Approximately 8 hours after receiving the call about the baby elephant, I was boarding a flight from the UK to Mozambique. A couple of days prior, DAG counter-poaching unit and Saving the Survivors had rescued a dehydrated and emaciated elephant calf who had been found wondering around alone within the Maputo Special Reserve. With very limited options, they transported the calf to a staff camp within the reserve and the DAG team provided her with around the clock care while waiting for permits to move her across borders to an elephant orphanage. Although the details I received were patchy, there was a baby elephant in need and that was all I needed to know.
Upon arrival, I joined James – the DAG helicopter pilot – and 2 volunteers in caring for the female elephant calf thought to be just a few months old. As I arrived at the camp in the evening and I was getting to work right away I had to very quickly remember the route between the elephant’s room and my tent as I certainly didn’t want to stray too far from the path in total darkness… Particularly as I could hear the unmistakable grunt of hippo just the other side of the tents and the deep rumble of wild elephant close by as they broke branches and pushed their way through the trees near the camp.
I put my bags into my tent and rummaged around for my head torch as I laughed at how unprepared I was for camping – fortunately I had acquired a sleeping bag to use and I was lent a very warm jacket to take the edge off the nightshifts (thanks James!!). After locating my head torch, I zipped up my tent and retraced my steps back to the kitchen where the team were arranging the shifts for the night ahead. We decided that I would shadow the beginning of the first shift of the evening and then take the 3AM shift. With the shifts sorted, I went to the elephant’s room to be introduced to her and be shown how to make the milk mixture that she was guzzling down every two hours.
The barely hip-high elephant was still sleepy from her nap when we arrived but as soon as she realized we were mixing milk she perked up, pushing against the door with surprising force. Her expressive eyes were encircled by a baby blue ring, her body enveloped with a soft blanket that was loosely tied in place and her inquisitive trunk was handled with relative confidence, for a youngster. She had nasty grazes along her cheeks which were thought to be a result of her rubbing herself against things but aside from that there seemed to be no physical injuries.
Meeting this gorgeous elephant immediately melted my heart; she was sweet, good natured and had no problem at all drinking the milk we made for her. This came as a pleasant surprise, I’d experienced months on end of pushing, shoving and bruises when feeding Ellie (the young orphaned elephant I intensively nursed for 6 months in South Africa) but this elephant was far more agreeable… She would hold her trunk up and stand more or less in place to drink her milk.
I was relieved that the little elephant was happy to drink milk from me from the get go but I knew it was going to take a few days of me being around until she fully accepted me as a member of the herd and would happily walk with me through the bush. Until we’d reach that level of trust, I’d be spending lots of time with her and would join her on all of her walks with the other carers so she could get used to me being around.
After the early evening feed and introduction, I used my headtorch to guide me through the darkness back to my tent. I made a conscious effort to remember the route as I would be walking it again at 3AM to take over the early shift. With an alarm set to wake me at 2:52AM (yes, those extra 2 minutes do matter!) I fell asleep, slightly cold, not exactly comfortable but full hearted and inspired.
Tread lightly on this Earth,