Working for Wildlife: Elephant Orphanage

The Elephant Orphanage Project in the Kafue National Park in Zambia rescues, rehabilitates and releases orphaned elephants

The premise of the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) is to rescue, rehabilitate, release and research, and the Lilayi Elephant Nursery is responsible for the initial rescue and the rehabilitation. The orphaned elephants are cared for from the point of rescue until they reach milk weaning age, when the elephants are transferred to the Kafue Release Facility.

Unfortunately, due to a decrease in funding, the EOP may not be able to continue their work at the level they are accustomed to, yet the need for the project to rescue vulnerable orphans remains. The project only receives one year of funding at a time, and sadly their cash flow is so critical that the team cannot guarantee the successful rescue of all the orphans reported to them.

How severe is the funding crisis?

The EOP is currently suffering from a lack
of funding, which is having an immediate impact on young wild elephants. With each orphan costing the project around £26,760 (approximately $35,450) per year, we need to ensure we are in a stable financial situation to rescue an orphan. Currently, we can only rescue more orphaned elephants if we can secure emergency funding; only then can we deploy to rescue an orphan. The cost for the rescue alone is £1,139 (approximately $1,508), then, depending on the health condition of the orphan, further costs will be incurred to ensure we are able to provide the veterinary care the orphan requires.

As an orphan will stay within the care of EOP for at least ten years, we need to ensure we have the funds available to care for them during this time.


What are the main challenges for the charity?

The first is funding. With five milk-dependent orphans currently in the care of Lilayi Elephant Nursery, funding is crucial. Each orphan consumes 16 litres of milk per day; that is 560 litres of milk formula each week, costing £114 ($151). The annual cost for all-round care per orphan is £26,579 ($35,209), therefore when rescuing an orphan we need to ensure we are in a stable financial situation to guarantee the highest standards of care.

Each orphan is a ten-year commitment, as the rehabilitation process of an orphaned African elephant takes at least ten years. Therefore funding is vital to ensure we can give the orphans the care they need during this period to give them the best possible chance to live in the wild once again.

Another challenge is human encroachment in the area. As human settlements arise close to the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, the area is becoming unsuitable for the orphans due to noise pollution from local towns and traffic. Ideally, the area in which the orphans reside would be completely natural and free from human influence to mirror the wild environment that was once home to the orphans and that will one day be their home in Kafue National Park when they reach the release stage of their rehabilitation programme.

Can you talk us through a rescue?

The rescue process starts when we receive a call on the Orphan Hotline. Often, community members will contact EOP when they have spotted a lone elephant calf. The EOP team will then prepare to deploy, packing essential rescue kits so that we are equipped to care for the orphan no matter their health condition upon arrival, while securing a vehicle that is suitable for rescuing an elephant calf.

The team will remain in contact with the community members who reported the orphan so that we can get to the orphan as quickly as possible. In some cases community members may capture the orphan until the EOP team arrives, but other times this is too difficult
and they will attempt to track the orphan’s movements. The EOP team also keeps in constant communication with DNPW staff (scouts and vets) as they are crucial to the rescue process.

Once in the location of the orphan we will attempt to capture it (if this hasn’t already
been achieved by community members), which may sometimes require darting by a DNPW
vet. Once captured the team will stabilise the orphan, providing necessary veterinary care and treatment and offering the orphan a specialised milk formula to boost its body condition.

Once stabilised a DNPW vet will clear the orphan for travel, and the team will transport the orphan to the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, which is often a long, challenging journey. Once at
the nursery the orphan will be transferred to a prepared stable where it will receive around- the-clock care until it is back to full health.
The orphan will then be introduced to its new

surrogate siblings and join the daily walks in the bush, where he/she will learn vital survival skills.


How many elephants are killed every year in Zambia?

Poachers don’t advertise their activities and the total number of elephants in Zambia is not accurately known. In the last survey published in 2016, it was estimated there was 21,758 elephants in Zambia. In the majority of Zambia the population was classed as stable. It is estimated from ivory seizures and carcasses found that 100 elephants a day are being killed in Africa (one every 15 minutes).

How likely is it that the African elephant may become extinct within our lifetime?
The elephant death rate due to poaching is now greater than the birth rate. Elephants have a long gestation and are ‘slow breeders’, and the current rate of decline is eight per cent a year. If the current trend continues there is a high probability that the elephant will become extinct in 20 years.


How you can help


The Elephant Orphanage Project has a volunteer programme that currently accepts three volunteers at the Kafue Release Facility and two volunteers at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery per month. More details can be found at:

Donations can be given through the JustGiving page. Each donation will directly help the 17 orphans in EOP’s care:


The GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) operates in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF), Olsen Animal Trust (OAT) and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).


Words by Emma Harrison