Storms Rescue Anniversary

This week is Storms rescue-versary. You may remember a couple of months ago I shared that I had the pleasure of seeing rehabilitated critically endangered black rhino Storm back in the wild. Today I thought I’d share the story of rescuing Storm. It was a crazy night that I certainly wont forget.

Everyone at the orphanage was settled for the night of elephant and rhino care and after many dry months, we had a powerful storm gracing us with heavy rain. As the evening went on as usual, we received a call about a black rhino calf in need of rescue. Soon after receiving the call, Angie and I packed the car and rhino ambulance with the emergency kits and set off. The rain was torrential and as a result, we could hardly see the front of the car, let alone the road ahead. The dirt roads were already beginning to wash away due to the rains so we knew it was going to be a long drive through the dark, stormy night. Even when we finally reached the tarred road, the drive was still slow as the continued rain meant the visibility remained terrible. It took us 4 hours of driving to reach the destination and after meeting with the wildlife vet we loaded the 3 month old black rhino calf into the rescue trailer. 

I sat in the back of the rhino ambulance and watched over the tiny black rhino calf as Ang drove us back to the orphanage. The rain had begun to slow and at around 3am – after 6 hours of driving , we reached a flooded bridge that meant we couldn’t continue on. It had already been a very long night so we decided we would just wait at the side of the dirt road until sunrise but fortunately we didn’t have to wait that long as we received assistance from the reserve. So after some time of waiting for the almost unrecognisable bridge to be crossable we managed to continue on… It was a huge relief to finally make it back to the orphanage at 4:30 in the morning with the tiny black rhino. After parking up and making sure Storm was fine, Ang and I got a couple hours of sleep before getting back to work in the morning, caring for Ellie and the rest of the rhino orphans. 

Storms rehabilitation was tough, he was struggling with internal parasites & aspiration pneumonia and needed intensive, around the clock care but when he finally turned a corner and his appetite grew, he began to gain weight and started playing we knew he’d pull through. Storm became good friends with Nandi, another black rhino orphan of the same age and the pair moved through their rehabilitation process together.

Despite the tough start to life, Storms rehabilitation was a success and he now lives wild & free.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Being Creative in Conservation

It can be scary to start something new. To put yourself out there and try something you have never tried before. It can be daunting to create and share your passions with the world. It’s easy to back out, to change your mind and to live small but DON’T. Please, don’t back out. Believe in your vision, in your passion, in your work.

More and more, I am finding my voice – as you have probably noticed with these regular blog posts. This is something I want to continue and I am now collaborating with Morgan Pettersson to create a conservation podcast called Seeding Change. Within this podcast we will be talking about environmental conservation, the natural world and the highs and lows of our own personal adventures within this challenging but highly rewarding industry.

Although I’m nervous, I’m also so excited because this is a topic I am very passionate about and it’s something I wish we all talked about more.

Our first two episodes are available on the links below and our third episode will be available on Friday.

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/seeding-change-the-conservation-podcast/id1488114117?uo=4

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6wMHL7orkqwOpPZLRNUDxb

Buzzsprout: http://www.buzzsprout.com/718806

On Friday’s episode we will be talking all about TREES and their importance in this world. With Morgan’s reforestation experience this is going to be a very interesting conversation! Forests and their amazing role on Earth are often vastly undervalued so we are looking forward to sharing episode 3 with you all. Particularly, with all the news regarding this years forest fires.

This is a journey and I hope you join us for it.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Experiencing Life Through Conservation

Experiencing life through conservation is beautiful and inspiring but it is also challenging. In the past 6 years I have made the most amazing memories, met the most passionate people and lived surrounded by so much wild, natural beauty. Sometimes it seems so strange to think that I’ve spent nights sleeping side by side with baby rhinos or months with a baby elephant essentially glued to my side. To live with wildlife, build bonds with them and experience the beauty of the wilderness is such a privilege … I’ve truly found myself in nature and it’s been such a magnificent journey but it has not been without its challenges. It is all too easy to paint working in conservation in a romantic way, the reality is that it’s tough. It’s hard work, it can be lonely, it’s even dangerous at times… There’s so many aspects to working in conservation. It’s not all smiles and selfies. It’s stress, heartbreak and for way too many conservationists… its burn out. I love sharing the highlights with you but the reality is that there are hard times too.

