Date night

ElephantI had a date last night! Actually, it was yesterday afternoon.

Since I get off work early in the day, my husband, Ron, met me at work and took me to the IMax theater at the Minnesota Zoo to see Born to be Wild. It’s a movie about Daphne Sheldrick and her lifetime of saving orphaned elephants in Kenya, and Birute Galdikas and her work with orphaned orangutans.

I was so excited that I spent the day at work telling everyone about the date! I love elephants and orangutans, but part of the excitement came from going to see a continuation of a book I read – “Walking with the Great Apes” by Sy Montgomery. The book, published in 1991, is a triple biography about three women who dedicated their lives to research and care for a single primate species – Dian Fossey, mountain gorillas; Jane Goodall, champanzees; and Galdikas, orangutans. I was going to see some of what Galdikas has done since 1991!

Orangutans are an amazing animal. They look a bit awkward as they lumber along the ground, but their is a slow, patient gracefulness as they move about in the trees. They also appear to have a sense of humor.

One orphan who was rescued and kept as a pet tore the kitchen up, dumping flour over his head, etc. When Galdika and her son picked him up, he would not ride in the van. He had to ride on the back of Galdikas’ son’s motorcycle, holding on tight with arms around his shoulders.

I enjoyed the book so much that I had thought about visiting Galdikas’ research center in Borneo while I was living in Malaysia. It didn’t happen, but I did have the opportunity to visit an elephant conservation center.

Elephants also have fascinated me my entire life, so going to see a movie about the two thrilled me. I have known that elephants have a tremendous memory and a seemingly magical way of communicating. Their care for each other is amazing. What was interesting to me in the movie is the way the older orphaned elephants responded to the newbies. Especially at the teen age compound, so to speak.

The goal for both women is to nourish and care for the animal just until it can make it in the wild on its own. Once an elephant reaches a certain age and level, it is transferred from the nursery to a compound where it lives closer to the wild where it will be released. When the teen agers arrived at the compound, a herd of adult orphans came to greet and welcome them, though they live a long way from the compound. It was like they were comforting the newbies and telling them everything is going to be OK. It was amazing to watch.

One of the orphans was very tiny when its mother was killed by poachers. He stayed with his mother after she died, even after his tail was eaten by hyenas. With the memory of an elephant, that had to be torture for the poor little guy.

Keeping that in mind, the elephant keepers never left a baby alone, also because babies are never left alone in the wild. They even have beds in the baby elephant’s stalls. One little elephant was having a hard time sleeping and he pawed at his keeper like a kitten wanting to play.

At the orangutan nursery, the keepers also sleep with the orphans, simulating the closeness of their wild mothers. The goal is to care for them, but not control them so they can be released back into the wild.

I hope to visit our daughter and her family in Nigeria next spring, and the idea of visiting the national park in Kenya to see the elephants is a sprouting seed. I know Kenya is clear across Africa from Nigeria, but it is a lot closer than from here in the U.S.

The only problem is my plans, or dreams, are bigger than my pocket book. The movie may be the closest I get, but I’m going to continue to dream and see what I can do!



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