At Kenyan orphanage, baby elephants find a new life and love

Playmates: Orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi. The nursery has saved and rehabilitated more than 230 baby elephants in 42 years. [Courtesy, AFP]
Luggard, a lively three-year-old, limps behind the rest of his ragtag troupe of orphan elephants, halting to graze or rub against a tree.

When he was just five months old, Luggard was found struggling to keep up with his herd in Kenya's Tsavo East National Park.

He had been shot twice.

One bullet pierced his left front foot, and another shattered his right, hind femur just above the knee joint.

The calf was discovered "too late for successful surgery," said Edwin Lusichi, 42, head keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) elephant nursery in Nairobi National Park, Luggard's new home.

With the rest of the gang of 20 elephant babies in this unusual orphanage, Luggard comes charging with great enthusiasm, though hobbling heavily on his deformed leg, out of the bush for a 9:00 am feeding.

The baby elephants keenly await feeding time, a special nutrient-rich mix administered by keepers [Courtesy, AFP]
The calves greedily slurp from oversized "baby bottles", rumbling contentedly and trumpeting excitedly as they ingest the special mix of human baby formula, water and vitamins.

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Each calf at the nursery has a tragic story: orphaned by poachers, drought, or in conflict with humans encroaching ever further into the few wild places left.

"We rescue them from just a few days old," DSWT administrator Kirsty Smith told AFP.

The youngest elephant in the centre's care is Larro, 10 months.

She was found lost and alone in the Maasai Mara game reserve, likely after her family clashed with humans.

"Sometimes the elephants get into the communities, farms and homes, people fight them, chase them away, and in the process of the fight they (the babies) get separated from their families," Lusichi explained.

Without its mother, an elephant calf will die.

They are weaned between the ages of five and 10, when they enter adolescence. Adulthood starts around the age of 18, and left undisturbed, elephants can live to be 70.

But poaching claims many prematurely.

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Tsavo East National ParkSheldrick Wildlife TrustSWTElephantPoaching