Elephant Alphabet – K is for Kiss

August 24, 2011

Orphan elephant suckles on keeper's fingers

Orphan elephant suckles on keeper's fingers

At the orphan-elephant rehabilitation center in Nairobi National Park, baby elephants learn to depend completely on their keepers. Many of the orphans were traumatized, watching their mothers killed by poachers. Some were injured or fell into a hole and got left by their herd. How they learn to trust humans is bewildering. Maybe it is a matter of survival rather than choice. After years of trial and error, the center’s founders, Daphne Sheldrick and David (her naturalist husband), created a formula with enough nutrients for babies younger than 3 to survive. David passed away not long afterward.

The orphan elephants trust their keepers, suckling on 2 human fingers and allowing keepers to touch the sensitive underside of their trunks. The elephants truly appear to adopt the keepers as their moms. The keepers are with the elephants 24/7. Each day and night a different keeper is assigned to an elephant. They sleep together in a cabin with a bunk bed above the elephant’s nest of hay. The keeper will be available to feed the elephant milk every 3 hours.

Do elephants know how to kiss? When they touch the tip of their trunk to a keeper’s face or poke the keeper’s stomach playfully, it appears as affectionate as a human kiss. Perhaps the elephant is searching for the keeper’s mouth to put his trunk into (a way of greeting). Typically, a baby elephant may suck on its trunk for comfort but they are doing this with people as their pacifier. When different species help another out, it is something special.

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