The incredible pictures show baby elephants playfully seeking comfort from their carers and give a rare insight into the world of the troubled youngsters – many orphaned directly or indirectly as a result of human actions.
Despite their short lives being marred by loss, these baby elephants still have a lot of love to give as they nuzzle up to keepers at the special orphanage run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Nairobi National Park, Kenya.
A spokesperson from DSWT said: Many of these orphans have lost their mothers at the hands of humans and having experienced this emotional, and often physical, pain when so young and still milk dependent it is our responsibility to nurture and care for them so that they not only survive, but ultimately thrive when back in the wild. Our Orphans’ Projects offers hope and healing for these traumatised youngsters and our human carers work around the clock to replace an orphans’ lost herd, providing the love, protection, care and milk they need 24 hours a day, just as their mothers would have done.
For 40 years the DSWT has been rescuing and hand-rearing milk dependent orphaned baby elephants, so that they can return to the wild in a protected area when they’re older.
Founder, Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE pioneered the milk formula and care needed to hand-rear milk dependent baby elephants, which would have otherwise died.
On call every day of the year, the DSWT travel throughout Kenya to rescue orphaned elephants left alone with no hope of survival.
Many of the orphans rescued are victims of human-wildlife conflict, habitat destruction or poaching and are on the brink of starvation.
Acting as surrogate mothers, the keepers feed the babies milk every three hours, remaining with them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – even sleeping in their stables with them.
It is this close family bond, formed between the keepers and the elephants that helps the newest orphans to overcome the traumatic starts they have endured in their short lives, which may include having witnessed the slaughter of their mother for her tusks.
Like human’s, elephants’ hold strong family bonds and the loss of their mother can have a devastating effect on their mood, as they mourn, often refusing to eat and their survival hanging in the balance.
Each elephant remains at the Nursery until they are ready to make the journey to one of three Reintegration Units, located in protected areas within Southern Kenya.
This second phase of rehabilitation at the Reintegration Units proudly sees each elephant orphan’s gradual transition back into wild herds, taken at each individual’s own pace over a period of up to ten years, in which time they grow to be part a much-loved human-elephant family, finally living their lives in wild freedom.
To ensure their safety, the DSWT operates 11 De-Snaring Teams, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, as well as Aerial Surveillance and a Canine Unit comprising full trained tracker dogs to sniff out wildlife crime.