When our HERD team got the phone call that there was a four-month old elephant calf that had been found tangled in a horrendous snare with terrible injuries, dehydrated and in bad shape, we prepared ourselves for a massive challenge. Elephant calves are incredibly delicate and one of the most challenging animal species to hand-rear and care for, additional injuries aside.
We then learned that this young female was also an albino. We were amazed that she had survived as long as she did, as the vet estimated that she had been in that current state for approximately four days before being found.
No one knows what happened leading up to the time she got stuck in the snare; if she had been abandoned or perhaps even lost.
Her gaping wounds around her mouth had a maggot infestation that had begun in the decaying flesh of her cheeks. Not only did she spend a few days without the nourishment of her mother's milk, but she had to face all the threatening elements of the wild all on her own without any protection. On top of that, the added challenge of poorer eyesight and a more conspicuous skin colour due to her albinism truly makes her survival remarkable.
Her precious little life had started with such unthinkable hardships, and she had made it through this far. We knew this must be one fierce and brave little elephant. Well, how we underestimated her!
In the past six weeks that we have had the privilege of caring for Khanyisa (meaning light/sunshine in Shona), she has been an inspiration not only to every one of our team at HERD but to so many people following her story around the world.
Nothing gets her down. It is like nothing can ever come close to what she has had to endure, both physically and emotionally. During the first few weeks as Adine would clean her injuries, reaching deeply into her open wounds around her mouth, she would lay still and with such unconditional trust. When our wildlife vet, Dr. Rogers came to stitch her cheeks and her ears, she was up the next morning, playing without a care in the world.
She is unbelievably resilient, and she is a fighter. Each of our team draws inspiration from her strength through the long days and hours spent caring for her.
It is always in the back of our minds that a young elephant calf's condition can change at any time, so we are never complacent. We have to remember that although Khanyisa shows her strength, deep inside, she is a very traumatised baby elephant.
Once she is healed, and we feel she is ready, we will gradually integrate her with her new family, the Jabulani herd. Tokwe, the matriarch is her new mom-in-waiting together with many aunties and uncles and brothers and sisters to give her the natural love and protection she so deserves.
Written by: Sue Howells, HERD