In mid-2017, Bee Poloko, who had helped save Naledi at Abu Camp, realized that now, more than ever, there was a need for a dedicated sanctuary in Botswana to save orphaned and abandoned baby elephants. He brought the idea to his friends and fellow lovers of elephants, Debra Stevens and her husband, Scott Jackson. Together, they launched the Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation, and scouted an ideal location for the orphanage at the edge of the Okavango Delta. The goal was to rescue these orphans and raise them to an age when they would be independent enough to be returned to the wild.
Fundraising began in 2017 and by spring of 2018 the 45-acre orphanage was under construction. By the end of 2019, we were caring for four orphans, the fenced grounds included nine elephant bomas, a vet office and lab, staff village, public bathrooms, reception area, administrative office and a main building for meetings, education and group events. Community outreach projects were being completed, forging an ever-growing bond between locals and Elephant Havens.
Sadly, with Botswana’s large elephant population there comes a higher concentration of orphaned elephants than in other countries. Fire. Drought. Human-animal conflict. Besides natural causes, these are the events that separate young elephants from their mothers and their herd.
By partnering with villagers all around the Okavango Delta to report sightings of abandoned or orphaned elephants, we have eyes and ears far and wide. With alerts from them, we can mount rescue missions to find these lost babies and, hopefully, save their lives. Generally, their first two weeks with us are the most crucial, as we must get these little ones to trust us, treat any illnesses or injuries, and teach them to feed from a bottle to get the nutrition they need.
Every elephant is a 20-year commitment for us. The rescues range from 6-months to around 4 years old. They are cared for 24 hours a day by dedicated handlers, and the youngest babies are fed bottles of formula every 3 hours around the clock. Around age 5, when they are becoming independent, we move them to a 1,000-acre soft release area just four miles down the road. There they have basically no human contact, but an electric fence keeps them safe from predators and from following other wild herds away from their safe space. In about 5 years, they will move out to the wild. We will collar them and continue to monitor them for another 10 years after that.
Will you foster a baby elephant?
By fostering one of our orphans you are giving the gift of formula, veterinary support, and 24-hour care by dedicated keepers who live with the orphans in their enclosures. Eventually, your orphan will be reintroduced to the wild as part of an elephant community.