Recently, while enjoying my passion, doing hair, a very special story was shared with me from my client Urszula. I was riveted with the detail and how passionate she felt about her discovery of Baby Elephants. When something special like this happens, having the opportunity to share it is such a pleasure. Thanks Urszula!
It all started several years ago with a documentary film shown on the Nature of Things, For the Love of Elephants. There they were, cute as a button, little baby elephants happily rolling in red dirt, running around on their still unsure, wobbly legs chasing a big ball and falling over. My heart melted. I was mesmerised. I was in love.
The setting of the film was an elephant nursery centre in Nairobi, Kenya, which is operated by Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter Angela, under the auspices of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). The documentary went on to explain how the babies got to be at the nursery. How they all lost their mothers either to poaching or through abandonment as the poor mothers had to move on with the rest of the family when their babies couldn’t follow, which may had been due to being trapped in man-made water wells or due to illness.
How can one be indifferent to the plight of innocent babies? And here was this organization whose raison d’être is to help them, save them, treat them, love them, nurse and rehabilitate them, then set them free and hope that they survive to make their own way in the dangerous land where they were born. I was hooked and eager to research this further.
The DSWT has a very informative website where I learned that Dame Daphne was the first person to perfect the milk formula that would allow her to save even newly born elephant babies. Her book titled An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants, which I bought a couple of years later, is an amazing read. Who knew that cow milk is deadly to baby elephants? Not I. Who knew that they are at risk of dying when they finally go through teething? Nope, I did not know this either. Who knew that they feel safer when tucking their heads into hanging blankets? Who knew that they bond with their caregiver so deeply that they will refuse to eat and die if the caregiver is gone from their lives? That’s why the DSWT employs multiple caregivers (called Keepers) who all care for the babies so there always is carer continuity.
After I read many, many stories about baby elephants, rhinos and other animals in need of assistance, I decided to foster a baby elephant all of my own. Then the following Christmas, I decided to sponsor babies for my two nieces and god-daughter. The girls were thrilled when on the Christmas morning they received emails from DSWT announcing that they were now foster mommies to elephant babies in Africa. I think the cuddly stuffed elephant toys I gave them as well made it all the more real.
Then, I fostered two more babies. One of them, Ashaka, sadly died recently but Kamok is still going strong. Then I sponsored another baby for someone else! It is so nice to be able to see their pictures and follow their stories in diary entries on the DSWT website. They are truly adorable and deserving of a fair chance at a good, peaceful life.
I don’t think I will ever stop fostering DSWT babies. The work with the elephants is just too important. These beautiful, majestic animals, with deep emotional lives and a very intricate social structure, are being hunted, poached and culled to extinction. Their natural habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate and, all too frequently, the treatment they get from people is horrifying. I made a conscious decision to support an organization that is attempting to save these animals, and many others, be that through the nursery program mothering babies back to health, through the veterinary unit that helps animals who are hurt in the wild, or through the de-snaring program.
I know my contribution makes a difference in the lives of these animals and I am happy to make it.
Written by: Urszula D’Asti, Ottawa, Ontario
Watercolour by: Angela Sheldrick (used with permission from the DSWT)