Elephant Nursery and Landscape Project - ZimbabweThe death of a mother elephant is often a death sentence for her young calf
Beatrix, an orphaned elephant calf in Zimbabwe, doesn’t give up easily. She’s been through a miraculous rescue, a flight to an IFAW-supported elephant nursery and a broken leg that required emergency surgery. With expert carers and companion animals at her side, Beatrix continues to overcome challenges on her journey back to the wild.
Beatrix was only a few days old in December 2021 when she got lodged in a roadside drain in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe. Unable to break free, she became dehydrated and was in grave danger of dying from heat stroke in the 37-degree heat.
Blake Muli, who owns a nearby safari lodge, miraculously spotted her as he drove past. He immediately called rangers from Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) who freed the baby elephant. Her mother was nowhere to be found, so she was flown to the Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery (ZEN) in Harare, operated by IFAW partner Wild Is Life (WIL).
Her expert carers at ZEN began nursing her back to health after her near-death experience and the trauma of being separated from her herd. They named her Beatrix, which comes from Dutch and means “she who brings happiness”.
Another young orphaned female elephant at ZEN, Kadiki, soon began comforting Beatrix. For instance, when Beatrix was introduced to the older and larger elephants at the nursery, Kadiki offered gentle reassurance by wrapping her trunk around Beatrix.
Roxy Danckwerts, founder of WIL-ZEN, says Kadiki is protective of Beatrix. “Perhaps she has recognised the trauma little Beatrix has experienced. The two have formed an extraordinary bond—they both love mud bathing and swimming and Beatrix will play endlessly with buckets of water.”
As Beatrix settled into life at the elephant nursery her joyful nature helped her make new friends. She began regularly spending time with other animals at the nursery, whether they were playing, going for walks or napping together. Her new buddies included Daisy, a Cape buffalo calf and Frankie and Freddie, a pair of baby bush piglets. The social bonds she’s formed have boosted Beatrix’s confidence, which will be vital when she eventually returns to the wild.
Her daily diet includes 48 litres of milk, browse (thin, leafy branches), fruits and nutritional cubes. Beatrix’s carers often have her wear a blanket to keep her warm and comfortable as her thermoregulation is not yet fully developed and temperatures at the nursery can drop to as low as 8ºC at night.
Beatrix suffered a dramatic setback in July 2022 when she fell and fractured her front leg while playing with her companions. It’s not uncommon for young elephants to injure themselves as they learn how to safely play and explore, but Beatrix’s injury was severe and she needed immediate first aid from her carers.
An X-ray of her leg by Dr. Mike Lombard, Wild is Life Trust and ZEN-IFAW veterinarian, revealed that the injury was serious enough to require surgery. In the team’s desperate search for help, they found a highly skilled orthopaedic surgeon who normally operates on people, Dr. Jabu Mthethwa, and his colleague and anaesthetist, Dr. Mufudzi Mushanginga.
In a first for IFAW and ZEN, Dr. Mthethwa made small incisions and implanted titanium pins and screws into the bone. As a calf, Beatrix’s bones are still soft, so the pins and screws can help align the broken bone. The operation was successful; just an hour after the surgery, Beatrix was able to lie down and stand up on her own.
Three shifts of two carers looked after Beatrix 24 hours a day as she recovered. She could no longer join the other elephants for walks, so her carers and nursery manager Catherine Jennings kept her from getting bored by chatting with her, singing to her and keeping her occupied. Beatrix’s animal buddies at the nursery also played a vital role in her rehabilitation. Her goat buddy, Splat, shared his energy and perky attitude and slept close to her at night. Meanwhile, her elephant friend Kadiki remained watchful, greeted Beatrix with rumbles and trunk hugs and slept at her side.
With the support of both people and animals, together with her own determination and fighting spirit, three months after the surgery Beatrix had made a full recovery.
“She is a little champion of an elephant, gregarious and courageous, and we don’t expect any long-term adverse effects from the accident,” says Roxy.
Beatrix will remain at the nursery until she is around three years old, at which point she will be transferred to the IFAW-ZEN release site in the Panda Masuie Forest Reserve. IFAW funds the lease of this 345-square-kilometre (85,000-acre) habitat where Beatrix will learn live in the wild by interacting with the herds of elephants that move freely in the landscape. A few years later, Beatrix will hopefully complete her journey by permanently joining a wild herd.
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