Nestled in a Game Park just 30 minutes out of Lusaka is Lilayi Lodge, a lodge that gives you the experience of watching some Bushbuck, calmly graze below you as you enjoy a drink and/or meal.
Before you get to the lodge, however, you get the option and treat of watching some baby elephants nurse, because at the entrance of Lilayi Lodge, is the Lilayi Elephant Nursery.
The Lilayi Elephant Nursery is an initiative by Game Rangers International (GRI) that takes in baby elephants that have been orphaned as a result of poaching.
Zambia has a big poaching problem, with elephants especially targeted for the ivory of their tusks.
At the nursery, you will be welcomed by Victor, a ranger who has worked there for nine of the eleven years the nursery has been operational, and talks about all the elephants who have come and gone there, by name, like they were his children. He tells us the story about Suni, the elephant who risked losing her leg to a snake bite to save Victor’s life.
Victor will also good-naturedly mention he’s a bit of a movie star because part of the Netflix movie, Holiday In The Wild was filmed at Lilayi Elephant nursery and Victor is in it.
There are currently four calves at the nursery, Zongo, Mbila, Olimba, and Lani. They are each assigned a guide who feeds them. The calves respond to their names only when it is used by the guide assigned to them. The calves stay at the nursery for about four years, after four years they are considered old enough to survive on their own. They are then taken to Kafue National Park to help reintegrate them into the wild. When taken to the park, the calves have trackers on them just so the nursery always knows their whereabouts within the first year or so, and once they establish that they are fully independent, the elephants are free to roam as they please.
Lilayi Elephant Nursery is a fully donor-funded organization that also aims to empower the locals of the area. They do this through sensitization workshops with the locals as they too have a part in the illegal killing of elephants and the GRI group believes this can be combated by educating the locals on the dangers of poaching, also on how people can co-exist harmoniously with the elephants.
The nursery also boasts of a small curio shop that sells woven baskets and small stuffed animals (elephants, giraffes…) made by local women around the area.