Even to a baby elephant, he surely can’t look much like his mother. But to a young orphan called Joe, this 29-year-old nature reserve keeper has become the next best thing. The three-month-old pygmy elephant was pictured last week nuzzling his lifeless mother in a ᴅᴇsᴘᴇʀᴀᴛᴇ attempt to ʀᴇᴠɪᴠᴇ her.
Joe the baby pygmy elephant
Why won’t you wake up, mummy? Joe was visibly ᴅɪsᴛʀᴇssᴇᴅ as he nuzzled his lifeless mother in a ᴅᴇsᴘᴇʀᴀᴛᴇ attempt to ʀᴇᴠɪᴠᴇ her. His ᴅɪsᴛʀᴇss was so visible it moved ᴡɪʟᴅʟɪꜰᴇ officials to tears. The mother had become the latest ᴠɪᴄᴛɪᴍ of a mysterious spate of ᴘᴏɪsᴏɴɪɴɢ in the tropical rainforest of Malaysia, one of 14 now known to have ᴅɪᴇᴅ.
Had Joe not been ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇᴅ he would almost certainly have stayed at his mother’s side until he starved to ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ. Frightened, thirsty, and confused, he had lost weight and might have ingested ᴘᴏɪsᴏɴ through his mother’s milk. Despite 24-hour care in the nature reserve now looking after him, experts feared Joe could still ᴅɪᴇ of a ʙʀᴏᴋᴇɴ ʜᴇᴀʀᴛ.
Then he was introduced to Augustin David. Now, in a remarkable bond between man and beast, the keeper has become Joe’s surrogate mum. Like any parent, Augustin faces a grueling schedule that requires feeding Joe every two hours, all through the night, with a particular mix of formula milk that the ɪɴꜰᴀɴᴛ has a taste for.
Playtime involves him running Joe around the compound at Lok Kawi zoo near Kota Kinabalu, which the little elephant loves; and persuading him to keep still for bathtime, which he ʟᴏᴀᴛʜᴇs. ‘He has clear likes and dislikes,’ Augustin said. ‘He loves suckling people’s thumbs – just like a human baby, it calms him. But he doesn’t like showers, so we have to wash him in his pen. At the moment he is losing his baby skin so he likes to rub against anything because he’s itchy.’
He also loves attention. And when it’s not focused on him, he is not slow to let his adopted mother know. He kicks Augustin in the legs or nudges up against him. ‘He’s active, playful, and naughty,’ the keeper said proudly. In any other circumstances, this would be simply a delightful if rather bizarre partnership. At the moment, however, it is still a ꜰɪɢʜᴛ for life.
Dr. Diana Ramirez, the vet overseeing Joe’s recovery, told the Daily Mail: ‘He is far from safety yet. It’s too soon to be sure that he will make it – sometimes baby elephants can look OK and then ᴅɪᴇ suddenly. ‘They are very prone to colic and it can be ꜰᴀᴛᴀʟ very quickly. Once he’s past six or seven months, we can be more confident. But he clearly has a strong will to survive.’
A mysterious spate of ᴘᴏɪsᴏɴɪɴɢ: Joe’s mother is one of 14 known elephants to have ᴅɪᴇᴅ and investigations are still being carried out to discover what wiped them out and whether it was deliberate or accidental.