Working within conservation means being exposed to mans astonishing disconnect to nature, it means seeing first-hand the impact of the greed and selfish capabilities of our own species. It’s working around the clock and living far from family and friends. At times it can be difficult to feel optimistic or positive, it can feel like the heavy weight of all of this is pressing down on your shoulders as you ask yourself if you are doing enough to make a difference.

The struggle is real so if you are feeling this pressure right now I want you to know that you are enough, you are appreciated and you are not alone. Step back and look at how far you’ve come, all you have achieved and the positive impact you are having. Know that you have a positive influence that reaches further than you will ever truly realise. Be proud of every step you have taken on this journey, be proud of your bravery, of your fearless pursuit of your passion. Look at the amazing things you’ve experienced, the connections you have made and the memories you’ll always remember. Take time to look after yourself… Eat well, read books about things you love, be active and be kind to yourself. Know that caring for yourself is not selfish, it is essential. For you to continue to have a positive impact in this world you need to take care of yourself. You need to make yourself a priority.

Sometimes working in conservation is challenging but don’t let the hard times allow you to forget the great times. This journey is filled with ups and downs. It’s a whirlwind, a rollercoaster. It’s something that can be so difficult to explain to people who haven’t lived it too. Celebrate the wins and know that you are doing amazing things. I believe in you, in your passion, in your vision. I’m proud of you and you should be proud of yourself too.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Poaching of African Lions

How’s the future looking for African Lions? Did you know the king of the jungle, the mighty lion, is being wiped out by humans

African Lion are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist and their population is decreasing. The decline in lion populations has been huge, 100 years ago there were approximately 200,000 individuals and today there’s estimated to be less than 23,000 lions left.

Lions face many threats including:

  • Habitat loss
  • Prey depletion
  • Human-wildlife conflict
  • Illegal trade in body parts for traditional medicines
  • Trophy hunting

Cases of lion poaching have been reported in Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda.

There is no history of lion bone use in traditional medicine in Asia but there is increasing cases of lion bone being used in place of tiger bone as a result of the decline in tigers (around 3,900 individuals remain).

CITES lists African Lion as Appendix II and allow “export for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa” with annual export quotas established and communicated annually.

In South Africa, there is something called ‘Canned Lion Hunting’ where the captive lions are shot in a fenced area by ‘hunters’. These lions have often been hand-raised by unsuspecting tourists who have paid for the experience of cuddling, taking selfies with and even helping to raise the cubs, thinking they are helping the wildlife in some kind of rehabilitation type of scenario when in fact it is another way for the canned lion industry to make money. Once the lions are older they are hunted within an enclosure. In 2017, an annual quota of 800 lion skeletons from captive-bred lions was approved and in 2018 the figure was nearly doubled to 1,500.

Lion have lost 85% of their historical range. They play a vital role in the ecosystem as they are top predators that dominate their environment and help keep a balance in the number of prey animals. They also help with disease control by taking the weakest members of the herd. Lions have no natural predators.  

How Can You Help Lions?

  • Raise awareness of the plight of lions
  • Do not buy wildlife products. The killing would not happen if the demand was not there.
  • Do not participate in lion petting
  • Support conservation efforts and anti poaching units

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Resources and further reading:
https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/conl.12444
https://www.wwf.org.uk/wildlife/african-lions
https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tiger
http://checklist.cites.org/#/en/search/output_layout=alphabetical&level_of_listing=0&show_synonyms=1&show_author=1&show_english=1&show_spanish=1&show_french=1&scientific_name=Panthera+leo&page=1&per_page=20

Addicted to Exotics: Reviewing the Pet Trade

This week my newsfeed has been filled with stories related to wild animals as pets; Monkey Rescued from Birdcage (UK), Wildlife Officers Rescue 550 Birds Stuffed in Tiny Cages for Pet Trade (India) and Lwiro Primates in Democratic Republic of Congo just rescued 2 chimps who’s families were killed for the bushmeat and/ or pet trade. So, what’s going on in the world? Why are people fueling the demand for exotic animals? Let’s take a closer look at the issue…

Unfortunately, the exotic pet trade is a growing concern as the internet has made buying and selling wild animals a lot easier. Millions of exotic animals are sold as pets across the globe each year.  So, what’s the problem?

