When Sex and the City
star Kristin Davis traveled to Kenya to go on safari last year, she thought she was going to admire the wild animals from afar. Instead, she found herself trekking into the wilderness to save an orphan elephant.
Learn how to adopt an orphan elephant.
"One day when we were driving along, I saw an elder from the Masai village who said that they had seen a baby elephant alone, which is very unusual," Kristin says. "We were concerned that poachers were in the neighborhood."
After two days, Kristin's group finally found the baby elephant in the middle of lava rocks. "We gave [her] water," Kristin says. "This was important because [she] was so dehydrated." The group helped transport the baby elephant to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant and rhino orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.
This elephant nursery gives orphans a chance to heal, thrive and eventually be introduced back into the wild. "We had a huge sense of relief, sense of celebration and euphoria," Kristin says.
When Kristin went to the orphanage to visit, she learned that the baby elephant she helped save had been named Chaimu, which references the lava rocks she was found near.
Kristin says humans are usually to blame when an elephant is orphaned. "The number one reason right now is poaching. Even though ivory is illegal to sell, there is a very high-priced black market for it," she says. "Number two would be human encroachment onto their normal territory because there's just too many people. They need hundreds and hundreds of miles to roam and eat and drink their water."
Drought—believed to be caused by global warming—may also contribute to the problem. "When we found Chaimu, it was the worst drought that any of the oldest Masai—which are the oldest people you find in Kenya—could ever remember," Kristin says.
Elephants are said to have emotions just like humans. "They cry tears," Kristin says. When a member of their family dies, elephants gather around the dead and pay their respects by gently touching the body one last time before walking away.
So when an baby elephant comes to the orphanage, it has often witnessed the death of a parent. "When the babies come in, they are so traumatized and heartbroken by what has happened to their family that some of them die just from the emotional grief," Kristin says.
To help the elephants cope, Kristin says the human handlers develop a strong bond with the orphans. "These men have basically devoted their lives," she says. "The keepers are with them 24 hours a day because that's what would happen with their mother."
At the orphanage, the baby elephants are allowed to heal and grow. "They're playing in the mud bath," Kristin says. "They love that."
The best thing about The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kristin says, is that all of the elephants are eventually reintroduced back into the wild. "We've released 100 elephants, living 100 percent back in the wild," Kristin says. After developing such strong bonds with their keepers, however, Kristin says the elephants sometimes return to visit. "If they have a baby, they'll come back to show the baby to their keepers," she says.
Kristin says when new baby elephants come to the orphanage, all of the ex-orphan elephants come to greet them. "They trumpet, and they're so excited," Kristin says. "Then they lay their trunks over them, which is kind of like hugging them. It's really amazing."
Kristin says getting involved with the elephant orphanage has opened her eyes. "I think it gave me more respect than I even would have ever dreamt of having for their entire being and how important it is for us to care for their world, as well," she says. "It's such a sad commentary that animals would be becoming extinct because we're thoughtless. It's so awful."
If you'd like to help, you can adopt an elephant for only $50 through The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Your donation includes a fostering certificate with a profile and photograph of your adopted orphan, monthly updates about your elephant and more.
Click here to learn how to adopt an orphan elephant
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