When people found the baby elephant, it was less than three months old. “It must have been two days or less after she separated from the herd.” Otherwise, says Celine Sisler-Benvenu of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, he wouldn’t have survived on his own.
The people of a small village in Burkina Faso did not leave the animal in need, although four years ago, when they promised themselves that they would do everything in their power to save the baby elephant, they probably did not realize the challenge ahead. At first, they went to buy milk, and the pharmacy offered powdered infant formula. In fact, it was great at first. The elephant, which the local children called Nania, quickly gathered strength. He also made friends with a black and white sheep named Whisy.
The problem is that the baby elephant’s appetite is growing rapidly and at some point it has become so great that the locals can’t help the baby elephant anymore. “They really wanted to know how to deal with Nania,” Sissler-Bienvenu says.
Rescuing a baby elephant is quite a challenge, even if you have a well-equipped team of veterinarians and caregivers at your disposal. Rehabilitating such an orphan takes years of work. Growing cubs need milk for about three years. It takes longer to master the necessary survival skills and to grow to a size that allows the animal to defend itself against predators such as lions.
Overwhelmed by the scale of the task ahead, the villagers turned to the local authorities for help, who in turn turned to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Nania was taken to the nearby Dukes Palace National Park, where she had the opportunity to meet other representatives of her species. To ease the stress of moving, the little one is always accompanied by a friend, the Whisy sheep. And because the pet develops perfectly, the keepers faced even greater challenges. They want to find the baby elephant family and put them under the care of their biological mother.
DNA research has shown that Nanya is no ordinary elephant. It belongs to the smallest, rarest and most endangered species of these animals, the forest elephants. Its population has declined by 80 percent in half a century. Researchers estimate that fewer than 30,000 of them survived. “Given how dangerous these animals are, each counts,” said Ben Okita, co-chair of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, adding, “Everyone is invaluable.”
However, genetic research gives the elephant a chance for a great miracle to happen. DNA tests that have already been performed have revealed that the elephant’s mother is likely still in the same area where the missing baby was discovered. Usually, orphaned elephants are located near the mother’s body. It is not known why Nania was separated from her family, but scientists suspect that the baby elephant may have lost its way, for example, while crossing the river at night.
However, before scientists attempt to return a baby elephant to nature, they must teach it to be an elephant. Nania was so used to people’s company that she was able to enter the charge d’affaires’ building to supervise the preparation of milk for her. She often played with children from nearby schools.
Currently, Nania spends several hours every day strolling in the park accompanied by Wessie the sheep. Thanks to this, he learns to find water and fruit. Keepers hope she’ll feel comfortable enough with the other elephants that she’ll decide to leave the enclosure on her own and join the herd. This, however, may take some time. When Nania saw the first wild elephants, she ran away.
Of course, it would be better for her to join not only any group, but also the group to which her mother belongs. There is a good chance of that. A few wild elephants, about 40, pass through the area where they were found. To find out if Nani’s relatives were among them, scientists began collecting samples of elephant dung. 17 of them were sent for analysis in the United States. They did not expect to run into this well: it is almost certain that one of the elephants tested was Nani’s mother. The elephant did not pass more than 300 meters from the fence. A family reunion years later will be the first such case in history.
However, we will have to wait a while for the opportunity. Wild elephants leave the park during the rainy season. They won’t be back until the end of October. If Nania joins any of the groups, scientists will continue to track her down to ensure her safety. Its future may depend not only on, but also on the entire endangered species.
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