This albino elephant calf rescued from a poaching snare inspired the world with her incredible strength and resilience. Here is her story.
Khanyisa came to Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development (HERD) in South Africa on January 8, 2020, in the worst condition.
The four-month-old calf had a snare wrapped around her head, which severed the top lobe of her left ear and caused lacerations around her head, neck, mouth, and cheeks.
She somehow managed to uproot the snare from the ground, but the trap remained tightly wrapped around her head, causing her pain as its sharp edges continually dug and cut into her flesh.
The HERD staff was uncertain if she would even survive, given the severity of her injuries and emotional trauma.
“It is unclear if her herd had abandoned the albino calf before she was ensnared or after the incident. The fact that she survived so long in the wild is a miracle; she was dehydrated, and her eyes had swollen shut from pressure building from the snare and the swelling around her head. The trauma she experienced, although not visually evident, will no doubt cut much deeper than the physical pain she endured,” HERD said in a statement.
Khanyisa’s head was swelling, and she could barely open her eyes. But after a good night’s sleep, she woke up looking better the next day. The swelling had slightly reduced, and she was able to open her peepers. That’s when the sanctuary staff got a glimpse of her beautiful blue eyes.
During the first two weeks, the team focused on treating and cleaning her wounds. On January 16, wildlife veterinarian Dr. Peter Rogers stitched both sides of her cheeks. Two weeks later, he cut away some of the dead skin around her wounds and stitched her right ear.
As the wounds in her mouth healed, Khanyisa had difficulty drinking from milk bottles, but her carers worked hard to get it right. They eventually did, and by week four, the elephant started completing most of her required milk intake.
Because of her improved diet, the baby elephant experienced excellent weight gain. She only weighed 124 kilograms when she arrived. But by the end of February, the calf weighed 159 kilograms, which means she gained a total of 35 kilos!
Since a baby elephant’s condition can change quickly, Khanyisa’s caretakers monitor all her movements by the hour. Whenever they notice anything different with the elephant, the staff are quick to address it.
Adine Roode, the founder of HERD, started her on a stem cell treatment on her wounds to assist in the final stages of its healing. Thankfully, it worked, and by March, all of Khanyisa’s wounds have healed.
Once her physical rehabilitation was complete, the team started slowly integrating her into her new family-in-waiting – the Jabulani herd of rescued elephants who are mostly orphans themselves.
They began with walks into the herd’s stables during the day to familiarize her with the surroundings and the scents of her future family.
Jabulani was the first elephant that she met, trunk to trunk. Lundi, an older female in the Jabulani herd, was chosen to be Khanyisa’s adoptive mother. She then met all the elephants one by one until she was fully accepted into the herd!
The elephant calf also had a companion sheep named Lammie, who made her rehabilitation and integration a lot easier.
“At a time when we have needed it the most, she gave us hope, passion and joy, having survived her terrible start to life, healed from her wounds, overcome sickness, and being accepted into a new herd of her own. She has constantly overcome each hurdle with a special kind of positivity and fight, and inspired us to do the same,” HERD said of Khanyisa.
This elephant’s nine-month rehabilitation journey is truly heartwarming and inspiring. See her with her friend below. Share this story with your family and friends!