Fate of imperfection; ZIM-ELLIES; Born wild on African soil.

In 2015 under the regime of president Mugabe in Zimbabwe over 200 wild baby elephants age 2-5 were separated, robbed and stolen from their families, from their wild existence as elephants. From one day to another their peaceful world was mercilessly torn apart. Entire families were torn apart, defensive mothers were shot, many herds were left behind defeated as all faced their worst nightmare. Man(un)kind entered their world to destroy their lives, their destiny their future leaving tracks of permanent damage behind.

The traumatized baby elephants lost everything within minutes, their mothers, their family, their entire world, their existence as elephants. Although born wild on African soil, suddenly all were locked up in hidden Boma’s deep in the wild nature. They all had same destination invisibly marked on their head, China!!! Each and every wild born baby elephant who was captured , stolen from the wild, had lost everything, including their birthright to live as elephant are meant to be. From this moment on all would face lifetime suffering cruel existence in captivity to be exploited in Chinese Zoos and circuses. China offered Zimbabwe to pay a lot of money for these baby elephants. After weeks , months in poor conditions they were shipped by aircraft to… China to end up in concrete prisons or even worse… lifetime torture. Despite all efforts of conservation organisations, animal advocates their faith their destiny was sealed.

But for 3 young elephants their fate would determine differently as China refused to pay Zimbabwe for ‘damaged-products’. These 3 young calves were damaged, and so-called imperfect. China didn’t want to pay for imperfection so they were left behind in the boma. Their fate was insecure but soon it would change.

At the sanctuary Wild is Life Grand Zimbabwe the staff was already preparing an elephant nursery to be able to rehabilitate young orphaned elephants, not knowing the nursery would be filled soon with little elephants. The sanctuary was suddenly contacted if they were able to take the 3 damaged babies who were left behind. Roxy Danckwerts not only opened her heart, she also opened the unfinished elephant nursery to offer the traumatized baby elephants a new home. Wild is Life grand Zimbabwe is a haven in a complex world. The idea and plans were developed with the coming and care of baby Moyo the little baby elephant who was rescued from drowning. As Moyo was the only elephant in their care Roxy arranged all herd animals to guide Moyo and give her company. Kim the sheep, Josephine the dog, Poppy the little dik dik and last but not least the one and only miss Pickles who became her partner in ‘crime’. The care for a orphaned baby elephants turned out to be the biggest challenge for the ZIM-team, because elephants require special care. Little by little became a lot and Moyo was thriving. The ZEN was created to be able to raise in the future more orphaned elephants in facilities for elephants. Roxy Danckwerts became a pioneer in her own right, is shown here with Moyo, the first of the rescues at ZEN. The bond between these two individuals will forever be linked to the beginning of what would become a vast rescue, rehabilitation and release initiative in Zimbabwe

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Saving one is saving entire specie, Roxy with Moyo.

The ZEN was built within 6 days working day and night around the clock to offer  the 3 new orphans best care possible.

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Moyo and Kim inspecting the construction of the ZEN.

Again the entire world of the three young baby elephants was turned upside down. They had no idea what their fate would be. All they knew was fear due to the trauma and the grieve of the loss of their mother, family and their  daily routine of a wild living existence. They were confused, scared, untrustworthy, humans had destroyed their life so they had no reason to trust anyone. Soon that would change as they were transferred to ZIM.

Welcome HOME ZIM-Ellies.

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Annabelle short after arrival

The youngest of the three was a little female with damaged trunk and without a tail. The cause of her handicap was most likely an attack of a predator which she had survived. She was very aware of her new surrounding, observing, feeling untrustworthy about her fate. Roxy named this young strong lady Annabelle, she was around 3-4 years old.

The other two calves were boys, one was older around 6 and looked wise for his age, he was calm but very aware too. His trunk was damaged, most likely he had been caught in a snare and survived that. The other boy was little younger and very feisty, full of fear and anger. His right hind leg was damaged, most likely an old fracture that caused him a lot of pain and inconvenience. He was named Kukurakura as he sure had his own story to tell.

