It has been an interesting week for elephants Chamilandu (11 years) and Batoka (nine years) as the two gear up for release.
In recent months the pair has been spending less time sleeping in the protective boma, moving a few kilometres away to feed with the younger orphan herd. As they begin the final steps towards release, we hope they are socializing with the wild elephants that roam Kafue National Park.
Recently, keepers and staff often hear wild elephants vocalizing at night, and are hopeful that Chamilandu and Batoka have been hanging around in the same areas during these times. Although we may be able to speculate on these encounters through GPS data from tracking collars, these interactions are rare to see and catch on film.
In the past we have awoken to the quiet cracking of branches or have seen footprints in the morning, suggesting wild elephants have visited, but we have never seen them around camp in daylight.
One evening, a herd of eight elephants with one very young calf approached camp. With the sun still shining and end of the day football practice in full swing, the elephants appeared relaxed, feeding from trees as they slowly walked along the outskirts of camp.
Not long after Chamilandu and Batoka appeared nearby, seemingly following the wild elephants. Although they kept their distance and were hesitant to join the herd, it was a very encouraging moment and a sign that they wanted to be close to their wild counterparts.
A few days later, Chamilandu and Batoka decided to join the younger orphan herd for their afternoon walk. However, they quickly left when they heard vocalizations from wild elephants. Shortly after that, the keepers heard “greeting” rumbles. Moving closer, the younger orphans and keepers observed the wild herd of 15, made up of 12 adults (with some juvenile males among them) and three calves. The keepers caught some of the interactions on film by climbing a tree to capture these moments.
As the keepers filmed, Chamilandu approached some of the males who were mud bathing. She hesitated and smelled them from a distance and then confidently walked up to one of the bulls. She turned her rear towards him in submission (a form of elephant respect to the individual she was approaching), and she then lay down behind him. The bull smelled her all over, touching her ear, before Chamilandu bathed next to him. Relaxed, he later walked off into the distance with the bull.
Batoka soon followed suit. With proper elephant etiquette, he hesitantly approached a female, who, like the bull, appeared quite relaxed. A wild bull then approached them both – he too submitting to the female. The bull appeared to make Batoka slightly nervous and he slowly moved away from them. The calm way in which the wild elephants accepted both Chamilandu and Batoka suggests they have met before, and the number of happy rumbles heard by the keepers further supports that idea.
Any social interactions these release phase elephants can have with wild elephants is valuable, helping them ease into the transition back into the wild and aid their development. Chamilandu and Batoka can learn a lot from more experienced wild elephants, as they begin their journey out of the boma and into the wild.
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).
Article source: IFAW