Adine Roode, founder of HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation & Development) received an urgent call one day from wildlife vet Albertus Coetzee. Dr Coetzee informed her that an injured albino elephant calf, approximately four months old had been found, still entangled in a snare that she had pulled out from where it had been set. There was no sign of her family anywhere.
A team was immediately dispatched to rescue her. The little pink, blue-eyed baby ellie was taken into the Care For Wild sanctuary in order to stabilise her, while HERD’s elephant care team departed from Limpopo to Mpumalanga to prepare her for the journey back to the elephant centre. Before she could go anywhere, the team had to first ensure they had the necessary permits to transfer their special little patient to Limpopo.
Roode recalls that day, “She was dehydrated and severely injured. The snare was embedded tightly around her head, causing deep lacerations behind her ears and neck, with the top of one of her ears sliced off during the process. The lacerations sliced into both her cheeks and into her mouth.
“The snare had wrapped itself around her face as she tried to free herself, causing those deep wounds. She had managed to remove the snare from the place it was set, and had been roaming with the snare wound around her face for approximately four days. Her cheeks had maggot infestations, due to the decaying flesh from the wounds.”
Having a badly injured area around her mouth, which required stitching, she was not drinking as much as the carers wanted. Now, though, little Khanyisa (meaning Sunshine), as she has been named, is hopefully on the road to recovery and her milk intake is above average, although Roode says they still would like to see her consuming more.
The HERD team, together with their dedicated wildlife veterinarian team, Provet Wildlife Services, are treating the wounds daily, taking it step by step each day.“The biggest concern is to avoid infection during these healing stages.
Her injuries are taking a long time to heal, but we knew they would due to the severity of them. Generally, though, her condition remains positive, her spirits remain up and she has good energy.
“Elephant calves are one of the most difficult wild animals to hand-rear. The mortality rates are incredibly high, as their condition can change overnight. (When they ‘teethe’ they can get diarrhoea and fevers, making them especially vulnerable to dehydration which can prove fatal).
“They are entirely dependent on their mother’s milk. This means we need to step in ahead of introducing the little ones to our resident special Jabulani rescue herd, as the cows are not lactating. Baby elephants also have social and emotional needs that need special care too. The elephant species is a lot more complicated than that of rhinos, and require a more intensive approach.
“This is also why for now, she is accompanied by a Pedi sheep called Lammie, a world famous surrogate mother/companion to orphan rhinos and other little elephants in the past. She is often by Khanyisa’s side, or not far behind, making sure the little ellie does not feel alone.”
“We believe she will be able to enjoy a normal life, though she will be more sensitive to sunlight in her eyes. There is a healthy albino adult female elephant on the Kapama Game Reserve who just gave birth to a healthy baby elephant recently. Their skin tends to slowly turn darker as they get older, with the albinism being evident in small areas of their bodies, such as under their trunks, around their eyes. However, there is not a lot of case references or research on albino elephants currently. Something that we may have the unique opportunity to do.”
HERD built alongside Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre) in August 2019, is located alongside the Jabulani herd’s stables. Previously elephant calves were raised at HESC and then reintegrated into the herd. Now HERD provides specialised care for elephant orphans until such time they are ready to integrate with the adult herd at Jabulani Safari camp.
Planning Khanyisa’s rehabilitation, Roode is continually consulting with a team of professional elephant behaviourists and advisors to determine the best time to start the soft integration with the herd. Khanyisa has been introduced to the herd through the dividing fence between the orphanage and the Jabulani stables, and they continually communicate with one another. The matriarch, Tokwe, is frequently checking up on her through the fence, standing there even when the little one is in her nursery in the evenings. Bull Jabulani, is also visiting her in the daytime. Before Khanyisa goes anywhere, however, her injuries will have had to heal completely.
About The Jabulani Herd Which Khanyisa Will Join
According to the herd’s rescuer, Lente Roode, the Jabulani Herd are unique, as they ‘accept elephant orphans from outside their own herd into their family, which is unheard of with wild herds’.
“The original Jabulani herd members were orphaned too and were rescued from Zimbabwe in 2002. Their herd share an unusual social structure and have proven themselves accepting of orphaned baby elephants. While wild elephants group themselves in matriarchal herds – with male bull elephants joining the herds from time to time and having little to do with the younger members – every member of the Jabulani herd, both male and female, young and old, is an integral part of their unique family,” says Roode.
“The strength of elephants’ family bonds and social dynamics are vital to their wellbeing and survival as individuals and as a species. We work together with experienced and expert conservationists, carers and veterinarians to rehabilitate and rewild orphaned elephants to ensure that every elephant has a herd.”
With ‘Every elephant needs a herd’ being their motto, the little pink elephant can look forward to becoming one of this precious blended family, where she’ll be safe and looked after for the rest of her life.
Pics: Courtesy of HERD