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Matabele short after arrival


Kukurakura short after arrival.

They became a herd known as the ZIM-Ellies. Happy Ellies! The three new arrivals settled in well. They were relaxed, friendly and are eating! After observations of these three young elephants after their arrival at ZIM, thus far came out:

1 They all had healthy appetites
2 They were displaying a healthy curiosity for their surroundings
3 They body score condition was good
4 Their skin is slightly dry ( you will see in the pic below that the Zim-team is  treating the skin with coconut oil)
5 They are displaying a desire for play and enjoyment (sand bathing, mud bathing, scratching, play fighting, affection)
6 They are sleeping peacefully and deeply
7 They are not displaying signs of aggression, unless startled.
8 Their feet are in good condition
9 There are no fresh wounds nor any overt signs of bruising.
10 There are some physical deformities as a result of old wounds in two of the young animals. 

Their body condition is good and there are no digestive problems, with the minor diet changes. An inseparable trio … each with their own personality, each with their own challenges, holding each other together with friendship, respect and understanding.
With 24/7 love, best care, dedication and determination for the three calves, their trust in their new home and their keepers gained every day more. They settled in their new home one step at the time. They had no idea yet that their so called imperfection gave them a ticket to freedom, to live wild on African soil again.

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Roxy meeting the Zim-Ellies with miss Pickles.

Young orphan Moyo and her friends miss Pickles, miss Kim and miss Josephine came for a meet and greet. Moyo’s entire world was put upside down as well, as for over 2 years she was the only elephant in the care of the sanctuary. Her first meeting with Annabelle was not that friendly as Moyo was pushed away by Annabelle.

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Let’s visit the new arrivals…. Moyo Kim, Pickles, Josephine and Poppy, only the meet and greet required more time for Annabelle. Who not only needed to adjust her new home but also needed to develop skills to be able to deal with her handicapped trunk.

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Moyo and Pickles friends forever, well for some time as miss Pickles developed sharp tusks and hurt accidentally Moyo with them while playing.

Annabelle had to learn to manage with her damaged trunk so she was adapting, practicing… as normal skills costed her more effort than to others. She needed all energy to become as master, besides that, being the only female she was developing herself as matriarch of the small herd. At that point she had no time for Moyo’s antics yet.

Matabele didn’t know yet what to make of Kim the sheep but he stayed friendly.

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Kim the sheep with Matabele

Roxy contacted and traveled to Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, as well as Lek Chailert to exchange experience in order to help the three young elephants. Besides that many fundraise and support-foundations were searched and found to help with the rehabilitation of the three babies.

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The ZIM-Ellies don’t know yet what to think of the look-al-like artwork.

The three orphans settled in well in their new home. Unfortunately young Annabelle developed some limps in her face that were bothering her so she needed surgery.  After having broken down soon after surgery and all the stitches having come undone, there was a large gaping hole in her face. The team from Wild is Life decided to leave Annabelle to treat the wound herself. It was incredible. Annabelle seemed to know what she had to do to heal herself. She sought out a specific mud that she would pack into the wound herself. It was a tense time as everyone watched anxiously for signs of infection and re-growth … nothing! The whole thing has almost completely closed up. She is looking very pretty again, with those wonderful long eyelashes! As far as the malignancy is concerned, we are watching carefully to ensure that the tumor does not grow again. It is impossible to know if it has healed, without extensive MRI work. This kind of investigation is not possible in Zimbabwe. With an excellent diet, various recommended natural remedies and a whole lot of love, tenderness and care Annabelle overcame this problem. Annabelle is the master in survival.

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Annabelle after surgery, her face has healed beautifully.

A few months later an orphan was spotted and rescued, that’s how Sizi came a ZIM-Ellie as well. Annabelle took her under her care and the two of them bonded for life every day more. In the period after Sizi’s rescue the ZIM-team faced many challenges, a few young orphans were found and rescued and passed away in the love and care in Roxy’s arms.

