Meet the NGO protecting Zambia’s orphaned elephants

Zambia is home to amazingly vast array of wildlife but, like other African countries, human-animal conflict and the insidious presence of poaching has left its mark on the nation’s beautiful and diverse animal populations.

At Love Nature, we don’t just want to capture footage of amazing creatures such as the African elephant, we also want to help play a part in protecting them. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Game Rangers International, one of our official partner charities who we’ll be donating part of your—and every other viewer’s—Love Nature app subscription sale to the organisation.

To let you know a little bit more about GRI, we sat down with them to ask about who they are and what the charity does:

What is Game Rangers International? 

Game Rangers International (GRI) is a Zambian conservation organisation, working alongside Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to protect the wildlife in Zambia. The organisation has been active in Kafue National Park (KNP) since 2008, originally founded to protect the threatened elephant population in KNP through law-enforcement, animal welfare, education and outreach. GRI has developed over the years to encompass the following themes; law-enforcement, community outreach and education, research and policy, anti-trafficking and animal welfare.

How did the organisation come about? 

GRI’s founder and CEO, Sport Beattie, spent much of his youth in Zimbabwe. He was very close to wildlife and the rangers protecting it. When he grew up he realised that, despite a lot of funds being available for conservation, the people in the frontline don’t get much support at all. GRI started with the specific aim of supporting the men and women in the frontline of conservation, the ones who are risking their lives protecting the wildlife.

GRI was established in Zambia, where there was a need for this kind of organisation. The first GRI project was the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) and GRI was providing welfare, training and support to the people working with the orphaned elephants. GRI was established in 2008 and has since grown to become the holistic organisation you see today.

What projects is GRI currently working on? 

GRI currently implements five projects:

1. Kafue Conservation Project (KCP)—Providing welfare, training and operational support to wildlife personnel on the front line of endangered species protection. Implementing community outreach and education programmes in the communities around Kafue National Park.

2. Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP)—Rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned elephants back into the wild

3. Wildlife Crime Prevention Project (WCPP)—Lusaka Conservation Project promotes nationwide conservation of wildlife in Lusaka through wildlife crime prevention, education and outreach and research and policy.

4. Wildlife Veterinary Project (WVP)—rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals that have been injured as a result of human activities, such as poaching and snaring.

5. Zambia Primate Project (ZPP)—Rescuing and rehabilitating injured, orphaned and illegally held vervet monkeys and yellow baboons for release back in the wild.

As you’ve stated, you work closely with elephants; what issues do these animals currently face in Zambia? 

Village scout training (1)

The African Elephant is under massive threat all over the continent, including Zambia. Poaching for ivory is a well-known wildlife crime, and many of Zambia’s majestic elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks. Another, less well-known threat, is Human-Elephant Conflicts (HEC), which arise when elephants encroach on farmland and enter communities adjacent to the national parks. They raid crops, destroy livelihoods and put people in danger. HEC is a result of habitat loss, which happens when humans settle into areas previously habited by wildlife and humans and wildlife compete for space.

GRI is working to support law-enforcement and anti-trafficking efforts in Zambia in order to prevent poaching and bring the wildlife criminals to justice. We are also working with local communities around Kafue National Park to mitigate HEC and to encourage the people living close to the park to take part in its protection.

You opened up an elephant orphanage back in 2012: how has the site developed and grown since that time?  

The Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) was established in southern Kafue National Park (KNP) in 2007, with critical funding from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF), with the mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned elephants back into the wild.

The need for a project like EOP was highlighted as early as 2001, when a young orphaned elephant was rescued and taken to the zoo in Lusaka. Raising an elephant is a costly experience, and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) promised to support the orphan, named Phoenix, on the premise that she eventually would be released back in the wild. Phoenix was moved to the southern part of Kafue National Park in September 2007, and the plan was to establish a facility similar to the successful elephant release programme in Kenya. Within two months, three other rescued orphans had joined her, and at this point the need for the Elephant Orphanage Project was evident. The project started to take form and a site was chosen in southern Kafue National Park, along the Nkala River.

The camp was developed with the primary focus to release Phoenix back into the wild. However, as the number of orphans increased, including some very young and sick calves, the need for a Nursery facility became more apparent. In 2011 EOP rescued a young orphan in need of veterinary support. A temporary location within Lusaka was offered but within a short space of time three other young and vulnerable orphans joined her, and this became the catalyst for the development of the Lilayi Elephant Nursery (LEN) located outside Lusaka.

