Rachael Murton - Project Manager
Elephants at the Release Facility
The Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) in Zambia, aims to rescue, rehabilitate and return orphaned elephants back to the wild. The orphans' mothers are often victims of poaching and human wildlife conflict. Once an orphan has been rescued and stabilised they are taken to EOP's Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka where they are provided with intensive care around the clock, which in some cases means being bottle fed every three hours. The dedicated and highly trained keepers are guardians to the elephants day and night and they help them to overcome their loss and learn behaviours required for them to survive in their natural environment.
Once the calves are no longer reliant on milk, are healthy and robust, and have formed a bond with their fellow orphans, they are moved to EOP's release facility within Kafue National Park. Here they are integrated into an already established orphan herd and learn to become independent of human support. They spend most of their time browsing in the park under the watchful eye of the herds' self appointed matriarch and a limited number of elephant carers. Being within an environment of vast natural forests, inhabited by a local population of over 1,000 wild elephant elephants, there is every opportunity for the orphaned elephants to reintegrate with fellow elephants and eventually return to the wild. Until this time comes, they are given the option to return to the safety of a boma at night which also enables EOP carers to regularly monitor their physical and phycological well being.
What Elephant Orphanage Project does
Rescue orphaned elephants and care for them at Lilayi Elephant Nursery
Rehabilitate rescued elephants by preparing them for re-wilding at Camp Phoenix, the release facility in Kafue National Park
Create an orphan herd to reduce the elephant's dependency on humans and increase their chances of wild integration
Analyse and record the elephants' social behaviour and interactions through ongoing research and data collection
Monitor the orphan herd during and following their release
How Olsen Animal Trust helps
OAT are a primary project partner, alongside IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare and DSWF (The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation) providing ongoing financial support towards the overall running of the operation.
Project Images - hover over for details
Nursery for orphaned elephants
Together with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, EOP regularly comes to the rescue of orphaned elephants in Zambia. EOP educates and trains local Zambians on what to do if they come across an orphan elephant. This involves how to take care of themselves and the elephant, whilst waiting for EOP to arrange the rescue.
Making up the orphan's bottles
Here's our OATOKE, Dave, making up a milk bottle for one of the orphans. Young elephants' stomachs are very sensitive so baby milk formula mixed with natural vitamins, proteins and oats is used.
Elephants and their keepers
This is Lilayi Elephant Nursery, located just outside Lusaka. It is a purpose-built facility designed to house and care for elephant calves, most of whom are orphans due their mothers being poached. The orphans receive intensive care from dedicated carers until they are ready to be transferred to a purpose built release facility within Kafue National Park.
EOP and their major donors
OAT are proud to be one of the major sponsors of EOP alongside the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and IFAW - the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Every year all the partners meet to discuss the ongoing challenges and successes of the programme. In 2018 this meeting took place in Lusaka, Zamiba, and its attendees are photographed here.
Relocating the orphans to the release site
Some of the OAT team were lucky enough to join the relocation of two of the orphans from the nursery in Lusaka to the release facility in Kafue National Park. It was an 11 hour journey with stops every two hours to make sure the elephants were were fed and watered. Here Sue, our Founder, is helping make sure they have one of their bottle feeds.
New orphans meeting the herd
Chamilandu (pictured left) is the self appointed matriarch of the orphan herd at the Kafue based release sight. Here she comforts one of the new arrivals from Lilayi nursery. You can easily tell the new arrivals from Lilayi orphans apart as their skin is brown which is the colour of the sand they bathe in at the nursery. This wears off after a few weeks of being in Kafue.
Release Facility for rehabilitated elephants
Kafue Release Facility is where orphaned elephants are based in the final phase of their rehabilitation. They usually move here from the nursery at three years old. They spend their days browsing in the national park in the vicinity of the release camp. During this time they form bonds with their surrogate siblings and learn from older, experienced elephants under the watchful eye of the keepers.
The orphan herd
The orphan herd heading out for their daily outing into the bush. They can choose to return to the boma facility in the evenings until they are confident enough to fend for themselves. The older orphans are monitored using GPS collars and are often seen interacting with wild herds.
Studying the behaviour of the orphan herd is a vital component of the EOP project. It provides an in-depth understanding of the successes and challenges of the rehabilitation and release processes. Such information enables them to continuously shape the protocols of the programme to ensure maximum success for EOP, and other elephant rehabilitation projects across the continent.
For further information on the work of Elephant Orphanage Project please visit