How a Simple Gray Blanket Acts as a Substitute Mother for Orphaned Elephants

In the absence of their mothers, orphaned baby elephants have discovered a unique, comforting substitute.

It’s not their natural mothers but rather large gray blankets draped in the African wilderness. These humble blankets serve a much more crucial role for these frightened, solitary infants.

They provide a sense of security, mimicking the warmth and comfort of their mother’s belly, a crucial element, especially during feeding time.

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Caregivers install these comforting blankets at the internationally acclaimed David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Substitute mother: An orphaned elephant snuggles up to a large grey blanket hung out at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya
Substitute mother: An orphaned elephant snuggles up to a large grey blanket hung out at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya.

This elephant nursery, situated in Nairobi, Kenya, is managed by Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter Angela. They’ve developed an ingenious method to comfort these distressed young animals.

The tiny elephants cozy up to these blankets, rubbing their trunks against them, emulating interactions they would typically have with their mothers in their natural habitats.

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With new orphans coming in continually, often after distressing rescues, these comfort blankets are indispensable.

At ease: A baby nestles against the blanket, rubbing the end of its trunk against the material, just as it would to its real mother in the wild
At ease: A baby nestles against the blanket, rubbing the end of its trunk against the material, just as it would to its real mother in the wild.

Angela Sheldrick emphasized the high vulnerability of these baby elephants upon arrival, owing to the stressful situations leading to their orphaned state.

Separation from their herd due to accidents, floods, or mothers’ death leaves them prone to pneumonia and other stress-induced illnesses.

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Moreover, getting these traumatized babies to feed is a significant challenge. This is where the comfort blankets come into play. The blankets provide a tactile sensation to the elephants, stimulating them to feed.

Digging it: The sensation of using its trunk to rub against the blanket mimics the elephant's mother's stomach
Digging it: The sensation of using its trunk to rub against the blanket mimics the elephant’s mother’s stomach.

After some months, the elephants gradually transition to feeding from a bottle and start interacting with the rest of the herd.

This progress is part of the nurturing process for the orphaned elephants, which also involves the caregivers sleeping with them during the initial stages.

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With more than 10,000 foster parents globally, these baby elephants receive tremendous support.

Once 12-18 months old, they are relocated to rehabilitation centers in the Tsavo East National Park, where they are released back into the wild.

Daphne Sheldrick established the Trust, knighted in 2006, in memory of her husband, David, in 1977. The mother-daughter duo has successfully nurtured more than 70 orphaned elephants.

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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is unique, as it is the only such institution worldwide that rescues, rears, and reintegrates elephants back into the wild.

Feeding time: The elephants use the blankets for the early months, then they go on to taking the bottle
Feeding time: The elephants use the blankets for the early months, then they go on to take the bottle.
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Pioneering in the field, Daphne, back in the early 1970s, managed to rear her first newborn orphaned elephant, an achievement never before accomplished.

After years of relentless effort and learning, they’ve fine-tuned the nurturing techniques and diet to raise these orphaned elephants.

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As Angela asserts, the primary objective of their Orphan’s Project is to rear these elephants in a manner that ensures their psychological health, enabling them to return to the wild where they truly belong.

Read more Elephant News.


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