When an orphaned calf is rescued, it is taken to LEN where it receives the care and support it needs to make it through the initial stages of rehabilitation. The orphan first forms a bond with the elephant keepers, who are providing care around the clock, but over time they will settle into the herd of other orphans. Through daily walks with their keepers they learn about life in the wild. 

When an orphan is mature enough to be weaned off milk, it is translocated to the Kafue Release Facility (the original camp in the Kafue National Park) where it joins a bigger herd of older elephants. In the Release Facility, the orphans are weaned from milk and get more independent of their keepers. They continue their daily walks in the bush where they learn how to feed themselves and they get exposed to wild elephant herds. The more mature the elephants get, the more time they spend independently in the park, until one day they are ready to live a life in complete independence, back in the wild where they belong.

Today, the EOP cares for 14 orphaned elephants. Currently 10 of them are supported at the Kafue Release Facility and four are cared for at Lilayi Elephant Nursery. For more info about EOP, please visit the website

Aside from conservation, your organisation also works in development. How do these two areas interact with one another?

GRI takes a holistic approach to conservation and development, rooted in the belief that the key to sustainable, long term utilisation of Zambia’s natural wealth is best achieved by the full participation of its citizens in managing these vital, internationally important eco-systems. These areas do not only contain a diversity of wildlife, they are also important cultural resources that provide opportunities for tourism, conservation education and research as well as contributing to the socio-economic well-being of the surrounding local communities and Zambia as a whole.

What projects are you working on to engage Zambia’s people with the conservation of its wildlife?

GRI believes that the conservation problems that face national parks cannot be resolved without the genuine involvement of the local communities in managing and benefitting from the natural resource opportunities that protected areas present. There is strong evidence that the depletion of natural resources can be halted and even reversed by successfully demonstrating to communities the economic and social value of wildlife.

KCP’s Outreach and Education Programme seeks to empower the communities living adjacent to Kafue National Park to improve their health and wellbeing through better management of their natural resources. Targeting health, education, food security, sustainable livelihoods and human-elephant conflict, in these remote, rural communities, the programme aims to achieve both development and conservation outcomes.

Please could you explain a bit about some of the greatest challenges that GRI has faced to date?


One of the greatest challenges is matching the available funds with the needs. There is an endless amount of needs, but not always enough funding to address these issues.

Working in remote locations in Kafue National Park also creates challenges of logistic nature.

Another challenge is building relationships to overcome some of the sensitivities surrounding conservation. Empowering the local communities with knowledge, expertise and resources to realise the benefits from wildlife is crucial. Without communities joining in, to conservation it’s a lost cause.

What do you think Zambia’s wildlife will look like in 20 years time? 

Sport Beattie, CEO and Founder of GRI says:

I’m hopeful and confident that with growing knowledge and awareness internationally and nationally, we will see healthier protected area landscape and local communities actively participating in and benefiting from conservation and wildlife.  I think that we will see wildlife scouts who are more empowered, better supported, better trained and who inspires younger generations to take an active part in conservation’.

What can viewers do to help save the country’s threatened wildlife populations?

Viewers can help GRI protect Zambia’s unique wildlife in a number of ways. First of all they can donate to our projects. No amount is too small to make a difference. The easiest way to donate is through our Just Giving page.

They can also support our work through our ‘Adopt an Elephant’ scheme, whereby individuals adopt one of our orphaned elephants for a year. The adoptive parents receive a certificate and regular updates about ‘their’ elephant. This is a very popular option among our supporters.

GRI has a volunteer program that welcomes dedicated people from all over the world to support our work with orphaned elephants, rescued primates, community outreach and education. For more information, please visit Wild Zambia Volunteer’s website.

Finally, one of the absolute best ways to protect Zambia’s wildlife is to come and see it for yourself! Zambia is home to one of the world’s most vibrant wildlife populations. In the vast and wild Kafue National Park, you can enjoy elephants, leopards, cheetahs, lions, hippos, wild dogs and a wide range of other beautiful and elusive species. There are many fantastic lodges here that will ensure that you have an unforgettable experience on your safari. For more information, have a look at Zambia Tourism’s website.

If you’d like to know more about Game Rangers International, why not visit our official Partner Page, or take a look at their website: