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.
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.
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.
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.
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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