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Some Thoughts on Baby Elephants


Guest Forum: This piece is by Meghan Clark who is teaching for a semester at Hekima College – on a Fullbright scholarship.
Meghan is an assistant professor of moral theology at St John’s University in New York.

Within days of each other this past week, two baby elephants found themselves stuck and separated from their elephant families. Kwama, a two month old male, spent twelve hours stuck in a mud hole before he was rescued by the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. When the Kenyan Wildlife Service is unable to locate the infant’s elephant herd, the David Sheldrick Trust is called, and brings the orphaned elephant to their elephant nursery in Nairobi. Merely twenty four hours after Kwama arrived; Kawaida, only a few weeks old, joined him at the elephant nursery. According to Sheldrick:

“This tiny calf had become trapped in a water leakage on the Mzima-Mombasa Pipeline, which is now 50 years old and falling into a state of disrepair. Once alerted, our Voi Keepers extracted her from the hole, before we flew her to the Nursery. We have named her ‘Kawaida’, a Swahili word that can mean ‘the same’, as her fate mirrored that of Kwama, rescued just the day before her!”

As of November 1, 2015, 34 orphaned baby elephants are being cared for at the Sheldrick elephant nursery.  Kwama and Kawaida have a long road ahead of them. Baby elephants, like human infants, need to be fed every 4 hours and receive constant supervision.  In the wild, elephants rely on their mother’s milk for at least three years. Over decades of research and experience, Dame Daphne Sheldrick discovered that slightly modified human baby formula worked best for baby elephants.  Communal, emotional, and intelligent, elephants build lifelong relationships that persist even when they are reintroduced into the wild.

The love and friendship built among orphaned elephants and between the elephants and their human families provides a good example of what Pope Francis calls an integral ecology “made up of daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation, and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms” (Laudato Si’ 230).   From 2011-2014, National Geographic estimates that over 100,000 African elephants were killed due to the logic of violence, exploitation and greed.  Over the last three months, the veterinary units at Sheldrick report a 50% increase in cases; “Out of 70 elephants treated overall, 48 were treated for direct poaching injuries including 25 elephants injured with poisoned arrows and 15 elephants attacked with spears.”


Peter Knox SJ adds: The continuing plundering of Africa’s flora – tropial rainforests, and  forests in general – and megafauna -elephants, rhinos, great apes, and large predators like lions, etc. – is contributing to an even wider loss of biodiversity. As the ecological niches occupied by these plants and large mammals are not being filled by any other creatures, the environments dependent on these plants and animals are thrown off balance, and deteriorate further.  Kudos to Pope Francis for bringing this to the attention to the world as a Christian moral issue (in Laudato Si’ 32-42.)  Urgent action on the pope’s recommendations should be accompanied by a change in mindset that perceives our continent no longer as a resource to be plundered, but as one of the (spiritual) lungs of  humanity – as Pope Benedict somewhat romantically wrote in Africae Munus.