Walk the talk: Becoming a foster parent for an orphaned elephant – it is time to act

It all started with one particularly moving documentary that truly got under my skin and, I am not ashamed to confess, made me tear up a couple of times. Researching for my previous piece on unexplained deaths of elephants in Botswana, I stumbled upon the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an organisation founded in 1977 by Daphne Sheldrick in memory of her late husband David. Delving deeper into the Trust’s work, I was just blown away. Committed to preserving wildlife in general, the organisation runs the most successful elephant orphanage in Africa on the outskirts of Nairobi Kenya. The calves are being nurtured and raised by a dedicated team of keepers before being transported to a rehabilitation centre situated in Tsavo National Park where they will be prepared to live a free and natural life back in the wild. When I came across their digital adoption program, I needed no persuasion. Even if it only makes the slightest bit of difference, it is still much better to do the little I can rather than just to sit around twiddling my thumbs. Paying only US$50 annually is not too much to ask, is it? I will also donate money for one bottle of Daphne Sheldrick special milk formula each month, and I invite each and everyone of you to do the same. Knowing myself pretty well by now, I am only too aware that making a tiny financial contribution will not suffice in the long run. Therefore, I have started making serious plans to visit the nursery myself hopefully next year. It is not just mingling with elephants I am after, but also to experience at close quarters how the keepers, with empathy and love, care for their charges. If at all possible, I hope to pay a visit to the rehabilitation centre in Tsavo as well. Accompanying keepers and a herd of orphans into the bush would be the privilege of a lifetime.

When your heart goes out to a species so relentlessly persecuted by men, and to all of those who care for and nurture it, any hard nosed detached intellectual approach falls flat. In other words, taking yourself and your own humanity out of the equation is impossible and won’t cut it. Even so, as scientist Hannah Mumby points out, communication with another species has its natural limits, and elephants are not only victims either. Particularly in countries where they make up an integral part of the economy, they are being looked after very well by the community and governments. In her book Elephants: Birth, Life, and Death in the World of the Giants, she cites Myanmar as a telling example, referring to the place as a welfare state for Asian elephants. Without question, there is still so much to know and so much to learn. Even my modest attempts to start understanding elephant society and our complex interactions with them turn out to be tough nuts to crack. However, there is one thing I am absolutely certain about; I shall never get my head around how some human beings can bring themselves to kill an elephant for its tusks, for it is a crime against our own species too and a particularly repugnant and repulsive one.

Naleku’s story

Currently, there are 12 orphans living in the nursery outside Nairobi, with Naleku being the youngest. Thanks to the diligence of the Kenya Wildlife Service as well as the Mara Elephant Project, little Naleku was safely rescued in January this year. While most calves enter the orphanage because their mothers were killed by poachers or they got separated from their families by human wildlife conflict, Naleku was accompanied by a relative after her mother had died most likely of natural causes. Since the calves are milk dependent until they are at least two years old, Naleku would not have survived in the wild, even though her relative would have defended her against predators. It gives me great solace to know that she and all the other orphans currently residing in the nursery will get the best possible care and will one day be released back into the bush where they belong.

The real hero of this story is of course Daphne Sheldrick. She put things much more eloquently than I ever could and must therefore have the last word. “Saving wildlife and wilderness is the responsibility of all thinking people. Greed and personal gain must not be permitted to decimate, despoil and destroy the earth’s irreplaceable treasure. For its existence is essential to the human spirit and the wellbeing of the earth as a whole. All life has just one home, the earth, and we as the dominant species must take care of it.” – amen!

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