Across Africa, one elephant is killed every 15 minutes by ivory poachers making each new birth something of a celebration, and giving hope to putting a stop to the steep population decline that threatens the species.
But with 99% of births occurring at night and herds protective of their new young, it's not until the little bundles of joy are spotted, often days later, that celebrations can begin.
That made baby elephant Emma's birth just before Christmas 2014 even more incredible, taking place in broad daylight at our David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Reintegration Centre among her mother's former human family. New mum, elephant Emily, was the star of a CBS '60 minutes' episode, which followed her journey from orphaned elephant through to her reintegration back into the wild. In incredibly rare footage, we captured the birth and moment the tiny baby, who we have since named Emma, took her very first wobbly steps.
In the past three years, poachers have killed 100,000 elephants for their tusks to make carvings and trinkets, reducing the population to just 350,000 individuals. Baby Emma, who represents renewed hope for the species, the world's largest land mammal, is the second daughter for Emily and a little sister for Emily's first wild-born calf, Eve, who was also born in December in 2008.
Emily, who was so cruelly robbed of her elephant family when just a baby herself, was orphaned in early infancy when she fell down a disused pit latrine in Kenya in 1993. After being rescued by our teams, she remained in the care of our Elephant Orphanage whilst milk dependent, before being transferred to our Tsavo East Voi Reintegration Centre to embark on her journey back to her birth right - a natural life amongst the wild elephant community of the area. Over the years, she has become a very able matriarch and we've been proud to not just save her life, but raise her to have her own family.
In fact, we have seen many wild born babies to ex-orphans including baby Mwende born to Mulika, infant Yetu to ex-orphan Yatta and it looks like 2015 might be a bumper year for baby elephants with ex-orphans Sweet Sally, Yatta, Edie, Icholta, Kinna and Mweya expecting soon too!
Elephants have the longest known gestation period of any mammal, up to 680 days, but it's a long pregnancy worth waiting for. In 2011 we welcomed Mwende, Mulika's first wild born baby. Mulika, an orphan from Meru National Park, was rescued from a waterhole in 2001 and arrived at our Elephant Nursery in Nairobi National Park at just 7 months old. Gradually she was reintegrated back into the resident wild elephant community of Tsavo and its thanks to this second chance that Mulika was able to welcome tiny Mwende into her loving family.
In 2012 our human-elephant family also welcomed Yatta's first wild born calf, Yetu. Found alone at just one month old, having lost her mother to poachers, our Keepers' dedicated care helped Yatta overcome this trauma and she was later moved to our Reintegration Centre to begin her journey back to the wild. Several years later, 12 year old Yatta welcomed Yetu, her own wild addition.
But it doesn't stop there! Ex-orphan Lissa has now welcomed three healthy wild babies, Lara, Lali and Lugard, elephant Edie gave birth to baby Ella and ex-orphan Mpenzi gave birth to Mpia in 2012. Each wild addition is a symbol of hope and a cause for celebration. For our Keepers and the rest of our team each heart-warming introduction makes the years of caring for each orphan so very worthwhile.
For the newest mum, Emily, our Keepers have been closely monitoring her and her calf and report that Emma is doing well, with Emily's herd of ex orphans remaining close by with their most treasured little package. The next few months will be a busy time for the herd, with nannies helping to care for Emma who will gain an incredible 30lbs a week, drinking some 12 litres a day.
Alongside our work to care for orphaned elephants, we are determined to protect Kenya's wild herds and ex-orphaned elephants that have returned to the wild, like Emily, as well as wild herds. Our nine Anti-Poaching Teams, Aerial Surveillance and four Mobile Vet Units are ready to mobilise against any threat to protect young calves like Emma, who represent renewed hope for the species.