As every parent knows, getting two tired kids ready for bed can be tough. So imagine preparing two exhausted baby elephants with a total weight of 246 kg (about 38th) to turn off the lights.
But an imaginative vet came up with a solution. He provided these traumatized orphaned Asian elephants – Rupa, just three months old, and Aashi, 11 months – with warm pyjamas and night socks to help them sleep.
And as the glamorous photos of them sleeping soundly next to each other show, the custom-made bedding works wonders. Both elephants were separated from their mothers shortly after birth. Lacking their mother’s warmth and affection, they struggled to sleep on the cold concrete floor of a rescue center in northeastern India.
Rupa – whose name means ‘beauty’ – rolled down a steep rocky bank into a ravine when he was just a few weeks old. She was stuck at the bottom, and her mother couldn’t reach her.
It was only when the villagers heard her pitiful cries that she was taken to the rescue center. Aashi – a Hindu word meaning “joy and laughter” – was found in a trench in the Assam tea garden without her mother or herd. She was reunited but was later found alone in the same location that had been denied.
At first, it appeared that the baby elephants found in Kaziranga National Park – which the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit later this month – had a slim chance of survival.
But like Babar, the elegantly dressed French cartoon elephant, the nightgowns fit like a dream. Dr Panjit Basumatary, a veterinarian at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) rescue center, came up with the idea and encouraged pet owners to wrap them warmly in blankets and scarves.
“With young elephants, it’s important to control their body temperature,” he said. “I noticed in the morning they can get cold from being in the concrete nursery after being out in the sun during the day.”
Some colleagues were sceptical, but the elephants soon got used to wearing socks and boots at night. Followers quickly see their condition improve – they were warmer and more content in the morning.
Rupa is now stable on the road to recovery and was eventually released into the wild after dislocating his leg and sustaining deep i.nj.uri.es from the fall. Aashi, who was severely dehydrated and stressed when she was found on the tea plantation, is also making good progress.
Sadly, the problem of suckling baby elephants being separated from their mothers is getting worse in a region rich in Asian elephants and the world’s largest single-horned rhino population.
Po.ach.ing is also a big problem with demand for illegal ivory and rhino horn for the Chinese market.
Rapid population growth also means that formerly wild areas are becoming built-up, and disoriented elephants often stray into towns and villages.
After Rupa and Aashi are weaned from bottle-fed formula milk, they will eventually be released for a period of two years in groups – in Kaziranga or Manas, a nearby national park on the Bhutanese border.
It costs around £50 a day to care for a baby elephant for the first three months at the IFAW center, and they need new boots every two weeks.
Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Such rescue work is making a real difference. However, casualties often come to us at a young age and usually in very vulnerable circumstances.
“These endangered Asian elephants must be given the protection they deserve so this beautiful elephant has a chance to recover.”