Orphaned Elephants Closer to Wild Life in Zimbabwe

Seven orphaned elephant calves rescued years ago from traumatic circumstances have moved 1,100 kilometres closer to freedom after their translocation across Zimbabwe. Aged between three and 13 years old, the elephants have all been rescued and raised by the team at the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)-Wild is Life (WIL) elephant nursery in Harare. Some were saved as newborn calves, and all received intense care after losing their mothers and herds, mostly from human-made causes.  

Each rescued elephant has survived despite immense challenges—all have suffered great emotional trauma from the loss of their mothers and herds and, in some cases, terrible injuries. They have received hands-on care at the nursery ever since. The elephants were transported by truck on an arduous 20-hour journey by road from Harare to the Panda Masuie Forest Reserve on Zimbabwe’s western border. This second rehabilitation stage is vital to reintroducing the elephants into the wild, where they can integrate and eventually join established wild herds. This is done by elephants either forming their own herd or by integrating into an established wild herd migrating through the area.

Unfortunately, Moyo, a female elephant and the first elephant calf rescued by WIL over nine years ago, suffered some injuries en route and is under veterinary treatment and well on the way to full recovery.

The elephants are the third group translocated by IFAW and WIL to the IFAW-supported release facility in Panda Masuie. The 85,000-acre² habitat protected area forms part of the Kavango Zambezi Trans frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) and provides a haven for rescued and wild elephants. 

The IFAW-WIL project is Zimbabwe’s only elephant rescue, rehabilitation, and release scheme for elephants. It is part of IFAW’s Room to Roam initiative forming an integral role in securing landscapes and maintaining connectivity for elephants and other wildlife.  

After a long journey, Bumi, Sally, Coco, Unity and Sienna are released from the transport trucks into the boma at Panda Masuie. Photo: Tyson Mayr © IFAW

Managed by WIL conservation manager and project manager Jos Danckwerts, elephants at the Panda Masuie release site regularly interact with free-roaming herds, sometimes spending extended periods with wild elephants.  

One such example is the story of Jack the elephant who was translocated from Harare to the IFAW-WIL Panda Masuie Release Project near Victoria Falls in 2021. Just weeks after Jack moved to Panda Masuie, he left the safety of the boma and joined a wild herd.  A satellite collar enabled his movements to be tracked daily. For months the herd were content to roam the Panda Masuie Forest Reserve, Zambezi National Park, and Victoria Falls National Park. Then, in January 2022 almost six months to the day after he joined the wild elephants, Jack and his adopted herd left for Botswana. In 24 hours they walked 90 kilometres, almost in a straight line. 

Since then, the elephants have wandered back and forth across Botswana and Namibia—both countries are part of the vast Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which covers parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. 

Jack’s story is a remarkable example of how it’s possible to rescue, rehabilitate, rewild, and release orphan elephants to live their lives in freedom.  Jack was rescued by WIL in 2018. He was about two years old when ZimParks rangers found him stuck in a muddy waterhole in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. He had been badly mauled by hyena and required intense care by the team at the IFAW-WIL nursery in Harare to recover. 

In 2021 he was one of six rescued calves moved from Harare to Panda Masuie, where the rescued herd spend their days roaming in the forest reserve and regularly interacting with wild herds of elephants. They are monitored daily by the WIL handlers and Forestry Department Rangers.

“This is why we do the work—to see wild animals rescued and successfully rehabilitated to take their first steps back to where they belong in the wild,” said Neil Greenwood, Wildlife Rescue Director at IFAW. 

“Years of knowledge, experience and work have been devoted to creating a successful project for orphaned elephant calves to gain the strength and skills needed to thrive independently.” 

To learn more about IFAW’s rescued elephants and Room to Roam initiative click here.


Banner Image: Bumi, Sally, Coco, Unity, and Sienna eat vegetation in the boma immediately after arrival at Panda Masuie. Photo: Tyson Mayr © IFAW

August 2023