National Geographic

Baby Elephant Shukuru Gets A Raincoat

  • Little orphan Shukuru wears a custom-made raincoat at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Nairobi Elephant Nursery in Kenya.
    Hide caption
    Little orphan Shukuru wears a custom-made raincoat at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Nairobi Elephant Nursery in Kenya.
    Michael Nichols/National Geographic
  • Emily is an orphan that transitioned into the wild and now leads a group of 22 independent orphans.
    Hide caption
    Emily is an orphan that transitioned into the wild and now leads a group of 22 independent orphans.
    Michael Nichols/National Geographic
  • Not all of the orphan elephants survive. Many of them, especially those that have already spent time with their wild families, are too devastated by the loss.
    Hide caption
    Not all of the orphan elephants survive. Many of them, especially those that have already spent time with their wild families, are too devastated by the loss.
    Michael Nichols/National Geographic
  • Orphans playfully vie for a bottle of formula not finished by little Sities, the blanketed baby at the keeper's feet.
    Hide caption
    Orphans playfully vie for a bottle of formula not finished by little Sities, the blanketed baby at the keeper's feet.
    Michael Nichols/National Geographic
  • Emily, now 17 years old and the matriarch of her herd, greets head keeper Joseph Sauni a day after he helped remove a poacher's arrow from her side. Elephants released into the wild often come back for help, says Sauni, "or to show off babies."
    Hide caption
    Emily, now 17 years old and the matriarch of her herd, greets head keeper Joseph Sauni a day after he helped remove a poacher's arrow from her side. Elephants released into the wild often come back for help, says Sauni, "or to show off babies."
    Michael Nichols/National Geographic
  • Elephant orphans form intense bonds with their caregivers and vice versa. "It's not for the wages," explains one veteran keeper. "The more you're with them, the more you satisfy yourself. You just love them."
    Hide caption
    Elephant orphans form intense bonds with their caregivers and vice versa. "It's not for the wages," explains one veteran keeper. "The more you're with them, the more you satisfy yourself. You just love them."
    Michael Nichols/National Geographic

1 of 6

View slideshow i

At the northern end of Kenya's Nairobi National Park, humans are coming to the rescue for baby elephants. Problem is, humans are also the reason why baby elephants need rescuing. An article in National Geographic's September issue profiles a nursery for elephants that have been orphaned mostly by poaching and human-animal conflict.

National Geographic

To put that conflict in simple numbers: "A 1979 survey of African elephants estimated a population of about 1.3 million. About 500,000 remain," the article states.

When adult elephants die, the babies are left to fend for themselves. And for codependent creatures like elephants, the likelihood of survival is minimal. That's where the Nairobi nursery of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust comes in. It's an orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center, presumably one of the most successful in the world. It takes in elephants from all over Kenya, nurses them until they no longer need milk (and provides them with raincoats!), and slowly reintroduces them to the wild. So far, it has successfully rescued more than a hundred orphans.

The article delves more deeply into the complex relationship between elephants and humans — that is, how similar the two animals are:

"Studies show that structures in the elephant brain are strikingly similar to those in humans. ... This common neurobiology has prompted some scientists to explore whether young elephants that have experienced assaults on their psyches may be exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), just like orphaned children in the wake of war or genocide."

It's a cardinal sin of science to anthropomorphize animals; but the article contends that at least with elephants, those comparisons may not be too far off. There's more information and more photos, which are hard to resist.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.