It was a heart-wrenching scene: a young and terrified elephant calf, desperate for nourishment, attempting hopelessly to nurse from her lifeless mother. Just 3 ½ years old, this little female had probably just witnessed the brutal shooting and killing of her mother. Now, alone and unprotected, she faced a dangerous and uncertain future. Miraculously, a team of conservationists from a nearby elephant rescue organization received word of this orphan in need and immediately sprang into action. They embarked on a daring rescue mission, navigating a dense wooded area of wild Botswana and enlisting the help of a helicopter to tranquilize and transport the calf to the safety of their elephant orphanage.
Upon arrival at the orphanage, the team discovered that the juvenile, too, had been shot. Her trunk bore a gaping hole from a shotgun blast, and bullet fragments were lodged deep in her chest. With the diligent care of the organization’s doctor and team of handlers, the little elephant began her journey to recovery. Her breathing, once a labored wheeze, normalized as her wounds healed. Thanks to the team at Elephant Havens, the calf whose inspiring rescue earned her the nickname Lerumo – meaning “Bullet” – found a new family among the handlers and other rescued calves, where love and care replaced the trauma of her past.
A Mission Born of Connection and Science
Lerumo’s rescue is just one of the many stories that demonstrate how our partners at Elephant Havens  have quickly become a beacon of hope in the world of elephant conservation. Located on the banks of the Gomoti River at the edge of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the nonprofit is dedicated to rescuing, nurturing, and rehabilitating African elephant orphans.
The Elephant Havens story began when Debra Stevens and her husband Scott Jackson met Naledi, a 6-month-old orphaned elephant, during a trip to Africa. The couple formed an instant, lifelong bond with the young elephant and returned every few years to visit the calf. When Boago ‘Bee’ Pokolo, a third-generation elephant handler who had been taking care of Naledi, approached them in 2017 with a vision to build an elephant orphanage, Debra and Scott enthusiastically agreed and Elephant Havens began to take shape.
Elephant Havens’ mission is to provide elephant calves with the essential care and companionship they need to thrive and eventually reintegrate into the wild. At the core of the organization’s work is a deep understanding of the complex social nature of elephants. As highly social creatures, elephants rely on strong connections to their community for their emotional well-being. Orphaned elephants who most often lose their parents due to fatal conflict with people can die from grief if they don’t form new attachments to other elephants or human caregivers. By creating a nurturing environment for these vulnerable orphans, Elephant Havens provides them with a second chance to heal, thrive, and eventually return to the wild, contributing to the conservation of this majestic species.
The Orphanage and Other Projects
At the heart of Elephant Havens’ work is their orphanage where they provide essential care and love to orphaned elephants. The team rescues young calves from various tragic circumstances, such as poaching, human-elephant conflicts, or abandonment. They ensure that these fragile juveniles receive round-the-clock care, the best medicine, special formula, and the companionship of devoted handlers.
But the organization’s work goes beyond the orphanage. Recognizing the growing human-elephant conflicts in Botswana caused by the country’s large elephant population , increasing human development, and habitat loss, Elephant Havens strives to find practical, affordable, and effective ways for people and wildlife to coexist. Their efforts include habitat protection, community outreach projects, and educating local communities.
To preserve the natural environment, Elephant Havens is setting aside land for animal refuges, ensuring that elephants have the habitat they need to thrive. They also engage and educate villagers on how to share the land in ways that benefit both humans and elephants while preventing often-deadly conflict between the two. Finally, Elephant Havens recruits and trains local volunteers to spread the word about the orphanage and help collect information about conflicts and confrontations. These volunteers report abandoned or orphaned elephants, enabling the team to rescue them and save their lives.
Creating a Better Future For Elephants, Together
Colossal is proud to partner with our friends at Elephant Havens in their efforts to rehabilitate elephant orphans. This collaboration allows us to support the orphanage’s operations, provide funding for their capital needs, and share our expertise in animal care. With Colossal’s recent financial contribution, Elephant Havens can expand its land and continue its essential conservation work. Matt James, Colossal’s Chief Animal Officer, also lends his technical expertise and support to Elephant Havens’ staff for the care, husbandry, and training of elephant calves. We are excited to see this partnership grow and evolve in the years to come as Colossal continues to push the science of elephant conservation to new heights.
We encourage all of our supporters to join us in making a difference in the lives of Botswana’s orphaned elephants by participating in Elephant Havens’ unique fostering program. By making a tax-deductible donation, you can foster an elephant at the orphanage and directly contribute to the care, companionship, and well-being of these fragile youngsters. As a foster parent, you receive a certificate with your orphan’s name, photo, and details, as well as updates on their care and progress.
Elephant Havens also offers a fundraising list detailing various ways that your donation supports their work. Gifts of various amounts can go towards things like baby formula, supplies for handlers, and much more. By supporting this program, you are playing an active role in elephant conservation efforts.
To learn more about Elephant Havens’ orphans and how to foster one, visit their website, where you can also read the incredible stories of the individual elephants, like Lerumo, and choose which orphans you would like to support. Your involvement in their lives will not only make a difference to these majestic creatures but will also contribute to a brighter future for the African elephant species.
- “Elephant Havens.” Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation, 2 Feb. 2021, https://elephanthavens.org/.
- Bosaletswe, Calistus. “All Aboard Botswana’s Elephant Express.” BBC Future, BBC, 22 Dec. 2022, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220816-the-botswana-buses-tackling-human-elephant-conflict.