Finding Love in Hope, a Baby Elephants’ Story – by Kevin Lunzalu

30th August 2018 remains my favorite wildlife moment. I arrived at the David Sheldrick Animal Orphanage by 10 AM, one hour before the stipulated entry time. So I started looking around for something to do, occasionally playing hide and seek with a squirrel that had noticed how idle I was and came to share company.

Our games, however, did not go down well with a cat which was quietly stalking an African hoopoe in the nearby bushes. The cat needed maximum silence if it was to have breakfast that day. The hoopoe, who I imagined was in her early 20s, was busy grooming herself on a nearby twig, as if applying makeup and getting ready to slay the day over.

We, hence, agreed with the squirrel to give the bird some ample time to be hunted down by the strategic cat. I looked at my watch, 11:07 AM.

In the orphanage, what moved me most was not the sad stories of how these baby elephants were rescued or separated from their families in the wild. Rather, it was the way they seem to have since chosen to look at life, customizing it to be a wonderful world.

I like to think the whole experience of being a highly sought-after species has made them realize how short life can be, especially if you are an elephant or a rhino in the Kenyan wilderness. Seeing their parents, guardians, and even enemies killed in unknown circumstances means they have been through a lot.

The main perpetrator in this? Us! Man! We are so good at setting up snares, hunting them down for tusks and horns, clearing habitats and all sorts of drama that a baby elephant can’t even comprehend.

We cheered up the adorable baby elephants as they dashed to their feeding place, flapping their tiny but big ears with so much joy. (Yes, baby elephants as young as five years, have ears that are already bigger than my big head!)

The meal was detailed; a milk solution, some twigs, pellets, and drinking water. I still don’t know which was the starter and which was the main course but I saw them start with the milk. Of course, any baby would choose milk over twigs.

Then came shower time – a warm shower using loose soil that had already been prepared for them by the Rangers. Everyone was to take a bath, I supposed, because all babies follow the eat-shower-play-sleep-repeat cycle.

Interestingly, I noticed a few baby Eles didn’t like this shower idea. When the rest were busy collecting the soil via their trunks and splashing it on their backs, the elusive ones opted to keep themselves busy with each other. The anti-shower baby elephants were so gifted elsewhere, gaming.

Just to ensure the hour passed successfully without them taking a shower, they introduced push games, kicking the ball, and even offered free random hugs to anyone around! This was exactly like me when growing up, I thought. Just that I didn’t have many people witnessing my shower times, so they were easier to dodge.

Then there was the charming one, I remember the ranger called him Kenia (and I noticed this is how many foreigners pronounce the word Kenya, our country!) This little gentleman was just up for milk and nothing else. I closely observed him and all he did after sipping two bottles of the milk solution was stand tall.

A ranger was telling us the stories of each of the baby elephants. Kenia seemed to listen to his own name and story being mentioned with a lot of disbelief. It was as if he couldn’t imagine just how cruel a species called “man” is. At some point, I felt like he wanted to march straight to where I was standing and ask me if I was the man his ranger was narrating about. I looked around, hoping to see a poacher to point straight at, but there was none.

Amidst the group of over 500 visitors, I shared a moment of intense silence with Kenia. I joined him in wishing the departed souls a peaceful rest. When he sought for a free hug from one of the anti-shower guys, I captured this moment on my camera.

With 25 elephants being killed every hour in the African wilderness, growing up, getting engaged to an eligible suitor (i.e. finding a mate) and having beautiful kids roaming their territories is close to a dream come true. Hope, is all they have.

As they say, it takes two to tango, so let us tango till the end of this conservation song. Won’t we?

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