The Amazing Story of Ndewa, the Elephant Who Survived Against All Odds

GRI was called to help another struggling orphaned elephant when members of Chikumbi village took action to help an incredibly emaciated young calf. She was found wandering alone by their village, her condition demonstrated she had been without her mother’s milk for a very long time. They contacted our GRI Community Outreach Ranger, Chrispine, who guided them to restrain her safely, realising if she was allowed to head into the nearby forest, we might not see her again.

A young, emaciated elephant tied to a tree before rescue from Game Rangers International

The emaciated, young elephant was tethered by a rope by the community


Chikumbi village sits along the Zambezi River opposite Zimbabwe, and neighbouring Mozambique. It’s a highway for elephant traffic where they frequently cross the river. It is possible that this young calf became separated from her herd during one of these crossings, however poaching and human wildlife conflict remains a consistent threat in Rufunsa Game Management Area, and this is the 17th elephant orphan we have rescued from this area.


When our team arrived, she was found on her feet, browsing. With our guidance the community had dug her a small hole from which she drank and cooled herself, however her extreme emaciation meant her condition was critical. She was loaded into the IFAW rescue trailer, and the team overnighted at DNPW HQ to stabilise her and ensure she consumed much needed electrolytes for energy and rehydration before the long journey to the Nursery. With such an emaciated elephant we could not rush to give her milk as she had been without for so long, but at around 2 years old she is able to browse well, and the Masao and Mbula fruits she had been naturally foraging on were the starting point for getting her some energy (the seeds were found in her dung).

The IFAW rescue trailer and the exhausted elephant lying down in the soft hay


At first light the team started the 8-hour journey back to the Nursery and during which she lay down to sleep for 30 mins, which was the first time she had rested since her rescue. The process of capture and restraint was initially very stressful as the confused and traumatised young calf did not understand what was happening and that people were trying to help her. However, once inside the trailer with its soft hay bed and with the consistent food and fluids provided by the Keepers, she allowed herself to rest a little. On arrival to the Nursery, she was timid and exhausted and refused to leave the trailer, which was reversed up to her new stable door. The team waited patiently for her to step out – which only happened after an hour, when the other orphans returned to the boma and their presence naturally encouraged her.


During her first night she slept frequently, exhausted from her ordeal and accepted fluids, although only from the bucket as she does not yet understand the bottle or feel comfortable enough with the Keepers to be hand fed. With her extreme emaciation it is critical we can get nutrients into her but without overloading her vulnerable and compromised internal system. She has a good appetite for browse and Masao fruits, which is promising although her survival is not guaranteed.


Ndewa in her stable, the result of her extreme emaciation visible


She has been called Okondewa (or Ndewa (N-deh-wa) for short) which means “beloved” in the local language of Chinyanja. She will certainly need a lot of love to pull through as she has suffered significant emotional trauma in abandonment as well as being significantly physically compromised through starvation. We will keep you updated on her progress as we monitor and support her with bated breath.


Ndewa’s survival will only be possible with specialized nutrition and non-stop supervision and care. Please consider donating today to help us save this vulnerable young elephant and give her the second chance for life that she deserves.

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