As long as we’ve been looking after Khanyisa, there have been milk bottles.
Our days and nights have been a constant rotation of preparing the ingredients, mixing the formula, pouring the milk, feeding the bottles to the little calf growing before our eyes, cleaning the kitchen and starting all over. The feeds were not always easy. To start with, Khanyisa had scars across her cheeks where the snare had cut into her skin. We forget sometimes the incredible trauma she went through. We forget sometimes what survivors of any kind of assault have gone through. Because we see them on the other side, changed, healed, anew. We see them strong again and choosing to leave their past behind them. Khanyisa’s scars healed so well they hardly serve to remind us.
But when we think back to the very beginning, we see the green marks on her face where Dr Rogers sprayed antibiotic wound spray onto Khanyisa’s skin. We see the angry wounds, and the very small, fragile pink elephant trying her best to fight them. We see her struggling to take the milk bottles because of the pain around her mouth. As good and healthy as it is to move on and leave the challenges behind us, remembering gives us renewed humility. We remember the fragility of life as much as the strength. And that the two are always there, co-existing.
We successfully weaned Khanyisa off her nighttime bottles last year October, as we made the move from orphanage to homestead. A move that many were scared for. But Khanyisa showed us her strength at adapting. It may take a short period and a few transition pains, but we can all adapt to new circumstances. We did it during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Khanyisa kept us inspired. And we’re doing it now, as we plan for one more season of milk bottles before full weaning starts. Winter is here which means that the bush is becoming drier as the weeks progress. The rain will only return toward the end of the year, after Khanyisa turns four in September, bringing with it a greener, more abundant wilderness to help supplement Khanyisa’s diet as she weans.
So we’ll take this winter as our last season of milk bottles, to relish in all those scenes of her slurping down her milk, as her trunk wraps around the bottle with such dexterity. We’ll lap up the moments as “the sisters” move in and storm Khanyisa’s milk feedings. I will hold these memories of a calf still dependent on us humans dear, because of the bond I’ve built with my Meisiekind, but I’m so proud to see her able to slowly support herself, independent of us. This was always the goal. All mothers reach this point. Whether you breast- or bottle feed your baby. It’s the end of a chapter, but you know you’ve done everything necessary to get your little one over those more fragile first months and years.
When we start to wean Khanyisa later this year, it won’t be immediate. Like every step we’ve taken with her, it will be gradual, and as per her own pace and needs. We will do it in unison with her. It will take time and many more milk bottles. If you’ve been following her journey since those “shit shakes” where elephant dung was added to milk formula, to help Khanyisa’s gut biome, you’ll be as invested in the little calf as we are. We want to thank you for all the ways you’ve supported her and us. As we close one chapter, a new one will open. Khanyisa is still building her skills and strength and needs to learn to feed like a big girl! To carry a massive tree branch like Tokwe, as she walks across the wilderness, feeding herself as she goes. To reach up to the tallest leaves on the marula tree like Fishan and Sebakwe. To pull bark from the branches like Zindoga and dig up bulbs and roots like Lundi. We’ll be here watching her change in these and new ways. Each step by elephant step.
You can donate a milk bottle to Khanyisa through our GlobalGiving campaign, and help us to continue raising this special little braveheart: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/raising-khanyisa-snaring-survivor/