Though elephant poaching is banned throughout Africa, unscrupulous hunters continue to slaughter the mighty beasts in large numbers. While that is sad enough, what is even worse is what happens to orphaned baby elephants. Unable to feed themselves, they become weak and are often abandoned by their herds for fear that they will attract lions. Now thanks to one British girl, there is hope, at least for the orphaned calves in Zambia.
33-year-old Essex-born Rachael Murton is the project manager at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery where she spends her days nurturing the fragile babies back to health, fund-raising and educating the locals about the plight of the mighty mammals. Funded by Game Rangers International Elephant Orphanage Project (GRI) the nursery that opened its doors in October 2012, is the only orphanage for the defenseless baby elephants in Southern Africa.
Rachael who arrived in Zambia in 2007 after working with a wide variety of wildlife in the United Kingdom, Alaska and Asia, says that her quest to save the elephant calves began when she came across a two-year-old female they called Suni, who was attacked with an ax by the same poachers that killed her mother. Fortunately, Rachael and the experts at GRI were able to rescue the severely injured calf. While Suni is doing fine, she will never be able to return back to the wild thanks to her severe injuries which require her to wear a special metal boot and undergo regular acupuncture treatment.
The elephant orphans arrive at the center in numerous ways - Some are found wandering aimlessly in the jungle, while others get rescued thanks to the diligence of locals who have been made aware of this wonderful refuge thanks daily educational talks at the nursery and a weekly community radio show, spearheaded by Rachael.
One inhabitant that certainly benefited from the outreach is Zambezi, who was brought into the sanctuary after the then one-month old was found splashing wildly inside the pool of a nearby Safari Lodge. Turns out, the little calf had not dived in for an afternoon swim but had accidently slipped, whilst trying to get a sip of water.
According to Murton, when the nursery was first launched in 2012, they received one or two calls a year. Now it's not uncommon to get between six to seven. Though part of the increase can be attributed to the continuing surge in poaching, some are also due to public awareness.
The nursery which lies about an hour away from Zambia's capital Lusaka, has been strategically located close to a 'release' site in Kafue National Park. Called Camp Phoenix it is adjacent to the Ngoma Forest, home to the most intact wild elephant population in Zambia today. Though its 5,000 residents spend their days roaming around freely in the vast jungle, they often venture out to feed and drink water at a watering hole adjacent to Camp Phoenix. The officials hope that interacting with the wild elephants will encourage those raised in the orphanage to contemplate returning to the wilderness.
While Rachel is certainly making a difference, it is a small drop in what is an extremely leaky bucket - One that can only be sealed if humans stop paying top dollar for ivory, the main reason for the merciless slaughter of these mighty animals.
Resources: dailymail.co.uk, newswatch.nationalgeographic.com