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They were found just little to late, being to young, to vulnerable to have a realistic chance on survival. Meanwhile the ZIM-Ellies were thriving. In order to register their physical health was registered by weighing them every now and then. As long as there is a bottle milk, little Tulku was very cooperative, so was Moyo, Sizi seemed to hesitate some more but with support of Annabelle she stepped on the scale too.

Moyo on the scale
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Sizi hesitating and Annabelle supporting her
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Tulku on the scale

Bush school … Moyo is constantly learning and exploring, just like a human toddler. “At birth, the weight of their brain is only 35% of the weight of an adult brain – a feature similar to the human brain which weighs at birth 26% of its adult weight. In most other mammals the brain weight at birth is 90% of adult weight.”. So they develop their brain  and skills by learning and growing up. The bond that an elephant mother and her family makes in the uterine, post natal, infant and childhood development of an elephant calf is MASSIVE and for life.

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Moyo learning in ‘bush-school’.

Food for thought … when “some” feel its easier to just leave orphaned elephant calves to die natural deaths in the wild? To leave innocent orphans behind on their own rotten to die in the bush..as the cause of their situation is mostly humans…. Never a solution, they never asked for this, all they want is to live like an elephant is meant to be. Only thing we can do and ZIM is doing to change their fate and give back as much as possible what has taken from them so brutally.

They are born free and deserve to have to change to live free in African soil.

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Annabelle and Sizi

Bees and elephants are not such an ideal combination,as young Sizi proved. She was stung by a bee in her trunk and when it was itchy she used a small stick to scratch…and .. the stick got stuck in her trunk, poor clever Sizi. A small operation was needed to remove the stick out her trunk. Luckily Sizi recovered quickly.


Orphans Tulku, Mfana came in and became part of the herd as well. Annabelle lead her little herd naturally took them under their wings. And there was Molly..little Molly. Sizi opened her heart and adopted Molly with guidance of Annabelle. The both of them learned Molly to walk in a straight line even. Everyone loved Molly so her passing has left deep marks in the hearts of all who love her. They all carry the memory on Molly into their hearts.

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Annabelle, Molly and Sizi

And Moyo well she is Moyo an unguided projectile within the herd, Kukurakura loves Moyo and her antics as she is just as boisterous as he can be. Sometimes she is very busy to chase ostrich, giraffe and other creatures. Wise Matabele has become like a guard within the herd. He has grown taller and is a gentle giant to love, he is like the rock in the herd. The others lean on him.

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Lean on me Matabele and Sizi

With all the credits of love, care and dedication the ZIM-Ellies walked every day one step closer to their destination, to live free in wild nature as elephants are meant to be.

It was and still is a journey of love to give them back what was taken from them. The chance to live as independent elephants born wild, live wild. Soon the ZIM-Ellies would be ready for the last part of their journey as the herd will be bought to the bush, deeper in the wild habitat, their natural environment. That place was 1000 miles away from ZIM-nursery. At the nursery the keepers prepared them to be ready to love wild and free as they were meant to be from the moment they were born. Every day they walked long distances in the bush to get used to their natural life.

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ZIM-Ellies herd

In their hearts they will carry the journey that started with trauma but the memories of the journey of love they will cherish forever and never forget. Some day in future they will return to show their own offspring.

“Born on African soil … Alive under African skies!”

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After the transfer of the ZIM-Ellies they settled in quickly in their new forever home. Nora, a twenty-five year old rescue. At first, Nora was unsure of her new home but has acclimated nicely and is now the matriarch, teacher and surrogate mother to the younger ellies. With 25-year-old orphan Nora as their leader the ZIM- Ellies are ready to explore their new home and life.

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Nora and the ZIM-Ellies

This might look a little step in mankind but it is huge step and achievement for the ZIM-Ellies and Roxy’s dedicated team. To see the ZIM-Ellies from vulnerable babies grown into to confident, independent gentle giants, is best reward.

Their faith and future lays within our hands. Children are and have the future, their future. Give them a future born wild living wild on African soil .

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