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This huge demand for exotic pets means large scale poaching of wild animals. The trade is undermining conservation efforts as it fuels habitat destruction, deforestation and actively pushes species towards extinction.

Not only that, baby animals are often more profitable so poachers will usually kill the protective mother (and sometimes entire families too if it is a social species) so that it is easier to capture the baby. It is estimated that 10 chimps are killed for every one baby that is captured.

It’s not just the issues of where these wild or exotic animals have come from, there’s also massive welfare problems related to the transportation, care and housing as well as the safety risks associated with having a wild animal as a pet.

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The individual animals suffer immensely every step of the way and their species as a whole suffers too.

A wild animal in the pet trade will experience:

  • Overwhelming stress
  • Immense discomfort
  • Malnutrition
  • Loneliness
  • Deprivation

During transportation, the animals will change hands multiple times as they are illegally moved across countries in awful conditions e.g. stuffed tightly into plastic tubes or shoved into backpacks. The animals will battle to survive without food or water for days. In a Panorama interview, a German customs agent stated the smuggled animals they find have an 80-90% mortality rate.

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Image from US Fish and Wildlife Service

The animal may then end up in someone’s home confined to a cage to receive a lifetime of stress and improper care. It’s not just pets though, it’s ‘parts’ too so the animal could end up as food or ‘medicine’.

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Image from The Guardian

 

Ok so we’ve had a brief look at the environmental, conservation and welfare concerns but what about the risk to humans? The increase in wild animals as pets goes hand in hand with the spread of zoonotic diseases as well as an increase in the cases of animal attacks. You don’t have to look far before you find stories of owners (or their friends) being attacks by their exotic pets.

Oh, and before you try to point fingers at other countries, this is a global issue. For example, estimates suggest that there could be around 9,000 primates being kept privately in the UK.

There are countless issues to having wild animals as pets so whether you care about conservation, animal welfare or simply the health and safety of yourself and your family there are plenty of reasons not to keep exotic pets.

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We can do better. Much of the wildlife trade is a result of lack of knowledge, I believe that the majority of people are animal lovers at heart and wouldn’t involve themselves in such an industry if the truth of the situation was clear. Please, make informed choices.

If you need an animal in your life (I get it, animals are amazing) head to your local animal shelter and adopt. You will be saving a life and you’ll have a furry family member. Leave wildlife in the wild.

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Sources:
BBC News

PETA Asia

Duke Law Journal Online: Exotic Addiction

Freedom for Animals

Born Free

National Geographic
BBC Panorama Transcript

Listverse

Getting Perspective in Mozambique

I hadn’t been to Mozambique before this trip to help the elephant calf, after all the years I’d spent in South Africa you’d think I’d cross the border at least once but as time snowballs and there’s always something else to do I’d never made the trip. I’d heard many a fond word spoken of Mozambique, of the beautiful shorelines and friendly people, so much so that I didn’t feel in any way apprehensive as I made my way to a country I had never been to work with a team I hadn’t met. As it turned out, the team I worked with were some of the most genuine, passionate and down to earth people I have had the pleasure of crossing paths with.

Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 18.43.46.pngIn my last week before heading to South Africa I was invited to join Conservation Manager and Fixed Wing Pilot Brian on an early morning patrol. He was picking me up just after 6am and told me to dress warmly. When I got up that morning, I already knew my only pair of jeans weren’t going to be dry from being washed the previous afternoon but I did honestly consider putting them on regardless. When I felt the damp, icy cold material against my warm skin I immediately changed my mind, instead opting for thin dark leggings that were definitely not created for warmth. As I pulled on a jacket, I made myself a coffee in the camp kitchen while waiting for Brian to arrive. Everyone else in camp was still waking up so I enjoyed the quiet and darkness as I sipped my coffee. I heard the rumbling engine of the approaching vehicle long before I saw the headlights through the trees.

Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 18.57.51.pngAs I climbed into the passenger seat with a grin, Brian asked if I’d had coffee and whether I’d be warm enough. I nodded to both, not willing to admit my jeans were still damp and that this was my only outfit option. I was so excited to be going on an air patrol and to have this opportunity to see more the reserve, I’d previously only seen such a small yet breathtakingly beautiful fraction of the park. As we drove out of the camp and along the sand roads towards the airstrip the extent of the morning fog became clear. It was so thick and dense that we would have to wait for the sun to burn through it before we could take off.Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 17.50.12.png

Once at the hangar, Brian did all of his checks and preparations for the flight while I watched the sun rise and waited for the vast blanket of white to lift. The thick morning dew clung to the grass in tight, perfect beads that made my shoes damp as I walked. After 20 minutes of listening to the birdsong and watching the fog gradually lift, we could get going.

I climbed into the two seater, door-less, savannah airplane and buckled my seatbelt. Brian handed me a camera to take photos from the sky and then he started flicking switches and reading displays, readying for the patrol.

We pulled on the headsets, made sure we could both hear each other and then we were ready to go. We slowly rolled to one end of the runway before turning ready for the take off. I stared out as we picked up speed and lifted into the air, passing over the fence that keeps wildlife off the airstrip.

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I watched as the world took on a whole new visual and the scenery opened out in front of me. The area I had spent all of my time in since arriving in the park was now reduced to just a minor piece of the puzzle, like an autumn leaf that has fallen from the tree. Nothing could wipe the smile from my face and the gratitude from my heart.

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The cold morning air that whipped through the plane did not bother me because I was so in awe of the view. Our first wildlife sighting from the sky was at least 15 hippos lazing on the banks of a watering hole. The views were endless and breathtaking – the deep green of tall, dense swamp and mangrove forests gave way to expansive savannahs scattered with dusty paths naturally worn in by wildlife, the grasslands were broken up by watering holes and split by the smooth curves of streams flowing swiftly across the landscape.

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We continued as we passed over another dense forest, only this time the forests were flanked by the pristine coastline. The crystal clear ocean kissed the sands and I felt as though I was in heaven. Having always been a lover of the ocean to see the vibrant blues of the water, the white wash of the waves, the band of golden sand and the vegetation that lay beyond it from the sky was nothing short of spectacular. The ocean looked like a watercolour I could only ever dream of painting.

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To my absolute delight, we flew along the waters edge. Looking down under us I saw a turtle swimming through the transparent water. I cannot tell you the last time I saw a turtle, I was ecstatic. Part of me wanted to stay here, suspended in the air watching the world go by. To stay and watch the turtle go about its day and see if any dolphins or whales pass by. We continued on our patrol, carrying on along the coast until we reached the parks boundary where we banked right.

We preceded to fly over Mozambique’s second largest lake – approximately 27 square kilometers in size.  There were a handful of wooden fisherman boats along one of the banks and a pair of fisherman out on the lake, completely dwarfed by its sheer size.

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As we continued along, I saw ripples in the distance. It was too far away to see the cause but as I looked through the zoom lens of the camera I saw two hippos, mouths open facing each other and another hippo further back with its head poked out of the water looking on at the tussling pair from a safe distance.

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The lake gave way to thick forest and we began to head back in the direction of the airstrip, now picking our way along grassy plains. We passed over a flock of over 200 Great White Pelicans who were all sitting on a small body of water surrounded by long grass, oh and not forgetting the yellowbilled stork who stood in the same patch of water with its long pink legs, white body feathers, black tail feathers, red face and large yellow bill.

