Elephants are communal animals. Females usually live their entire lives within a “family” herd. Even the males stay with the herd anywhere from 10-19 years before they move on to a mostly solo bachelor life.
A baby elephant orphaned or abandoned in the wild simply cannot survive. Not only do they need milk from their mother, they also need constant care and companionship.
To successfully raise elephants in an orphanage setting, elephant handlers care for their charges around the clock and sleep with them in their enclosure. The elephants are fed a special milk formula every few hours when they are very young. Gradually, they are introduced to the grasses and other vegetation they will one day rely on. Even at the age of 6, an elephant may not yet be weaned and can still be drinking at least some milk.
The handlers must rotate among the elephants every week to keep the babies from getting too attached to a single person. Too close of a bond with one handler can be a problem if that person has to go away – even for just a few days. Depression and grief can set in quickly, negatively affecting the orphan’s health.
All elephants are different, so there is no set time to reintroduce an elephant to the wild. When one Is showing signs of independence, they are taken out of their enclosure each day to spend time with the wild elephants in the area. Over time they will spend more and more time with the herd, but they will always remember their “human family”.