It’s 5:30am in the morning in Burkina Faso. In the very heart of Deux-Balé National Park, Souleymane, one of Nania’s four keepers, wakes up and starts preparing the first milk bottle of his little protégé.
As the sunrays try to pierce through the morning dew which blankets the vegetation during the night, Nania eagerly waits for her breakfast in her boma (meaning “home”).
At 6am, Souleymane finally leaves the keepers’ house and goes toward the enclosure with a big smile and milk bottle in hand. Nania, delighted, drinks it quickly and finishes her two liters of milk in record time. Souleymane then pours half a liter of water in the bottle to rinse it and gives it to Nania who is more than happy to empty it again.
It’s now time for a walk! Souleymane carefully fills his backpack with the elephant calf’s second milk bottle of the morning, which will be given to her at 9am, and a ration of five liters of water. He then lets Nania out of her enclosure, accompanied by Whisty, her sheep friend who does not leave her side. The little group heads towards a body of water located several hundred meters away.
On his side of things, Salif, Souleymane’s partner, is just waking up. The day’s outline was discussed the day before, so he knows exactly what’s awaiting him: washing up the utensils used early in the morning to prepare Nania’s first two bottles, cooking the two keepers’ lunch meal and gathering the necessary ingredients to make up the milk bottles that will be given to Nania at noon and at 3pm.
Upon arrival at a body of water, Nania appears unwilling to take a swim, as the water is still cold in the early morning hours. Souleymane, Nania, and Whisty head north to continue their walk. The small elephant calf continues to discover her environment on the way, which will become her permanent home in a few years. Being the rainy season, the vegetation is lush at this time: Nania and Whisty have enough to graze on to supplement their breakfast. However, Nania’s favorite pastime is to find mud holes to frantically plunge into! Mud has many positive properties for elephants: it allows them to protect themselves from the sun and from parasites, cool off, and hydrate their skin.
At 9am, Salif prepares himself to join the small team in the bush with his backpack containing the two afternoon milk bottles for Nania, the lunch to be shared with Souleymane, and an extra ration of five liters of water. He contacts Souleymane to obtain their exact position because Nania cannot be kept waiting for her midday bottle!
Nania the elephant explores the with Whisty, the sheep.
When Salif reaches the group, they continue walking together until noon. Nania gulps down her lunch and her two keepers enjoy a well-deserved break before continuing their journey. The walk always follows a loop and not a straight back and forth trip, which allows Nania to enjoy a bigger diversity of landscapes and hence leads to more discovery of her environment.
Around 5:30pm, the team returns to the boma and Salif takes Nania and Whisty to a body of water, encouraging Nania to take a swim. The water’s temperature suits the elephant this time, who happily throws herself into the water. She repeatedly tries to get her keeper to join in… with no success! However, Nania does not forget to demand her 6pm bottle.
Nania swims during her lunch break.
It’s 6:30pm and the sun’s rays are starting to vanish over the horizon. At the keepers’ house, Souleymane has washed the dishes and prepared Nania’s 9pm bottle. It will be Salif’s turn to give dinner to the small elephant. Souleymane will take over at midnight and 3am. Salif will pick off where he leaves off at 6am and a new day will begin for the duo.
With utter devotion, the two keepers alternate their duties during the week to take care of Nania and Whisty. Every other week, Souleymane and Salif leave the bush and Nania’s world to join their families.
They then make way for their colleagues, Abdoulaye and Idrissa, who will also take good care of the beloved calf.
It will take two more years for Nania to be weaned and probably many more for her to become independent and return to her herd. In the meantime, Souleymane, Salif, Abdoulaye, and Idrissa are taking care of her and making sure that she has the best possible future in Deux-Balé National Park.
-Aurore Morin, with the assistance of Etienne Bagagnan, IFAW local point of liaison
Elephant Rescue and Rehabilitation Project - Burkina FasoSaving one elephant calf can make a big difference