Zambia is home to more than 85 endangered animal species, including the African Elephant, the White Rhinoceros, and the King of Beasts, the African Lion.
Several different organizations in Zambia are working to protect these species and ensure their survival for generations to come. I was able to visit two of these organizations: the Lilayi Elephant Nursery and Lion Encounter.
Elephants constantly face threats from poachers and predators. When a mother elephant is killed, her baby calf may not have the ability to survive on its own. This is where the Lilayi Elephant Nursery helps out. Orphaned elephants are rescued from the wild, fed and cared for, and taught the valuable skills they will need before they are returned to a protected habitat to live on their own. The workers at Lilayi become substitute mothers, as their baby elephants learn to use their trunks (all 100,000 muscles!) to gather food, care for, and defend themselves.
Even though the elephants at Lilayi are babies, they still weigh more than 500 lbs (226 kilograms)! Still, I was far more comfortable interacting with these little giants than I was when I walked with lion cubs at Lion Encounter!
Lion Encounter raises lion cubs who have been bred to help repopulate this endangered species. Since the mid-1970s, nearly 80-90% of African lions have been killed, mainly by poachers or illegal hunters. I was surprised to learn that more lions are killed by humans each year than humans are killed by lions.
At Lion Encounter, lion cubs go through a four stage process, which trains them to use their natural instincts for hunting, protection, and living among a pride (a group of lions). During the first stage, lion cubs are walked by humans, which mimics what lion cubs would do in the wild with their mothers. I admit, my heart was beating pretty fast as I walked alongside one of the cubs.
Both lions and elephants are an important part of the circle of life that rules over the African animal kingdom. I’m grateful for conservation efforts that are trying to protect these animal for generations to come.