Charles Siebert captures the touching story of these and other orphan elephants, who would have likely faced death if not for a “cutting-edge” rescue effort spearheaded by Daphne Sheldrick. Poaching, hunting, and droughts have pushed herds of the giant pachyderms into ever-smaller pockets across Africa, forcing them to encroach upon human communities, where they face yet another peril in near-daily conflicts with villagers.
Particularly affected by these clashes are young elephants, who, like their human counterparts, require consistent nurturing to survive their infant years. Those otherwise stranded newborns can find refuge in the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a nursery in Nairobi named after Daphne’s husband. The Wildlife Trust is, according to Siebert, the “world’s most successful orphant-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center.” Sheldrick founded it in 1987, a rehabilitation veteran who has also raised “baby buffalo, dik-diks, impalas, zebras, warthogs, and black rhinos.”
But orphan elephants are tricky to raise; as Sheldrick notes:
"Elephants are very human animals. Their emotions are exactly the same as ours. They’ve lost their families, have seen their mothers slaughtered, and they come here filled with agression – devastated, broken, and grieving. They suffer from nightmares and sleeplessness."
Through trial and error, Sheldrick has developed a specialized formula to replicate the mother’s milk that elephants need for their first two years, and a social rehabilitation program to treat the young animals’ trauma, which can be so extensive that, according to researchers, it would be equivalent to PTSD in humans. In the past quarter century, her nursery has saved over a hundred elephants.
The full story, which you should definitely read, is at National Geographic. The photo is by Michael Nichols.