Story of Mary: The Elephant Part-I


An Odd Love-Match

It was truly love at first sight. Motherly instincts overruled common sense and forged the ill-matched bonding of surrogate mother and orphaned Elephant that night on the journey back to the Ranch. The poor creature sucked vainly on my hand much of the time and my heart sank when I felt only the beginnings of erupting molar teeth in the back of her mouth. She still had baby hair on her torso and although she was bulky in the body, I knew that – as with children – size is no certain measure of age. The critical indicator in this case was the still nascent molars....


Trial and Error

Over the next few days the little Elephant put up a brave show herself. It was as if she knew her life was in our hands and tried her utmost to respond positively, encouragingly even, to her new family’s efforts to meet her critical needs for nutrition, warmth and emotional support. But it was all trial and error over the ensuing weeks. There were no text-books – no points of reference at all – on whatever it was, art or science, that was needed to keep a motherless infant elephant alive. No one in the world knew for sure how it might be done...


A Precedent called ‘Eleanor’

There were two people I could immediately consult – good friends and neighbors, Bill and Ruth Woodley. Both had long experience and expertise in the care of wild animals, including baby elephants… And one in particular, a young female, who did survive and went on to achieve international distinction.Her story starts in 1961 when Bill Woodley was Senior Park Warden for Kenya’s twin mountain parks, Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares.The colonial Governor at the time was Sir Patrick Renison, who had asked Bill to take him on up north on safari together...


QED! The Formula Works

But with regard to my own particular need for counsel on infant elephant rearing, Ruth Woodley was the oracle. She came up with what turned out to be a brilliant suggestion. Why not, she mused, try a special formula recently developed for human infants unable to tolerate animal fats ? We then took advice from several pediatricians and the consensus recommendation was for a branded product, in which otherwise standard animal fats had been substituted with natural vegetable oils from soya beans, sunflowers and palms. The formula seemed promisingly rich in both proteins and carbohydrates, supplemented with plenty of vitamins and minerals...


The Best Christmas Ever!

It was time to name the Elephant Don favored “Mary” after his mother in the States who had regularly relayed maternal advice and encouragement from the other side of the globe. “Gramma” Hunt, as she was known to all, had been confident all along.“Stick at it,” she’d said in effect. “You’ll work it out in the end.” She well deserved to have the newest family member named for her. So Mary it was. Then, suddenly, it was Christmas. The time had flown since her arrival in the Orphanage and there she was, six months on – hale, hearty and getting more playfully boisterous by the day. Mary and other matters around the Ranch had diverted us from any advance festive ...


Educating Mary

Into the New Year, the register of guests at the Orphanage grew longer as more animal waifs and strays were brought in. The good-natured elephant welcomed them all, especially those prepared to join in the fun of mock charges and chases. William, a young giraffe, became her all time favorite. The two made an odd, but inseparable pair of best friends. As the Twiga got taller, he needed to go walkabout to find and feed off the tender buds on the tops of thorn trees and the junior ndovu was his constant companion. A “right royal” couple, William & Mary, (namesakes, of course, of their former Britannic Majesties). Once she discovered where our house was, it was frequently on...


‘Her Excellency’

Mary would also become a great ambassador for her own kind, both as a point of reference for the naturally gentle nature and intelligence of the African Elephant and, more importantly, a focal point of public attention to the plight of the species, still under serious threat from relentless poaching for Ivory in Africa. She graciously received countless visitors to the Orphanage – some of them Very Important Persons, from Royals to film stars, Heads of State to the world’s most eminent animal scientists. But the fact is that she showed a marked preference for “fun” parties of children – and in that, like everything else, she was well indulged. The Orphanage was then hosting well over 5,000 local school-children a year on wildlife awareness “field trips” we’d organized. Mary was always the star of their visit, of course and she was unfailingly amiable and gentle with them all – with the smallest kids especially, allowing them all to crowd round, stroking, patting and poking at will. It was though she understood that in the case of children and wild animals, “familiarity breeds conservation,” or at least positive appreciation.
For this reason, more than anything else, we were in no rush to dispense with her “services to the cause” by returning her to the wild where she belonged. So long as she remained a role model for the youngsters, a kind of benign educator, we always thought to give her just another year. And then a little longer… Until suddenly, almost overnight, she was so big that we knew it was time.
Time for me to carry out the vow I’d made to Don, Bill, myself – and to the infant Mary herself – on that long, heart-stopping first night of the journey down from Samburu. In the end, if she lived, she would be free one day to roam her natural habitat for what, we could only hope, would be the rest of her natural life.

Copyright © 2003 - 2020 Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy | Designed by AV Solutions