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Kenya orphanage takes in elephant babies

From David McKenzie, CNN
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Kenya's orphaned elephants
  • Conservation groups have seen an influx of wildlife
  • Scores of animals are orphaned by drought, poaching and shrinking habitats
  • David Sheldrick Foundation makes room for all the elephants that come its way

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Sala saunters in the red soil, her wrinkled skin glistening in the sun as she tries to keep up with the rest of the herd.

It is hard to believe the 6-week-old, dwarfed by her human keeper, will grow up to be one of nature's biggest beasts.

Until then, she lives at a Nairobi orphanage that takes in baby elephants struggling to survive. There, she walks around in the lush wilderness with her peers, drinks soy milk and waves her trunk playfully as her keeper applies sunscreen on her delicate skin. A red garment tied around her back keeps it safe from the sun's glare.

Sala is one of scores of animals orphaned by drought, poaching and shrinking habitats, which have decimated wildlife across Kenya. The baby elephant was found wandering, alone and confused, after her mother died of starvation, her caretaker said.

Conservation groups such as the David Sheldrick Foundation, where Sala is, have seen an influx of wildlife. The foundation takes in orphaned elephants and rhinos from across the country, a popular tourist destination because of its animals.

"You know if a human child came in need of care, you wouldn't put a bullet in or turn it away," said Daphne Sheldrick of the foundation. "Elephants are the same. ... Whatever comes in, we have to make space."

The facility has more than 20 elephants in Nairobi and more at another center in Tsavo National Park, where they are also rehabilitated.

Kenya depends on tourism as a main source of income. Sala taps into that to help earn the $900 monthly cost for her upkeep.

She slushes and slides in a mud bath for throngs of tourists and uses her trunk to nudge the only other person she dwarfs -- a squirming toddler.

Sala and the other animals will be released back into the wilderness when they are old enough, which takes years.

Long after they are gone, their caretakers will still worry about the fragile animals they help nurture.

"After working with these elephants, it's no longer just a job," said Edwin Lusichi, the chief keeper. "It is from inside your heart, the love that you have for these animals."