Nzou is one of the quiet stars of our Rhino & Elephant Conservation Programme at Imire in Zimbabwe. The oldest elephant at the conservancy, Nzou is around 50 years old, and has been at the reserve since she was two years old.
They say that elephants never forget, but this unique animal seems to have forgotten she is an elephant, and now identifies as one of the reserve’s buffalo. Or is it the buffalo that think they are elephants?
The imaginatively named, Nzou (the Shona word for ‘elephant’) was brought to Imire in the 1970s, when she was found orphaned in the lowveld of Zimbabwe. She was put with the largest herd animal, the buffalo, and has identified with them ever since. They understand her rumbles, and she in turn seems to understand them.
The relationship that Nzou has with the buffalo is not an easy one. Buffalos have a patriarchal social structure, and over the 40+ years that Nzou has been in charge, she has killed 14 young male buffalo who challenged her leadership.
After several attempts over the years to encourage her to become part of the elephant herd, conservancy managers decided that her rightful place should be back with the buffalo. And there she has remained ever since. Nzou has never lost her elephant’s instinct for loyalty. One of her handlers was one day charged by one of the young male buffalo and badly gored. Nzou stood over him as he waited for help to arrive, guarding him against further attacks from the buffalo.
Nzou no longer communicates with the other elephants at Imire, perhaps she has forgotten how and no longer understands what they are saying. She is happy with her unusual herd, and as long as they don’t step out of line, she is happy and content to be their matriarch, and the matriarch of all Imire.
Watch this beautifully shot video of Nzou and her buffalo friends – providing that whatever size our differences, it is possible for everyone to get along.
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