Elephant populations are at risk, but fortunately, there are heroes doing everything to save them. Including 24-hour care plus sleepovers. The caretakers from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) raise orphaned baby elephants in Kenya to ensure they grow into strong and healthy adults.
Sleeping With Baby Elephants
These baby elephants lost their families to poachers and habitat loss. Fortunately, their caretakers take care of them as their mothers would. They even tuck the babies in at night and sleep close by to attend to the elephant’s feedings.
“It feels the same to me as having my own babies in the same room,” said one keeper, who’s also a father of a toddler and a teenager. “It felt very similar as to when they were babies, waking up at all hours to feed and change them.”
He’s not the only one who feels the parallels of taking care of the elephants and parenthood. Most of his fellow keepers are parents themselves. “The elephant babies call out in the night, especially the very young ones,” said another keeper. “The young ones are very restless as well, just like human babies, and wake up often. Sometimes they are crying for milk — you have to wake up for them just like a mother with a newborn baby.”
When it’s cold, the caretakers ensure the baby elephants are cozy under blankets. And when the babies want milk, they reach up with their trunks and tug at their keepers’ blankets. “Every three hours, you feel a trunk reach up and pull your blankets off!” one explained.
Another keeper added, “When the keepers used to sleep on a mattress on the floor, a few years ago now, the elephant would pull the blanket off the keeper to wake them up for milk, and touch their face with a wet trunk.” Now, the keepers sleep in a bunk above the elephants.
However, the caretakers who have worked with the babies for a while don’t need the pulling-blanket alarm clock. Their sleep cycles wake them up automatically. “It’s like their minds are set to wake up every three hours,” one keeper said.
“We want them all to survive”
Also, as the baby elephants fall back asleep, the keepers watch over them. And they are the few lucky people in the world who get to see little elephants as they sleep. “They do snore sometimes,” a keeper said. “They trumpet and stay fast asleep, and kick their legs while they dream, too.”
But as cute as the baby elephants are, they aren’t the best of bunkmates. The keepers have to get used to the smell of their living space. Plus, the babies get gassy. “Back when we used to sleep on a mattress on the hay, one elephant very nearly dropped dung on my face as I was sleeping,” one keeper said. “I woke up and it was right in front of me!”
However, despite the difficulties, the keepers are devoted to the baby elephants. After all, in the wild, the babies stay close to their mothers at all times. The keepers believe that creating that type of relationship with the orphans could keep them healthy. “It makes the babies feel very secure,” a keeper said. “You are like a mother to them and being there enables them to sleep very comfortably. When they sleep comfortably it allows them to grow healthily.” The keepers switch sleeping with different elephants to prevent the babies from getting too attached to one person.
But it’s not all fun and devotion. Sometimes, the weak orphans don’t make it, and it’s devastating.
“Sometimes we do lose babies, and when this happens it is often at night and not during the day,” one keeper said. “Maybe they have been sick or they have arrived in bad condition and it is too late to save them … In the end we want them all to survive.”
Adopt an Elephant
While you can’t have a sleepover with these baby elephants, you could still make a difference for them. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has a process where you could pay about $50 a year to adopt one of the elephants. You could choose your adoptee from the numerous profiles on the organization’s website (or let them choose for you), and the money will go to help these animals. Here is a list of all of the baby elephant profiles.
The digital adoption will include a personalized adoption certificate, a monthly email update about your adoptee, access to special content including videos and photos, and a monthly watercolor by Angela Sheldrick. Alternatively, you could support the organization by donating or buying gifts from their collection, including fine-art prints, journals, clothing, handbags, teas, jewelry, chocolate, and more — all cruelty-free.