‣ Male
‣ Date of birth : December 2022
‣ Date of rescue : February 2023
‣ Name derivative : from the village he was found
‣ Place of discovery : Zambezi River

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mataya rescue story

The small, remote village of Mataya Unga is located on the banks of the Zambezi River, north of Lake Kariba and south of Lower Zambezi National Park. As with so many rural communities, subsistence living and the growing of crops is vital for their existence. However, this way of life presents so many challenges, particularly those involving wildlife, who are usually competing for the same resources.

On Saturday, a large herd of elephants crossed the river from Zimbabwe and moved into Mataya Unga where they began to crop raid, devastating the maize fields that are the life source of the community. In response farmers and community members chased the elephants away, firing guns, throwing rocks and making noise to scare them off. In the commotion a tiny young elephant became separated from his mother and in the aftermath of the conflict he was found alone. Enraged by the loss of so many crops someone tried to claim the young calf for meat and he was attacked with a machete. However other members of the community were able to rescue the calf, tie and secure him in a safe location until the Department of National Parks and Wildlife  rapid response unit (located over an hour away) arrived on the scene.

DNPW officers understood the trauma experienced by both people and elephants and acted quickly to transport the young calf to Lusaka, whilst alerting the GRI team. The calf was only around two month old, so very vulnerable and had become exhausted from the incredible stress and lack of nutrients from his mother. At this young age he would be by her side always and feed from her frequently, as with many new-borns. Within a few hours the vehicle arrived to the Elephant Nursery in Lusaka National Park and the fragile young calf was carefully lifted into a stable.

Our team quickly supported him with electrolytes which he took in small sips, little by little, but he was too exhausted to stand. His glucose levels were very low and getting nutrients into him was essential for his survival. He had sustained two machete wounds on his ear and base of his tail which were treated, but were obviously causing him a lot of discomfort.

Throughout the night the team encouraged him to take small quantities of nourishing milk and hydrating electrolytes, little and often in between his sleep. Whilst he laid down entirely he was not yet relaxed enough to fall into any deep and restorative sleep, as he had just been through the most horrific experiences, and his stress levels and adrenaline were still very high. He had a deep straw bed for comfort and a Keeper constantly at this side who also applied essential oils to his surroundings to promote comfort, reassurance and rest.

After about 12 hours he regained the energy to stand by himself and surprised and rewarded us all by seeking comfort and nutrition from Keeper Sunday. He was still not strong and would only drink very small quantities of fluid, initially preferring electrolytes over the milk, as he was still overcoming dehydration. He has been named ‘Mataya’ after the village where he was found. The names means ‘to throw Meali Meal’ which is the staple food source from maize, and a stark reminder of the incredible challenges being faced in Human-Wildlife Coexistence and the tragic reality for his abandonment.

These first few days after Mataya’s rescue are the most critical as he is very vulnerable to exhaustion and at this very young age it is critical he is never left alone, as he needs the consistent comfort through physical contact that his mother would have provided. If we can support his emotional needs, we know that his appetite will also increase which is vital for his survival.