Khanyisa the albino elephant calf who was rescued from a poaching snare has made an incredible recovery and just celebrated her first birthday… this is her journey.
Hoedspruit, South Africa (29 September 2020) – Like a story straight out of a Disney movie, this little innocent baby elephant – completely rare in her colour – was found severely injured and alone. Her situation was incredibly dire and her future was uncertain. But with a lot of care from humans, and love from a herd of orphaned elephants, Khanyisa just celebrated her first birthday with trumpets, and trunk-kisses and tears.
It has been an incredible nine months of rehabilitation and phased integration into the Jabulani herd for little albino elephant calf, Khanyisa at HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development), South Africa’s first dedicated elephant orphanage.
“At a time when we have needed it the most, she gave us hope, passion and joy, having survived her terrible start to life, healed from her wounds, overcome sickness, and being accepted into a new herd of her own. She has constantly overcome each hurdle with a special kind of positivity and fight, and inspired us to do the same.”
Khanyisa was rescued on 7 January 2020, having survived several days on her own in the wild, severely injured from a snare that had wrapped itself around her head, severing the top lobe of her left ear and causing severe lacerations around her head, neck, mouth and cheeks. The four-month-old calf somehow managed to free the snare from the ground, but it remained wrapped around her, continually digging and cutting into her flesh.
“It is unclear if her herd had abandoned the albino calf before she was ensnared or after the incident. The fact that she survived so long in the wild is a miracle; she was dehydrated, and her eyes had swollen shut from pressure building from the snare and the swelling around her head. The trauma she experienced, although not visually evident, will no doubt cut much deeper than the physical pain she endured.”
The calf was discovered in a nature reserve neighbouring the south-west of the Kruger National Park by two employees of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA). She was taken to the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in Mpumalanga to be stabilised. At the same time, the inter-provincial permit was arranged to translocate her to the province of Limpopo, where HERD is situated. The same day, our elephant care team departed from HERD to join the Care for Wild team to provide essential milk and care for the calf overnight.
On 8 January, the little calf arrived at HERD, to start her long road of love and rehabilitation ahead of meeting her new family-in-waiting, the Jabulani Herd. It is with immense pride, nine months later… that the team can relate her remarkable story of survival and development.
The Jabulani herd of rescued elephants, all mostly orphans themselves, have accepted and adopted orphans before with great success. Khanyisa’s journey began right beside the Herd in our orphanage nursery, with dedicated carers and her companion sheep, Lammie, by her side, giving round-the-clock care, support and attention Khanyisa’s rehabilitation has gone through several milestones in the six months that she has been at HERD, as she has progressed from the skinny, dehydrated 124-kilogram animal to the healthy 250-kilogram elephant she is today.
TREATMENT OF HER WOUNDS
The most significant part of her rehabilitation process was the long yet successful treatment of her wounds. The open flesh of her deep mouth wounds from the snare had maggots feeding off the decaying flesh, creating gaping holes into her mouth. She also had deep lacerations around her neck and back of her ears, with a severed top lobe of her right ear. First, we had to clean and treat the calf’s wounds to combat infection.
Once satisfied that all possible infection had cleared, our dedicated Wildlife Vet, Dr Peter Rogers began with the stitching of her wounds.
On 16 January, Dr Rogers stitched up the calf’s cheek and mouth wounds. At the end of January, he stitched the back of her right ear. Adine started with stemcell treatment on Khanyisa’s wounds in March, to assist in the final stage of healing.
The skin-restoring serum combines plant-derived stem cells cultivated from Argan tree and Comfrey roots and helped to regenerate the dry and damaged skin, with a natural extract from the aerial part of Onopordum Acanthium, to increase skin turnover.
The treatment was successful; her wounds had healed entirely by the end of March.
During these milestones, Khanyisa suffered occasional bouts of diarrhoea, which is always disconcerting with elephant calves. Diarrhoea can be brought upon from PTSD, bacteria, teething or dietary challenges as their nutritional needs consistently change as a calf grows.
But the HERD team, working continuously throughout the COVID-19 Lockdown, saw to every hurdle with efficient care and managed to help the calf through these bouts, with the assistance of Dr Rogers and trusted elephant advisors.
KHANYISA’S GRADUAL INTEGRATION INTO THE JABULANI HERD
With Khanyisa’s physical rehabilitation complete, the team started with her phased integration into the Jabulani herd. Khanyisa started with walks into the Herd’s stables during the day, while they were out in the reserve foraging – this allowed her to become more familiar with her surroundings and her future family’s scents. It also gave her excellent stimulation and exercise, as she ventured further each day.
Jabulani was the first elephant that Khanyisa met, trunk to trunk. He is an orphan who was rescued in 1997, having suffered a similar fate, found alone, stuck in a mud pool. Perhaps it was this mutual understanding that caused him to show the most interest in her initially, by visiting her each morning through the orphanage fence.
Lundi, already a mother and an older female in the Jabulani herd, was chosen to be Khanyisa’s adoptive mother and was introduced to Khanyisa next. Lundi was the ideal choice made by Adine, since the herd Matriarch, Tokwe, already had her time filled caring for her own two children and another two younger orphans.
Over the weeks, the other elephants in the Herd were introduced step by step – and at a gradual pace to not overwhelm Khanyisa or the Herd and to better monitor each of their reactions and stress levels, which we track through sampling their dung daily.
“Khanyisa started to join the elephants on their daily walks through the wild of the reserve, foraging and roaming, before returning to the Jabulani elephant stables with the carers. The calf began with shorter two-hour stints and soon built up to four-hour walks, which meant another change: milk feedings in the bush. Both she and the herd have reacted well to this necessary activity, as she is dependent on us to provide her milk until she is fully-weaned at the age of approximately 4 – 5 years old. The cows are not lactating as it is not our objective at HERD to breed with the elephants.”
She is now spending longer days – stretching from 6 AM to 2 PM – in the wild with the elephants, and joining them for their afternoon swims too. It has been the consistent and vital care of our HERD team and our trusted vets and advisors that have gotten Khanyisa through the last six months of rehabilitation and integration, supported by essential funding from donors and foster parents. Khanyisa inspires every one of our team at HERD and her followers around the world every day.