The Tooth Fairy

Rescue and Rehabilitation of Orphaned Elephants and Rhinoceros, Kenya

African elephants face a number of threats, including poaching for their ivory tusks, conflict with humans and loss and fragmentation of their habitat. Care for the Wild supports the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in their work to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned African elephants and black rhinoceros in Kenya. We raise funds for this support through our elephant and rhino adoptions and postal appeals to our supporters.

The aim of the elephant orphans project is to rear the calves in a way that allows them to grow and develop as naturally as possible, eventually integrating into a wild herd and enjoying a normal life in the wild elephant communities of Tsavo National Park. Tsavo has historically been home to thousands of elephants and has the space to provide wild elephants with a good quality of life in a protected area.

Losing its mother at such a young age is extremely traumatic for a baby elephant. The key to minimising the impact of this loss is to replace an orphan’s elephant family with a human equivalent – their keeper.

Each orphan has a keeper who stays with them 24 hours a day, travelling with them into the bush and sleeping alongside them each night. Keepers are rotated between elephants to reduce the chance of the elephant developing a strong attachment to one person.

Newborn elephants require round the clock feeding, gradually moving to three hourly feeds. They must have milk for the first three years of their life. Slowly, the milk is reduced to allow for the introduction of greens and coconut supplements. Once each orphan reaches two years of age and they are deemed mentally and physically well, they are transferred to one of the two rehabilitation centres in Tsavo East National Park. This is where their long journey back to the wild truly begins. The older orphans embrace the new arrivals from the nursery, showing them the ways of their little herd. They escort the youngsters into the bush each day and introduce them to friendly wild herds.

The orphaned elephants are welcomed by the ex-orphan groups and wild herds alike. They play games with their wild counterparts and as they grow older, join the ex-orphan groups on their walkabouts. This process takes a number of years and can vary for each individual, depending on what age the elephant was orphaned, how well they remember other elephants, the personality of individuals and how sociable they are. When an elephant decides it is time to leave their human family, they will gradually spend more and more time away from the group. All the orphans successfully complete their journey to lead normal wild lives again. However, they never forget their orphan family and usually keep in touch by returning to the stockades to visit those still living there.

The rehabilitation of orphaned rhinos is very much the same process apart from young rhinos gaining their independence at an earlier age. Rhino orphans need a mother figure in the shape of several keepers. Again, this prevents the baby from developing an attachment to one individual.  They must be protected from predators and so are kept in their stockade overnight for the first three years. Small calves need four hourly feeds until they are ready to move on to some suitable cut greens and a bowl of bran.

Each day, the little rhino will be taken out into the bush to familiarise them with the dung piles and urinals of the wild rhino community in Nairobi National Park. This allows them to investigate the different scents and add their own to the area. It is essential to protect the rhino’s skin from the sun so each day they go to the mudwallow where they can lie in the cooling mud. The mud provides a barrier against the strong sun and biting insects.

As the rhino orphan gets older and grows bigger, they will be moved to a larger stockade along with their dung pile. Rhinos love their daily routine and they can easily get upset if everything is not in its place. When the calf is around three or four years old, their stockade doors are left open at night enabling them to go into the bush alone and meet the local wild rhinos if they wish. This security of a home base is important but means that the rhino can become independent on their own terms.

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