Rolling carelessly in the mud in the world, poking out from under a blanket and kicking around with a ball: it’s all play, and it doesn’t matter to these adorable baby African elephants.
But all is not what it seems, as every single elephant is an orphan and one of the 101 rescued by the Nairobi-based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust since 2001.
Many of their mothers were ki.ll.ed by p.oac.hers or fell victim to angry farmers. A baby, Ndotto, had to be rescued after getting mixed up with livestock owned by Samburu herders and following them back to their village.
However, despite the traumatic first months of life, orphans are just as playful and curious as other children, so their human ‘family’ is very busy.
Released to mark World Elephant Day, the snaps reveal that each pint-sized pachyderm has its own personality, quirky personality, and traits and can be playful, shy, or boisterous.
Among the more timid children was seven-week-old Mbegu, rescued after being at.ta.cked with stones and spears by villagers, furious after a local woman was ki.ll.ed by an adult elephant.
In the fi.gh.ting that ensued, Mbegu was separated from the herd and saved only after a group of rangers from Naibunga Conservation placed themselves between the angry mob and the calf.
Taken to a charity elephant orphanage in Nairobi National Park, the calf has recovered from the ordeal and will grow up in the care of custodians until it is old enough to return to the wild.
Rob Brandford, director of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, said: ‘Every orphan has its own tragic rescue story, but their struggle for survival and passion for life is contagious. ‘Mbegu was saved at a very young age, so she really cared about her caregivers and loved sucking their thumbs for comfort.”
Along with Mbegu in Nairobi National Park is Barsilinga, who got a tragic start after his mother was shot by p.oac.hers. Severely in.jur.ed, the female elephant had to be put to sleep, while her baby elephant was taken to an orphanage.
Brandford added: “Sadly, Africa’s elephants are being threatened by po.ac.hers for their tusks. However, when he is old enough, Barsilinga and his best friend, Kithaka, will be moved to Tsavo National Park.
For now, however, his days, like human babies, are a whirlwind of playing, cuddling, and bottle-feeding. Brandford said: ‘Every elephant rescued and cared for by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is orphaned.
“But now they have a new herd in the form of our unusual human-elephant family.”