Local Stories: Chipembele, Zambia

In 1998, Steve and Anna Tolan left their jobs as police officers in England and, after a long-distance love affair with Africa, moved to Zambia. Their goal was to teach the next generation about conservation and the importance of protecting the wildlife of the South Luangwa. After catching a lucky break and securing some land, thanks to the help of Chief Kakumbi, the pair set to work making their dream a reality…

After a few years of hard work for Steve and Anna (below), Chipembele was born as a wildlife rehabilitation and conservation education centre in 2001.


With educating local children at the heart of their mission statement, a museum about regional wildlife and the South Luangwa‘s eco-system was created for kids to visit as part of a full-day school trip. Here, the children are encouraged to think about why it’s important to protect the environment, and to consider a career as a guide. It’s not just children who are targeted, but adults too, in a ‘top-down’ approach; one past incentive involved awarding the adult who collected the most snares with a bicycle – a mode of transport that is a real lifeline in these parts.


In early 2014, British viewers might have seen comedian Paul O’Grady visiting Chipembele and meeting Douglas, the baby hippo (below), during ITV’s Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans. Douglas (who was at one point thought to be a female and re-christened Douglina, before a third sex-identification found ‘she’ was actually a he, as initially thought – all very confusing!) was found abandoned by the Zambezi River at two weeks old, and was cared for by Conservation Lower Zambezi. In 2013, he was transferred to Chipembele to begin his rehabilitation, with the eventual aim of successfully introducing him to a local troop. The word from Chipembele as of April 2014 is that Douglas has been introduced to a wild pod in the Luangwa River, although he still comes home regularly.

Douglas is one of the many orphans that Chipembele takes in, until they’re ready to be released back into the wild; you can check out some irresistibly cute photos on their Facebook page.


A further effort of Chipembele is in sponsoring children who might not have been able to afford an education otherwise, particularly orphans, those with single parents, or with disabilities.

Chipembele has a particularly special place in the heart of one of Jacada’s Safari Experts. Sam – who was born in Zambia – raised money for the charity back in 2004 before going to volunteer with them after her mother had read about them on the Zambian forum, Great North Road. Inspired by Steve and Anna’s dedication, Sam and her father, Jeff, now sponsor a local lad, Mabvuto (below, during a school performance); with Jeff’s financial support, Mabvuto is now just one year away from finishing school. Her family also bought Chipembele a truck, which was provided in memory of Sam’s mother, Jane.


Chipembele is responsible for some incredible work in Zambia. You can read more about Steve and Anna’s charity here, or find out about the region that inspired the couple to uproot their lives: the wonderful South Luangwa.

UPDATE: In September 2014, we heard that Douglas had been succesfully re-introduced to the wild with a local pod of hippos.