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Our journey continued, as did the abundance of wildlife. We saw a small herd of zebra and then in the distance… a herd of elephant, made up of around 30 individuals including small calves. Even the herd looked dwarfed thanks to the expanse of the grasslands. As we closed the gap between us, the baby elephants were more visible as they stood close to their mothers sides. The elephants continued about their day, walking across the grasslands staying together and keeping the tiny youngsters close by. It was an amazing sighting.

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Among other wildlife, we saw wildebeest, buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe, crocodiles, a lot more hippos and more elephants before arriving back at the airstrip. How I had imagined that flight to be didn’t even come close to the reality, it was so much more.

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The reserve is breathtaking, abundant and wild. Rich in biodiversity and ecosystems. It is without a doubt one of the most divine experiences I have had. To fly over Maputo Special Reserve is an honor I will never forget.

Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Follow the Tracks

I’d been in Mozambique for a few days now caring for the young elephant (who had been nicknamed Zuali after the area she was found in). Thanks to the time we were spending together, she had begun to see me as part of the family. She’d now walk with me and follow me meaning we were able to go for long walks in the bush during the day. Walking was important to help keep Zuali busy, being a young elephant without a herd is not an easy thing for such a sensitive soul to handle. Walking together and experiencing the sights and smells of the bush helped to keep her life enriched.

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In the early hours of the morning, the air was cold and we would bundle up in coats while Zuali slept in blankets awaiting the sunrise. Just before 6AM the sun would rise through the trees, casting a fiery glow on the camp and burning through the morning mist, clearing the dew that clung to the grass and causing the animals to stir from their slumber. Zuali was not much of a morning elephant. She would stay snuggled up in her blankets until the sun had been watching over us for at least half an hour, giving everything a chance to warm up before she would be ready to go for a walk. By then, we were already on the borderline of no longer needing to wear coats as the temperature was rising fast and quickly setting us up for another 25 degree day.

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Now awake, Zuali would be ready to head out. There is something so magical about walking along the sand roads and game paths, walking barefoot with no cars or people in sight. The deep sand would tumble beneath the weight of our footsteps, leaving perfect tracks where we walked. To walk with a baby elephant is truly blissful, taking in the surroundings, no rush, no real destination in mind, eyes up away from screens and fully enjoying all that nature has to offer. As we’d walk, I’d look at the tracks of the animals who’d walked the same path before us, in the night and the early hours of the morning; the vervet monkeys, nyala, impala…

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Meg & Zuali’s tracks in the sand

One track that I would see at least a few times a week was the track of wild elephants. Sometimes it would be a large, lone bull crossing the path heading towards the waterhole. Other times it would be a herd of females and youngsters. The large round tracks have a pattern of lines and cracks from the sole of the elephants foot, which in that sense is not too dissimilar to the tracks of rhino.

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Fresh wild elephant track

I always loved comparing the tiny tracks of Zuali to the tracks of the wild elephants. Of course, seeing fresh tracks of wild elephants made me a little cautious but that didn’t take away from the awe of seeing first hand the sheer size of them. The huge tracks showed so clearly the path that had been walked by these gentle giants mere hours before I stood there with a hip-high baby elephant by my side. I’d watch Zuali as she’d investigate the tracks, smelling them and showing great interest. It was curious to see how Zuali reacted to fresh elephant dung… she’d stop for a moment or two to smell it and then she’d very carefully go out of her way to walk around the dung rather than over it.

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Zuali & a fresh wild elephant track

Every so often, Zuali would grumble, reach up to touch me with her trunk or rub her head against my legs. Elephants are incredibly tactile and this small touch was simply reassurance.

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As we walked alongside the wild elephant tracks, I learnt something fascinating… Samson, a very experienced elephant carer (understatement) told me that if you measure the circumference of the elephant track and multiply this by 2 you get the shoulder height of the elephant. WHAT?! Of course, I instantly tried this with Zuali using some long pieces of grass as measuring tape and IT WAS SPOT ON. Now, as we walked, we measured the tracks of the individual elephants and discovered how tall they were. How amazing is that?!

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards

Elephant Orphan Care in Mozambique

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tread lightly on this Earth,

Coexistwithmeg ♥
Megan Richards