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Numerous young elephants are orphaned every year due to poaching and human elephant conflict. Without help, the chances of their survival in the wild are perilous. The Elephant Orphanage Project does sterling service to rehabilitate the youngsters, but support is needed to quell the poaching crisis.

Nestled deep within Zambia’s Kafue National Park (KNP) is the Elephant Orphanage Project, a rehabilitation-and-release facility for young elephants that have been orphaned by illegal poaching activities and human-elephant conflict. A David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and Game Rangers International (GRI) initiative , the facility is run by project manager Rachael Murton and her team, who lovingly prepare the animals to return to the wild.

Rachael Murton, project manager of the Elephant Orphanage Project. © Andrew White

Unfortunately, poaching in the area is escalating beyond belief, with rescues becoming more and more frequent. GRI has responded by expanding its operations and is currently building a new elephant nursery in Lilayi, on the outskirts of the capital, Lusaka. It will rehabilitate elephants younger than three, after which they will be relocated to the release facility in the park.

Enjoying the water at the Lilayi Game Reserve. © Andrew White
Schoolgoing children are being taught to value the natural world around them, rather than seeing it as a mere source of sustenance and income. © Andrew White

The importance of conservation education in Zambia and globally is vital in the fight to end  poaching. Already the Muzovu (meaning ‘elephant’ in the local language) Project reaches more than 3 000 pupils across the country and, with the development of new education facilities and online learning resources, awareness will increase nationally and internationally. For my part, in August 2013 I’ll be cycling, with my cousins Sebastian and Dom Loram, from Livingstone through the bush and via the KNP to the new Lilayi orphanage, a 500-km plus journey. Then, all going well, we will enter the Elephant Epic – a 70-km race into the Lower Zambezi valley. We aim to raise £20 000 (R266 000) to develop the education arm of the project.

In the months ahead, I will be sharing with you some of the stories of the baby elephants that have been rescued, the work of GRI and updates on our training and fundraising activities. To start, I would like to introduce you to two elephants rescued in the Livingstone area, where our cycle challenge will begin.

Batoka

Date of birth: April 2008.

Sex: Male.

In October 2009, when Batoka was just 18 months old, he became stranded on an island in the Zambezi River by pilots from Batoka Sky, a microlight and helicopter operator. The youngster was alone, weak and malnourished. Local tourism professionals Livingstone’s Adventures, Bushtracks and Bundu Adventures, along with the Zambia Wildlife Authority and additional manpower, rescued the calf and transferred him by road to the Elephant Orphanage Project. He became very depressed and although his body soon repaired, it took him six months to recover emotionally. For some time, Batoka found it hard to re-integrate with other elephants. Now, thanks to the attention poured on him by the other orphans, he is part of the family and is growing rapidly.

Little Suni showing her happiness after her daily treatment. © Andrew White

 Suni

Date of birth: October 2011.

Sex: Female.

Rescued by staff members of Sun International Zambia and the Zambia Wildlife Authority, Suni  was found on the roadside with axe-wound lacerations to her spine and chin. Veterinarians initially considered euthanising the animal due to the extent of her wounds – her right back leg was paralysed – but Suni had a good appetite and showed a real fight for life so was given a chance. Over the following few weeks she showed slow improvement and feeling returned in part of her leg. Although she is now walking and enjoying her new elephant family at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, her future remains uncertain.

It’s time to sign off now and start my next training session. There’s some final news, though: I am excited to tell you that Olympic gold medallist Joanna Rowsell has kindly offered her support and backed our ride.

Follow @CycleZambia, check out the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation website  or donate at www.justgiving.com/cyclezambia2013

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Andrew White

With a teaching background in physical education and geography, based in Canterbury, UK, and as an education advisor for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, he has been travelling around Africa for the past 10 years, taking opportunities to support education and wildlife projects in Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Some of his highlights include diving with hammerheads in the Red Sea, trekking to see gorillas in Uganda, helping with white shark research in South Africa, assisting with anti-poaching and education projects in Zimbabwe and, most recently, supporting the work of Game Rangers International in Zambia. Between these projects, he leads school groups on adventure tours to South Africa and Nambia. My biggest project to date takes place in August 2013, when I and two cousins will cycle through Zambia in aid of the Elephant Orphanage Project, part of Game Rangers International and supported by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.