By Charlotte Brill

At the end of last year, not-so-little Chamilandu became the first Zambian orphaned elephant to deliver a wild-born baby. This is a truly remarkable feat in Zambian conservation symbolising strength and hope for the future or Zambia’s orphaned elephants. 

In 2007, Chamilandu was rescued by Game Rangers International (GRI) after her mother had tragically been killed by poachers. GRI is a non-profit organisation working in Zambia alongside the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the local communities to protect Zambia’s wildlife and wild spaces. The organisation has been active in Zambia since 2008 and prides itself for its holistic approach to conservation through three core thematic areas: Resource Protection, Community Outreach and Wildlife Rescue. 

In the years it has been active, GRI has played a pivotal role in empowering rangers and local communities to conserve nature, particularly in Game Management Areas, contiguous to the Kafue National Park. They are very devoted conservationists who put their heart into all the hard work they do to make a sustainable difference and tackle the human-wildlife conflict in Zambia. Chamilandu was cared for at GRI’s Elephant Orphanage and Release facility, where orphans are supported by dedicated keepers and gradually reintegrated into the wild. 

As the eldest female in the herd, Chamilandu became the Matriarch of the herd, mothering every orphan who since joined her at the facility. She is obviously a beautifully kind-hearted and maternal elephant. At 13-year-old, this iconic elephant who has roamed free in the Kafue National Park for the past four years returned unexpectedly on 9th September 2019 for the first time in 4 months. She looked tired and uncomfortable, much like pregnant women when they are about to give birth! 

GRI had known for some time that she was pregnant after she allowed Maison, her keeper since her arrival at the Elephant Orphanage, to touch her stomach so that he could feel and hear the baby moving inside. The whole camp was excited but also very aware of the threats Chamilandu could face in delivering her baby, especially as a younger elephant. Having grown up surrounded by predominantly male elephants, she lacked the support of older, experienced females. As highly social mammals, female elephants become very active in the role of ‘allomother’, providing midwife support and physical protection of the new calf against predators. GRI staff feared that her companion age-mate bulls would be unable to provide adequate protection in the wild. 

Having returned to camp, which was her safe haven for many years, keepers were able to step in to support Chamilandu in removing the birth sac and helping this miracle baby to its feet after she rapidly gave birth. Welcome to Zambia little Mutaanzi David! He was given this special name to mark this momentous occasion in GRIs compassionate journey. Mutaanzi means ‘’first born’’ in the local Ila language and David tributes GRI’s late founding father, wildlife artist David Shepherd, without whom Chamilandu would never have had her second chance. 

GRI’s Wildlife Rescue Director Rachael Murton explains the significance of the young calf’s birth: 

“The birth of Mutaanzi David was an incredibly emotional and special time for GRI and of course the entire elephant herd. His birth represents a significant milestone that is an indicator of success towards successful re-integration with wild elephants, a goal we have worked on for the past 11 years. The fact that Chamilandu has reached a physical health condition and demonstrated that she is reproductively fit provides the reassurance that despite these orphans losing the vital nutrition and nurture of their mothers at a young age, our system of care and nutrition has supported getting her to a physical condition that is comparable to her wild counterparts.”

This exciting milestone is the result of an 11-year journey for the DNPW-GRI partnership. If this story has made a special connection with you, follow Chamilandu and Mutaanzi David’s’ story at www.gamerangerinternational.org. Trust me it is worth it!

Picture Credit: Game Rangers International

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