For the first time in 8 years, the orphan-elephant heard in Kenya’s Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is welcoming a new infant, and the response was inspiring to witness.
All elephants celebrate a new baby with great fanfare, but Sheldrick’s herd of former orphans took it to the next level.
It has become a time-honored tradition for mothers to return ‘home’ to the elephant stockades from the wilds within days or even hours of giving birth, bursting with pride and eager to show off their new addition to the people who raised them.
Sheldrick’s staff have only witnessed a birth once before. Days before Christmas 2014, a mother returned to the Trusts’ stockade at Voi and delivered her second daughter just outside.
In the early morning hours of 29th October, wild elephants and the Trusts’ orphans began congregating outside the Ithumba stockades, as has become their habit during the dry season. Just after sunrise, Head Keeper Benjamin heard a great commotion, followed by a flurry of movement.
Amidst all the elephants, something had fallen on the earth. Its arrival sent the wild bulls running for the hills, ears flapping and trumpets blaring in consternation.
In fact, all the elephants seemed startled about whatever had landed in their midst. Even the older females, who are usually quite placid, made themselves scarce.
Before Benjamin could register what had happened, the females Melia, Loijuk, Kinna, Kitirua, Kalama, and Olare came running back over. He realized that the surprise delivery was a newborn elephant, still partially ensconced in a white placenta. With no preamble, Melia had given birth.
Melia was found orphaned at 11-months-old in the vast Kenyan park of Tsavo East. Taken into the orphan herd at Sheldrick, she has flourished over the last 11 years both among the Trusts’ keepers and in the wild.
“In fact, Melia was as surprised as we were to find herself a mother!” Sheldrick stated on their website. “Initially, she seemed flummoxed by the tiny baby lying before her. That’s where her more experienced friends stepped in, helping the first-time mum come to grips with the situation.”
A mother named Loijuk took charge and used her front legs to lift the baby to his feet. While the bulls couldn’t take their eyes off the scene, completely bewildered by what had just unfolded.
Loijuk’s initiative seemed to jolt Melia into action. She embraced her baby with her trunk and guided him over to nurse. It took some practice, but she figured out that she needed to prop her front foot forward, lowering herself so he could reach her breast. As the day unfolded, Melia seemed to become increasingly comfortable with motherhood.
“Just like us, some elephants are innately more nurturing than others. Melia has never shown much interest in babies,” the Trust continues. “As a dependent orphan at the Nursery and later at Ithumba, she showed no aspirations of becoming a mini matriarch. Even once she transitioned to the wild and her friends started having babies, she was never one of the girls jockeying to be a nanny.”
The newborn was given the name Milo, which means beloved, and is the 53rd elephant born to the orphan herd at Sheldrick. In all likelihood, Milo will soon be available for “adoption” on Sheldrick’s website, where there are dozens of orphans that rely largely on donations for their care and feeding.