When the Orphan Hotline rings, the team at the Elephant Orphanage Project in Zambia prepare themselves for harrowing news of a lonely, frightened, and often injured baby elephant. On August 8th, 2017, a concerned voice on the other end of the phone reported a fragile female calf aged just 16 months old. She had been cruelly separated from her family and deprived of her mother’s nutrient-rich milk, meaning she was weak and vulnerable and in desperate need of help. With poaching incidents reported in the area around the same time, it is likely that this innocent elephant lost her family and found herself alone and confused all because of human greed.

The team successfully rescued her and transported her to the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka – one of the Elephant Orphanage Project’s facilities. She was named Mkaliva. Mkaliva’s life was now in caring and capable hands. She was surrounded by humans who were desperate for her to live; such a change from the humans who disregarded her precious life just a few days earlier. She received around-the-clock care as her energy levels constantly dropped, showing how her body was struggling to cope with the physical and emotional trauma she was experiencing.

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Long days and longer nights passed by as the team attempted to bring her back to full health. She started to feel more comfortable in her new surroundings and in the presence of her surrogate siblings in the stables next to her, so close that trunks could reach into her stable and touch her. These gentle moments were the first moments shared with her new family.

As soon as she gained more confidence, she joined her new family on the daily bush walks, where she exchanged interactions with them, getting to know them a little bit better. They welcomed her fondly, encouraging her to break down her barriers and enjoy her life once again. The mini herd stayed close to one another during their first walk together and had an extra sense of security as the keepers kept a watchful eye over them. The last time she had walked side by side with elephants was with her natal herd; she would have freely walked through her wild surroundings protected by her mother and aunties, unaware of the tragic fate that lay before her. With that perfect life, which was so rightly hers, snatched away from her so suddenly, Mkaliva’s future changed forever.

She will never see her natural family again, but the bonds she is forming with her fellow orphans are her stepping stones to recovery. With each passing day, those bonds will get stronger and she can continue with her life surrounded by those who have also lost their families. Together, they will heal and they will have a second chance at life.

To see this young herd behave as a family is heart-warming, and although they can never truly replace each other’s natural families, they’re doing a very good job of trying.

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