She is an already unusual sight… a little pink elephant with blonde tail hairs and trunk whiskers and white-blue eyes…
But with her multi-coloured range of blankets that hug her body on cold evenings and mornings, Khanyisa is a vision. A unique orphan-no-longer, her journey has been anything but usual, with her second chance at a herd of her own including a new family of many species: elephant, human, sheep, dog, and blanket.
Orphan elephants are covered with blankets during their rehabilitation phases, while at an orphanage and starting to integrate into a new herd. This isn’t because they lack a coat of their own to keep warm under, like Lammie or Nungu, but because what they lack is the protection of their herd – those grand bodies shielding them from wind and rain. Those great shadows giving them shade in the harsh African sun.
The older members in the herd are much stronger and less fragile and can handle the weather conditions of living in the wilderness, but baby elephants are much more delicate and vulnerable and can develop illnesses from being exposed.
From the time she arrived, as that tiny round pink ball of elephant, our carers have been sure to be the herd Khanyisa so desperately needed. They have followed her about with an umbrella before the elephants could step in and take their place as shade-keepers, and they have wrapped and unwrapped a blanket around her every nippy breezy morning and chilly, stormy night. Inside her nursery at night red lights provide further warmth, as does the company of a carer or a woolly compadre.
When Fenya arrived the precious little calf desperately needed to maintain her body heat, while not having her body use too much fat and energy to keep warm. We made sure to keep doors and windows closed, to keep the wind off her, and to allow the lights to warm her up. Once or twice she let us wrap her in a blanket, but she was still very wild, and not used to the strange jumper on her back.
The blankets are not only providers of warmth, but offer the comfort of a mother’s touch, the feeling of having those giant legs and long wandering trunks all around you. They are mom’s embrace and also, we have seen with Khanyisa… a great way to monitor her growth. A blanket that once draped over her like a too-big-curtain now barely covers her midriff…
Khanyisa has had many different blankets since arriving in January 2020 and it all started with a little green jumper, knitted for Khanyisa by Jabulani ‘s Head of Housekeeping, Tannie Ansie, who has worked at the lodge and been part of our family for many years. Khanyisa has gotten a lot of use out of her first knitted blanket but you can really see her tummy peeking out now that she has doubled in size, from the 124 kg calf she arrived as, to the over 315 kg calf she is today.
After some time, we decided to purchase more options for her, and to allow us to wash her blankets and alternate. Grey was her next colour – grey like the gentle giants she started to meet and greet in the Jabulani herd. We also had a few donated by Mabet, who added a personal touch to them by stitching them around the edges.
Then the wonderful colourful people at Whimsical Collection donated our very first multi-coloured blanket, boasting different colour knitted patches. They also created a joyful drawing of this sight – a wee pachyderm in a technicolour coat as one of their wildlife characters.
The zebra blanket many know and love was inherited from Mopane, the orphaned elephant calf who sadly passed away very suddenly, after thriving so well following his rescue and rehabilitation. Khanyisa took on the new nickname of Zebra Bum as she honoured Mopane by wearing his striped black and white blanket on many mornings and nights at the orphanage. Quite gloriously, we could often watch the zebra grazing out in the bush in the distance behind Khanyisa’s striped frame, and we pondered to ourselves what the dazzle might think of their long-nosed lookalike.
And then came Nana Enid’s magnificent blanket after travelling for four months from the United Kingdom to finally get to us in the bush! Mother to our wonderful HERD supporter, Deb Small, Nana Enid took to knitting the patchwork ‘Elmer’ blanket for Khanyisa while recovering from pneumonia.
Enid McDermott, 83, spent two months knitting the huge colourful blanket during her stay in hospital. When she heard about Khanyisa’s devastating experience, of being caught in the snare, she was determined to help in some way.
“She was really very ill in hospital and having this to focus on definitely helped,” said Deb. “She’d had lots of wool for her birthday and one day she asked for it all to be brought in and that what was she did almost all day every day for about two months. She has always loved wildlife and was aware of Khanyisa’s plight and wanted to do something to help. She loves the Elmer books and used to read them to her grandchildren and this was just an idea she came up with.”
“Once it was sent off she kept asking everyday if it had arrived and we were so disappointed when it seemed to have gotten lost in the post. When we heard it had finally been delivered after all this time she was so so pleased. Over the moon in fact. It’s great that Khanyisa will still get some use out of it too because they are still having cool winter nights there.”
As Khanyisa has started to reach up to the same height of the wooden fence that surrounds her garden, she received new donations of joy to keep her warm, as another autumn and winter has started to settle in across the South African bushveld. The incredible people at Warriors for African Wildlife, spearheaded by Nita Smith, knitted a new collection of blankets not only for Khanyisa but for her carers too, in fact for all the elephant carers in our team, along with beanies to keep them warm while on the job.
We have enjoyed watching these colourful gifts stand out from the greens and browns of the wilderness, as little reminders of kindness and bearers of warmth, both physical and emotional. One special blanket, knitted by Andreas Köhler, travelled all the way from the South of Germany to us in Hoedspruit, with a sweet little elephant stitched into the corner.
While Khanyisa’s herd might not seem too enthused by the sight of her as a zebra or a Smartie box, giving the blanket a tug and toss with the trunk, she certainly feels right at home under them. As she continues to grow and no longer needs three-hourly milk bottle feedings through the night, she will start to be ready to join the elephants full-time, sans blankets.
These knitted or fleecy warmers will be inherited by a new orphan in need of their special powers and Khanyisa’s family, her sister figure, Timisa, her adoptive mother Lundi, and all her allomothers, will provide her with the shelter she needs, rain or shine.
Khanyisa’s journey in blankets has been full of new adventures, highs and lows, great generosity, long nights, early mornings, tender moments and playful rendezvous. Some days have been a three-blanket-kind-of-day, with her needing extra support, and others more blanket in the wind… carefree and happy-go-lucky, ears up and out catching the thermals, ready to fly.
We are so grateful for the many hearts and hands that have played a role in this journey thus far and helped to don our braveheart with blankets of beauty that speak to her whimsical warrior spirit!
To donate to HERD and help in the daily running of the orphanage and support of the rescued elephants and orphans, please go to: herd.org.za/product/donate/ or take a look at our WISHLIST.