Like any newborn, they need to be fed every hour of the day, given warm milk, and burped after meals.
But these are no ordinary offsprings, and the two British women taking care of difficult orphans are no ordinary nannies – they are playing mom with elephants.
Abigail Hearn, 24, and colleague Lisa Olivier, 28, are helping to raise the giant animals as their own at Knysna Park in South Africa.
They clean, feed and even sleep next to the calves abandoned or rejected by their mothers.
Abigail, a zoology graduate student from Sussex, said: ‘It’s a 24-hour job looking after baby elephants.’
The last baby we all cared for was called Fiela, and she was adorable but a stubborn child.
Her mother turned her down so she had the five of us here at the elephant park who became her surrogate mothers.
“We would bottle-feed her every two hours and even burp her by massaging her tummy, and when he started teething we had to put the teething gel into her mouth.”
Unfortunately, the nannies’ efforts were in vain and Fiela died at the age of 3 months.
Abigail said: ‘She had an underdeveloped heart, so she still had a lot of fluid from her lungs and no immune system, which led to her death. “
It really affects the nannies – we’re just devastated. I really felt as if I had lost a child.
Abigail said that despite the tragedy: “Being a surrogate mother for Fiela was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
She added: ‘We would have to sleep next to Fiela in her pen at night with just a mattress and snuggle up next to her. She often dozed off with her trunk in my arms, her head resting on mine. She will wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare and start charging around, half asleep, not knowing what was going on, bless her.”
You can’t help but build such a strong maternal bond with baby elephants. Even when we started bringing Fiela back to the elephant herd, as we do with all the orphans, she would run up and wrap her trunk around our legs or start playing with our hair whenever she saw any of us.
African baby elephants weigh 15 stone at birth and need 16 liters of milk per day until they are six months old when their daily milk intake reaches 30 liters.
Abigail first arrived in South Africa just days after she graduated from the University of Nottingham to train as a safari guide for what was supposed to be a six-month stay.
She has been working as a research assistant at Knysna Elephant Park for almost two years.
It is a similar story for Lisa, who moved from Somerset to South Africa three years ago after graduating from the University of Exeter. She is now married to the fellow elephant manager, Theo Olivier.
In addition to taking care of the babies, the British couple also spends their time tending to nine elephants in the park, many of whom were orphaned during legal elephant censuses in South Africa prior to 1996 or got rescued from the circus.