“Naledi stole my heart
the day I met her.”
Debra Stevens and her husband Scott Jackson have been trekking to Africa since 2000. Over the years, they fell in love with the villagers and wildlife.
But it was on a visit to Botswana in 2013, when Debra met a 6-month-old orphaned elephant named Naledi, that her life changed. The connection between them was instantaneous and a lifelong bond was formed.
The baby elephant’s mother had died when Naledi was only 6 weeks old. A 50-year-old female elephant began lactating to try to keep the baby alive, but sadly, this wasn’t enough. Ultimately handlers from Abu Camp saved her life by removing her from the herd to be cared for full-time by humans. They named her Naledi and raised her until she was independent enough to reintroduce her to the herd. Handlers stayed by her side in the wild, always ready with a bottle of milk, because she wasn’t yet weaned.
Debra met Naledi just before she was returned to the herd and since then has never spent more than 6 months away from her, returning to Botswana often from her home in Texas. Without fail, Naledi still runs to greet Debra every time she arrives. As Debra spent more and more time with Naledi, she learned how entrancing elephants are as a species. They have such a strong need for love and connection to community. In fact, they simply can’t live without it. An orphaned elephant can die from grief without attachment to a “family”, whether that’s other herd members or humans.
The possibility of saving more orphaned or abandoned babies like Naledi inspired Debra and Scott to found the non-profit Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation in 2017 to protect and preserve the African elephant. This is a mission that was truly founded by love.