British Women Foster Orphan Elephants in South Africa – A Tale of Love and Dedication

Two British women have taken on the role of surrogate mothers for orphaned elephants in Knysna Park, South Africa.

Abigail Hearn, a 24-year-old zoology graduate from Sussex, and her colleague Lisa Olivier, 28, have devoted themselves to nurturing these demanding young animals abandoned or rejected by their mothers.

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Abigail, left, and Lisa, right, with Fiela, the baby elephant they nursed after her mother rejected her.

The task of caring for these elephant calves is a round-the-clock commitment. Abigail reminisces about Fiela, a young elephant they once cared for.


Fiela’s mother had rejected her, and she became responsible for the team at the elephant park. They bottle-fed her every two hours, massaged her tummy to burp her, and even provided teething gel when she started teething.

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Fiela had to be bottle-fed every two hours – baby African elephants need 16 liters of milk daily, up to 30 liters when they are six months old.

Despite their best efforts, Fiela tragically passed away at three months old due to an underdeveloped heart and a compromised immune system.

Despite the heartache of losing Fiela, Abigail finds great fulfillment in being a substitute mother to these magnificent creatures. The bond formed during the nurturing process is powerful, as they sleep next to the elephants and share moments of comfort and care.


Even after reintroducing Fiela back to the elephant herd, the connection between the caregivers and the young elephant remained evident as she would run up to them, wrapping her trunk around their legs and playing with their hair.

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The elephant nannies were devastated when Fiela died at the age of three months

The care required for these young African elephants is substantial. From birth, they weigh about 15st and need 16 liters of milk daily until they reach six months of age when the intake increases to 30 liters.

Abigail, who initially traveled to South Africa for a six-month stint as a safari guide after graduating from Nottingham University, has been a research assistant at Knysna Elephant Park for nearly two years.


Similarly, Lisa, who moved from Somerset to South Africa after graduating from Exeter University three years ago, has also dedicated her time to caring for the park’s nine elephants, many of whom were orphaned due to historical elephant culls or rescued from the circus.

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Abigail and Lisa treat the elephants as if they were children – even playing ball games with them

The compassionate efforts of Abigail, Lisa, and their team at Knysna Elephant Park showcase the significance of nurturing and protecting these majestic creatures, instilling hope for their future, and preserving elephant populations in Africa.

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Some of the orphans, like baby Fiela, were rejected by their mothers and needed human care
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Lisa, right, moved to Africa from Somerset three years ago and is now married to elehant manager Theo Olivier, while Abigail, left, had lanned a six-month stay as a safari guide and is now a park research assistant
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The women spend most of their days out in Knysna Park, South Africa, living with the elephants
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The ‘nannies’ even sleep next to the elephants so that they can give them the 24-hour care they require
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A fully-grown elephant can produce 20kg of dung a day – and the ‘nannies’ have the job of cleaning up after the babies as they work up to adult standards!
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Nine elephants live in Knysna Park in the Western Cape Province of South Africa
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Many of the elephants were orphaned during the elephant culls that were legal in South Africa before 1996, or rescued from circuses
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A breeding female herd lives in the park, along with occasional male bulls, who stay in the park until they are kicked out from the territory by the dominant female
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The ‘little’ elephants weigh 15st at birth and continue to grow to between 350st and over 1,000st

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