Populations of elephants are dwindling because of the lack of their natural habitat and poaching for ivory — but some people are doing everything they can to save them from extinction.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust works in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service and community leaders to rescue, treat and care for orphaned elephants, then return them back into protected areas—safe and alive.
Such is the hard life of orphaned baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya. Without their families, the baby elephants would surely not survive. The only way they can grow up healthy is if they are raised by keepers who nurture them day and night. The keepers even tuck them in at night and sleep nearby so they can wake up for feedings.
“It feels the same to me as having my own babies in the same room,” one keeper, who’s also a father of a 4-year-old and 15-year-old, told The Dodo. “It felt very similar as to when they were babies, waking up at all hours to feed and change them.”
Most of the elephant keepers were actually parents themselves, so raising the baby elephants felt oddly similar.
“The elephant babies call out in the night, especially the very young ones,” another keeper said. “The young ones are very restless as well, just like human babies, and wake up often. Sometimes they are crying for milk — you have to wake up for them just like a mother with a newborn baby.”
The keepers make sure that the babies are kept warm when temperatures drop and The keepers had habitually taken their blankets off every three hours when a baby wants milk. “Every three hours, you feel a trunk reach up and pull your blankets off!” said one keeper.
“When the keepers used to sleep on a mattress on the floor, a few years ago now, the elephant would pull the blanket off the keeper to wake them up for milk, and touch their face with a wet trunk,” another keeper added.
But some keepers who have been around elephants for numerous years, also evident they know when and how to wake up the elephants when they needed to. and just do it automatically. “It’s like their minds are set to wake up every three hours,” one keeper said.
The keepers must also watch the babies while they fall back to sleep. These keepers are a few of the people in the whole world who get to see and hear the babies when they’re dreaming. “They do snore sometimes,” said one keeper, “they trumpet and stay fast asleep and kick their legs while they’re asleep.”
Elephants are normally rather quiet animals and the one thing keepers have to get used to is the smell in the quarters. As one keeper has said: “Back when we used to sleep on a mattress on the hay, one elephant very nearly dropped dung on my face as I was sleeping,”. “I woke up and it was right in front of me!”
However, the keepers are with the elephants no matter what. It is not just tenderness that keeps them close. The baby elephants are never more than a few feet away from their mothers in the wild.
They believe that the only way to give their vulnerable babies a sense of security is by giving them lots of love and attention. The keepers have noticed that staying with the babies through the night provide them with reassurance and comfort, which in turn helps the babies grow into strong adults.
“You are like a mother to them and being there enables them to sleep very comfortably. When they sleep comfortably it allows them to grow healthily.”
The orphanage is not just a place for the kids to learn and grow, but a place where tenderness and devotion could be experienced, but sometimes, it’s simply not enough for the weakest of the orphans. This is heartbreaking for the keepers.
“Sometimes we do lose babies, and when this happens it is often at night and not during the day,” one keeper said. “Maybe they have been sick or they have arrived in bad condition and it is too late to save them … In the end we want them all to survive.”
To help DSWT, you can donate to help save as many baby elephants as possible.