will have a smooth transition into the Release Herd.
Contributors: Rachael Murton (Wildlife Rescue Director)