NAIROBI, Kenya – As dawn breaks, 17 baby elephants and their keepers slowly get up from the stables.
The elephant keepers sleep next to the elephants every night, and it’s now their duty to slowly but surely get the baby elephants ready to march into the Nairobi National Park in the morning.
The unusual herd of orphaned elephants and human-elephant keepers that are part of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s operations is determined to save and reintegrate as many orphaned elephants as possible.
After surviving dangerous, life-threatening instances in the wild or losing their mom, the elephants join this herd with other members. These milk-dependent elephants are at risk of dying without human intervention.
One of the elephants is Luggard – a three-year-old who is the last one in line. He is slower than the others because of an injury that shattered his knee and foot.
Luggard is one of the several elephants at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust recovering from human-wildlife conflict.
Problems arise between people and wildlife — some elephants in these cases — as people encroach on new land that had once been the habitats of wild animals.
Shivegha says elephants are especially vulnerable to human-wildlife conflict.
“They’re the most affected by the fact that they need more space,” he said.”They need a lot of food and constantly search for pastures in different places.”
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a nonprofit that operates across Kenya, saves orphaned and injured elephants like Luggard that would not survive in the wild without intervention.
They primarily work on conservation and wildlife projects to make sure that animals and humans have somewhere safe to live.
At the Nairobi Nursery, where orphaned elephants often start their journey, Shivegha and the other keepers allow Luggard to go at his own pace.
Sometimes, the other elephants want to take a break and walk deep into the forest when they’re out there. The elephant wants to stay behind. We let them do that.
Luggard is all hustle at his milk bottle-receiving time. He races to the keepers even if he has to use his injured leg; this doesn’t stop him from making it to the handler and receiving his milk.
One day, the keepers believe that he will soon be ready to move to one of Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Reintegration Units in Tsavo National Park. The animals go there after they’ve spent time at the Nairobi Nursery and have hopefully one day joining a wild herd.
This is so strong because you’re embarrassed to state it.
Shivegha explains that in this case, Luggard will be sent to a unique rehabilitation unit within the Umani forest of Tanzania.
The rehab facility is specially designed to accommodate elephants with disabilities of all types, such as this one.
The intention of the staff at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is for every elephant to one day be able to live on its own without human intervention.