By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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With World Elephant Day on 12 August, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust celebrates the occasion with a glimpse into the everyday lives of orphaned baby elephants.
Infant elephants are rescued by the Trust and often arrive at their Nairobi Nursery severely traumatised by the events that separated them from their mother and family and it is up to the Trust to hand rear them
Executive Director of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (UK) Rob Brandford added: “Aside from the trauma and often physical injuries from such events the infant inevitably enters a period of deep grieving for its lost loved ones, which can last for months.
“During this critical period survival hangs in the balance and not all calves can be persuaded to make the effort to try to live.
“Our Nairobi Nursery offers a secure base and a loving environment to nurture these orphans at a time of greatest need.”
Infant elephants are very fragile during the first months of their lives and our keepers must replace their lost family and stay with the orphans 24 hours a day.
Keepers even sleep with the calves on a rotational basis and use a special milk formula developed by the Trust’s Founder, Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE to feed new-born elephants to provide the nutrients they need to survive.
Rob said: “To a baby elephant, who is emotionally very fragile, family is everything.
“The Trust’s keepers look after their adopted infants as they would their own human
babies, with gentle patience, exuding love and feeding the baby on demand, which is vital to the survival of the calf.
“Elephants are tactile and highly social animals, so our human family is always encouraged to be in physical contact with the babies as much as possible.”
The young elephants are constantly watched by their keepers who protect them with blankets when cold, provide them with rainwear when wet and an umbrella when exposed to sun during their first two months.
Brandford said: “Much like human children, baby elephants play games and need stimulation. Highly intelligent, with a giant memory, they duplicate our own children in many ways.
“The keepers accompany orphans on walks in varied surroundings with unlimited access to nature’s toys.
“Cause for celebration is when a rescued baby elephant plays for the first time, because only then can one be better sure of a reasonable chance of success as an elephant will only thrive if they are happy.”
When young elephants are psychologically and physically stable for relocation, usually around the age of three, they are transferred to either the Voi or Ithumba Stockades in Tsavo East National Park or the Umani Springs Stockades in the Kibwezi Forest where they will stay until they choose to return to a life in the wild, which can take up to seven years.
The Tsavo ecosystem, Kenya encompasses an area of 24,800 square miles - it is also home to Kenya’s largest population of elephants, which is currently about 11,000 - and eventually becomes home for many of the Trust’s hand-reared elephants.
To support the work of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust visit: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/