Airborne Rescue in Zimbabwe by Wild is Life-ZEN and the International Fund for Animal Welfare Saves Tiny Elephant Orphan

HARARE, Zimbabwe, Oct. 4, 2019  — On 2 October, 2019, Wild is Life-Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery (ZEN) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) launched an emergency airborne rescue in northern Zimbabwe. The news arrived that the approximately seven month old female calf was in distress following the death of her mother three days earlier at Mana Pools National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned as one of Africa’s premier wildlife and wilderness complexes.

“When news came in that the calf had been found wandering alone, we made a quick and calculated decision with our partner WIL-ZEN to launch the rescue,” said Azzedine Downes, CEO and President of IFAW. “The calf was at risk and there was no time to waste if we were to save her life. A plane was found and within a matter of hours the team was on its way to help.”

Accompanied by Wild is Life’s veterinarian Mark Lombard, the team flew from the capital Harare to Mana Pools. With the help of local safari guide Steven Bolnick and ZimParks rangers they were able to track the calf who had already collapsed. She was rushed back to Harare, arriving at ZEN just after dark.

ZEN is renowned for its work in rescuing and nursing sick and injured orphan elephants back to health, rehabilitating them to eventually return to lives in the wild. The ZEN Project operates in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and it is with their cooperation that this work is able to be carried out. Their assistance and belief in the project is invaluable to these rescues which are dependent for their success on a swift professional response. 

“This little girl has had a narrow escape,” said Roxy Danckwerts, founder of Wild is Life-ZEN. “She’s still milk- dependent so her chances of survival for even one more day were narrow. Frankly, alone and weak, she was at risk of predation from lion or hyena, or simply death from starvation. She’s one very lucky little calf. Now she will get round-the-clock care from our team to nurse her back to health.”

The new calf will join ZEN’s resident herd of seven rescued elephants including their first elephant, six-year old Moyo, who has assumed the role of “matriarch” of the herd. Movingly, Moyo lost no time in greeting her new charge. Within minutes of the calf arriving, Moyo was allowed to meet her new charge, caressing and comforting the little stranger.

As Zimbabwe comes to the end of the traditional dry season, wildlife in the northern part of the country, including Mana Pools NP, has been hit particularly hard due to lack of access to water and food. It’s likely this could have contributed to the death of the calf’s mother.

“Wild is Life-ZEN, like our partner IFAW, believes that every individual animal counts,” said Roxy Danckwerts. “Our mission is to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned, injured and sick elephant calves. In time, each of the calves we raise will be released to live their lives as elephants in the wild.”

IFAW works in more than 40 countries to rescue and protect animals and their habitats and to achieve a world where animals and people can thrive together. To see more about the IFAW’s partnership with Wild is Life-ZEN, visit

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