Raising Orphans

Elephant Havens Handlers watching elephants leave

Elephants are communal animals. Females live their entire lives (60-70 years) 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, whether due to fire, drought, human-elephant conflict or mothers dying from natural causes, simply cannot survive. Not only do they need milk and constant care from their mother, they also need the companionship from other members of the herd to maintain their emotional well-being and learn the ways of being an elephant.

To successfully raise elephants in an orphanage setting, elephant handlers care for their charges around the clock and sleep with them in their enclosures. The elephants are bottle-fed a special milk formula every three 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 four, an elephant may not yet be weaned and can still be taking at least some milk.

Our handlers work as a group among the elephants to keep the babies from getting 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.

Around five years of age, when a few are showing signs of independence, they are moved to our 1,000-acre soft release area as a small herd. For the next five years they learn to explore, forage and play together without the constant companionship of their human family. The few humans in the guardhouse, who keep an eye on the electric fencing and solar equipment, may see them from time to time, but the elephants pay little attention to them. In another five years, they will be released as a herd into the wild. The matriarch will wear a tracking collar so we can follow the herd for another 10 years. Every elephant is a 20-year commitment for us. And, as elephants truly never forget, our orphans will always remember their “human family”, even after they’ve left us and become wild herds.