National Geographic : 2011 Sep
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: CHRIS JOHNS How do you heal a traumatized orphan elephant? Baby Elephant Walk Lilundu the orphan elephant found a safe place after her mother was killed. One chilly evening some years ago in Zambia, I met a baby elephant wrapped in a red blanket. At first Lilundu didn't like me. She seemed to feel I had inserted myself between her and the lodge owner who'd rescued her. If I stepped between the two of them while we were all walking along the Zambezi River, she'd push me out of the way. She had no intention of sharing him. She knew somehow that he'd saved her after she'd lost her mother to poachers. When locals brought Lilundu to the lodge, the owner agreed to care for her. How do you heal a trauma- tized orphan elephant? Only one person had the answer: Daphne Sheldrick, who runs an elephant orphanage in Nairobi National Park. She sent a recipe for baby elephant formula, along with advice for Lilundu's care. In a few days, Daphne's expertise and the lodge owner's care trans- formed the youngster. She be- gan to thrive. This month, writer Charles Sie- bert and photographer Michael Nichols explore Daphne's orphan elephant rehabilitation center, the Nairobi nursery of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. "Elephants are very human animals," Daphne says. "Their emotions are exactly the same as ours, right down to the post-traumatic stress they suffer." I now understand why the little elephant under the red blanket was so possessive of the man who had rescued her. Lilundu eventually accepted me too, but on her own terms, and allowed me to accompany her on long walks---just the two of us along the Zambezi River.