Seven weeks of caring for albino baby elephant Khanyisa

February 25, 2020

Looking back at the past seven weeks of caring for little Braveheart Khanyisa.

It has been seven weeks since little Khanyisa was found all alone, dehydrated and severely injured from being caught in a cruel snare. The snare wrapped itself around the little elephant so tightly, cutting and wedging itself into the back of her ears, neck and around her cheeks, and deep into her mouth.

Khanyisa, albino elephant sleeping
Khanyisa sleeping peacefully after such a traumatic experience

She arrived at HERD on 8 January 2020, seven weeks ago, and we were uncertain if she would survive. Not only had she been without the nutrition of her mother's milk for an unknown amount of days, severe dehydration, terrible injuries that could easily lead to infection as well as immense emotional trauma.

The little elephant had terrible swelling around her head, and her eyes could barely open that evening. By the morning, after a good night's sleep, we caught the first glimpse of her unbelievably beautiful and unique blue eyes, as the swelling had slightly reduced.

Albino baby elephant blue eyes on day one at HERD

As she took her first steps out into the lush green gardens of the orphanage, she looked so peaceful and almost angelic, with the morning sunshine emphasising all the colours of her surroundings and her unique self. Adine decided to name her Sunshine, and Dr Rogers gave her the closest Shona translation, which was Khanyisa, meaning light.

Watch our Seven-week video clip summary of Khanyisa's journey

Khanyisa wasted no time in venturing across to where her soon to be family; the Jabulani Herd were curiously waiting. They had welcomed her vocally through the night, and now they welcomed her in person. The dividing fence is essential to ensure a gradual integration process for each baby elephant's emotional and physical needs. In this case, Khanyisa's wounds must be well healed before we start the introduction.

Khanyisa visitng Jabulani Herd
Khanyisa ventured over to the Jabulani HERD at the fence to
introduce herself after they communicated through the night.

KHANYISA'S NUTRITION

The days following her arrival were a challenge. The deep cuts that left holes straight into her mouth made it very painful for Khanyisa to drink milk bottles and it took a lot of love and patience from our team to get it right. But we got it right, eventually. But it takes a lot more focus and consideration from our carers to feed her compared to a healthy elephant calf.

Khensani feeding Khanyisa a milk bottle
Khensani feeding Khanyisa milk bottle during an Oximeter reading

Her milk intake was consistently average for the first three to four weeks taking in enough to see her through and to gain weight, but only from week four did she start completing most of her required milk intake, which has been extremely pleasing to see.

DIARRHOEA

The challenge of good nutrition is met with the more significant problem of avoiding diarrhoea in baby elephants, one of the biggest threats to their health, as it can cause dehydration and the loss of essential nutrients in their system.

Fortunately, Khanyisa did not have much diarrhoea in the first five weeks or so, but in the past week or two, we have had looser stools and one or two days of diarrhoea. She currently, in week seven is experiencing a runnier stool and had diarrhoea on Sunday.

Dr. Rogers came to see her on Sunday and is not too concerned at this stage, as she is keeping hydrated and is still energetic. She is still out and loving her new toy, the tyre tube!

There are a few things that we suspected could be causing the diarrhoea:

One of her carers, Herman, has been on leave, and she could be missing him; it could be teething, it could be worms (which has been ruled out by the Doc), and it could be due to missing Lammie, her sheep friend, who had to go into the vet for a day (more about that in another post).

Lammie the Legend, a special sheep companion for orpans
Lammie the Legend - Sheep Companion to orphan elephants an rhinos

A baby elephant's condition can change so quickly, and our carers monitor all her movements on the hour, and any deviation is swiftly addressed. We have been extremely impressed with their level of commitment and professionalism.

KHANYISA'S WEIGHT

Khanyisa weight had excellent weight gain, and she is on par for her estimated age of six months at a healthy weight of 159KG.

  • 08 January: Khanyisa weighed 124 KG upon arrival 
  • 25 January: 137 KG 
  • 27 January: 138 KG 
  • 03 February: 143KG
  • 10 February: 149 KG 
  • 17 February: 155KG
  • 25 February: 159KG 

A total of 35 Kilos weight gain. 

KHANYISA WEIGHTS 155KG
Khanyisa weighs 155KG on 25 February

WOUNDS and VETERINARY procedures 

During the first week to two weeks, we concentrated on cleaning Khanyisa's injuries, especially her mouth, as there was terrible maggot infestation that had set in already, so we had to ensure we had cleared it entirely before we stitched her up.

On 16 January, our trusted Wildlife vet, Dr. Peter Rogers sedated her to stitch both sides of her cheeks. She did well during the procedure, but she battled the next day to drink again, so we had to take extra special care and attention and lots of patience during bottle time. But her energy was still on max the next day!

Two weeks later, on the 31 January, Dr Rogers cut away some of the dead skin around the wounds that stretched behind her ears and the back of her neck and then stitched her right ear which was the most badly damaged by the snare. The snare had sliced off the top section of her ear and seems to have stopped blood flow for a while, and the lacerations were very deep. She has limited movement of that ear, but we are hoping that over time she may regain full use of it.

Dr Peter Rogers stitching Khanyisa's cheeks
Dr. Peter ROgers st

Since then, Doc has decided not to stitch the left ear and let it heal naturally, as it is much better condition than her right ear. Little Khanyisa loves to catch a good scratch on a corner, as any healing wounds get itchy, and often agitates the wounds, but other than that, she is healing nicely. It is now a matter of time and frequent check-ups.

Overall we could not have wished enough for a more favourable outcome over the past seven weeks since we took her into our care. We are of course concerned with her recent bouts of diarrhoea and loose stools, but keeping a very close eye on it together with Dr. Rogers.

Thank you to all our amazing followers from so many parts of the world! Khanyisa has captured your hearts as much as she has captured ours. We appreciate all the support!

If you would like to FOSTER Khanyisa or DONATE towards her high costs of care, please click on the links below:

FOSTER KHANYISA

DONATE TOWARDS KHANYISA'S CARE

We rely solely on public funding and need all the help we can get!

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