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National Geographic

Baby Elephant Shukuru Gets A Raincoat

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.

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.