Baby elephants run to the mud wallow as fast as they can. It’s time for a mud bath at the elephant nursery!
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has operated the Nairobi Elephant Nursery, a home for young elephants without parents, for more than 50 years in the African country of Kenya.
The elephants have become orphans mainly because of poaching. Poachers kill adult elephants to get their long ivory tusks and teeth, which are sold and made into trinkets or jewelry, leaving the baby elephants on their own.
But baby elephants can’t live in the wild without their mothers. They need milk until they’re at least four years old. So when the small elephants are brought to the nursery, the workers—or “keepers,” as they’re called—feed them a special milk formula in giant baby bottles every three hours, day and night, until the elephants are one year old. After that, they still get milk, but not as often.
Just like human children, young elephants get lonely and sad and frightened. So the keepers stay with the babies all the time. They even sleep with them at night in their stables.
Because African elephants are the largest land animals in the world, the babies are almost as big as their keepers by the time they’re two years old! At that time, they are old enough to be taken into the countryside during the day to munch on leaves and other vegetation. The keepers no longer sleep with them at night, but they do stay near in case the elephants get upset.
As the orphaned elephants grow older, they spend more and more time in the countryside, often with adult elephants that had once lived at the nursery themselves. The young elephants decide on their own when they want to stay in the wild permanently—usually when they’re about 10 years old.
But even years after they leave the nursery, elephants never forget.
Sometimes they come back to the nursery as adults when they’re hungry or hurt. Or they come back to show the keepers their own babies.
One elephant named Mulika had been rescued when she was just seven months old. Years later, after she had gone to live in the wild, she returned to the nursery with her newborn baby to show the keepers her calf.
Another elephant, Eleanor, was 2 when she lost her parents and came to live at the nursery. When she grew older, she started looking after younger elephant orphans herself. Sometimes she would bring strays with her to the nursery from the countryside. Once, she even recognized a keeper she hadn’t seen for 37 years!
Throughout the years, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has helped about 300 elephant babies. That’s a lot of mud baths and bottles!
Check out the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to learn how you can adopt a baby elephant!