Most of the calves that come to the sanctuary are found in wells dug by people. “In the last few years, we’ve had prolonged droughts and very little rain during the rainy seasons,” says Rowe.
Elephant herds drink from these human-made water sources. But drier conditions due to climate change mean that the water is farther underground and harder to reach. Calves can lose their footing and fall into the wells and get stuck in the sand and mud. Their herd will move on, and Reteti’s staff are called to rescue the stuck calves.
But the calves don’t have to stay at the sanctuary forever. The reserve in which it’s located supports 6,000 wild elephants. So once the calves turn 5 years old, they can rejoin the groups they were separated from when they were younger. “When you take an elephant out of the landscape, it’s a very big loss,” says Rowe. “They should be able to meet back up with their families.”
While they’re at the sanctuary, keepers walk the elephant calves around the grounds so they learn how to browse for food and get used to their surroundings. Three keepers care for each elephant. The calves also bond with the people who care for them, play with them, and even sing them songs. “Elephants are intelligent and emotional,” says Rowe. “They need a lot of attention.”