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Baby Elephant Orphans Get New Home, Families



  • Science
    --Life Sciences
  • Social Studies
    --Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

Workers at an elephant orphanage in Kenya, Africa, are helping to return orphaned elephants to the wild.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with each of the statements below. You might take a group vote, or students might record their responses in their reading journals. Doing this will set a purpose for reading; as students read, they will confirm their assumptions or learn something new.

  • Many baby elephants become orphaned when their parents die from disease.
  • Baby elephants need their mother's milk to survive.
  • A woman invented a kind of milk that is very much like a mother elephant's milk.
  • Just like a human, an elephant can get sunburned skin.
  • If you met an elephant, it would remember your scent for a long time.

News Words

Introduce the following words by writing them on a board or chart. Have students identify and spell the root word of each word: arrived (arrive), orphanage (orphan), rarely (rare), visitors (visit), watching (watch), babies (baby), opened (open), families (family), newest (new), moved (move), calves (calf), later (late)

Read the News

Click for a printable version of this week's news story Baby Elephant Orphans Get New Home, Families.

Reading the News

You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

* Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

* Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.

* Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

More Facts to Share

You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this week's news story.

  • The television news program 60 Minutes recently aired a special report on Dame Daphne Sheldrick and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The "elephant orphanage" at the Wildlife Trust has everything most human orphanages have, including dormitories, a communal bath, a playground, and a dining area.
  • At any given time, there might be as many as 14 orphans at the orphanage.
  • When Dame Daphne was asked by 60 Minutes reporter Bob Simon about the most important thing she has learned in 50 years of working with elephants, she replied, "Their tremendous capacity for caring is I think perhaps the most amazing thing about them. Even at a very, very young age. Their sort of forgiveness, unselfishness -- they have all the best attributes of us humans and not very many of the bad."
  • A keeper stays with each young elephant orphan around the clock. The keeper travels with the elephant all day, feeds it every 3 hours, and sleeps with it at night. Keepers are usually rotated each night. That's because an elephant gets attached to its keeper. The elephant could go into depression if a keeper had to leave for any period of time. Depression can trigger serious physical problems.
  • After a baby's first night at the orphanage, he or she is introduced to the older boy and girl elephants. Each morning, the baby elephants are taken out to the bush where they begin to learn elephant habits from their keepers and older peers.
  • Milk is essential to the survival of elephants; elephants are dependent on that milk for at least the first year of their lives. Dame Daphne struggled for more than 28 years to develop a formula that matched that of an elephant mother's milk. As she worked, she lost countless orphans to death. But in 1982 she was able to perfect the formula. Since then, she has saved the lives of 74 young elephants.
  • Today, about half of the elephants that arrive at the Wildlife Trust will not survive. Some die from pneumonia. Others die of grief; many cannot forget that they witnessed the violent death of their mother at the hands of another animal or a poacher.
  • A critical period in the life of an elephant calf comes between the ages of 1 and 4 months. That's when the baby starts developing teeth. That period often triggers fevers and diarrhea that can threaten the calf's life.
  • When the elephant is old enough -- usually around its first birthday -- it is transported to one of two re-integration centers in Kenya's 8,000-acre Tvoso National Park. There the effort begins to prepare the young elephant to go off on its own. The newly arrived calves and their human keepers are welcomed by young elephants that left the "nursery" before them. Each day the elephants go for long walks with their keepers. On those walks they will encounter the sight and scent of wild herds. But they return to "camp" each night, where they live in an area safe from lion attacks. In time, the park's wild herds will welcome the orphans and less human supervision will be needed. The elephant will begin to find most of its food on its own.
  • Different elephants acclimate to the wild life on different schedules. That depends on the age at which the elephant was orphaned (how well it can recollect its family) and the elephant's personality. Like humans, some elephants are more adventurous and independent; others are more shy and don't make friends in the wild as quickly. One day, however, each elephant will just wander off into the wild and stay there.
  • From time to time, "graduates" of the Trust's programs will return to "school" to see old friends or collect a coconut treat. Elephants never forget; they will always remember and love the human family that raised them.
  • As of February 2006, the trust was caring for nine infant elephants at its Nairobi nursery, 23 juveniles at it's Voi re-integration center, and 17 more juveniles at its Ithumba re-integration center. The Trust had successfully reared more than 75orphaned elephants. Forty-nine of them were in the nursery or one of the re-integration centers and the remainder were living wild among the Tvoso herds.

Comprehension Check

Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statements in it.

  • Many baby elephants become orphaned when their parents die from diseases. (true)
  • Baby elephants need their mother's milk to survive. (true)
  • A woman invented a kind of milk that is very much like a mother elephant's milk. (true)
  • Just like a human, an elephant can get sunburned skin. (true)
  • If you met an elephant, it would remember your scent for a long time. (true)

Recalling Detail
You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

  • When did Daphne Sheldrick start her elephant orphanage? (30 years ago)
  • What are some ways in which baby elephants become orphaned? (their parents die from disease, or they are killed by animal or human predators)
  • For how long do most baby elephants need to drink their mother's milk? (until they are about 2 years old)
  • Why might an elephant's keeper cover it with dust, dirt, or mud? (to protect its skin from sunburn)
  • How long do baby elephants stay at the orphanage? (until they are 1 or 2 years old)

Think About the News
Discuss the Think About the News questions that appear on the students' news page. You might share some of the Keepers' Profiles from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Web site. Ask: What qualities does it take to be a keeper at this elephant orphanage? Is this a job that you could do? Would want to do?

In addition, you might ask students the following question:

  • Imagine you have been asked to design a playground for young elephants. What would you include in the playground? Why?

Follow-Up Activities

Listening, Science (Zoology). Build students' listening skills by reading aloud information about Elephants' Body Characteristics. Then ask the questions below to determine how well students listened.

  • How long is an elephant mother pregnant before giving birth? (22 months)
  • How much does an elephant calf weigh when it's born? (about 250 pounds)
  • How much water can an elephant drink at a time? (up to 15 quarts [14.2 liters])
  • How does an elephant protect itself from the sun? (it sprays dirt or mud on itself)
  • How is an elephant's trunk like a periscope? (an elephant can raise up its trunk and move it from side to side to determine the location of friends, enemies, and food sources)
  • How much will an adult male's tusks grow each year? (about 7 inches)
  • For what purposes does an elephant use its tusks? (to dig for water, salt, and roots; to debark trees, in order to eat the pulp inside; to move trees to clear a path; to mark trees; to establish territory; as weapons)
  • How long can a tusk grow? How much can it weigh? (a tusk can grow to be more than 10 feet long and more than 200 pounds)
  • How many teeth does an elephant have? (it usually has 28 teeth)
  • How do an elephant's ears help it stay cool? (an elephant flaps its ears to create a breeze)
  • How fast do elephants walk? (2 to 4 miles [3 to 6 kilometers] per hour)
  • How fast can they run? (up to 24 miles [40 kilometers] per hour)

Geography. Have students locate the country of Kenya on a classroom map of Africa or the world. (See Source Map 1 or Source Map 2.) Then ask students to identify the location of other African countries in relation to Kenya. For example: Where is Sudan in relation to Kenya? (It is northwest of Kenya.) Cameroon? (west of Kenya) Tanzania? (south and southwest of Kenya) Rwanda? (west of Kenya)

Citizenship. Are your students motivated to collect money to help the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust continue its work? For $50 your class can become the "foster parents" to a baby elephant. They can follow the elephant's progress online. Click here to learn more about the Trust's fostering program.


Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News questions on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

National Standards

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NS.K-4.3 Life Science
NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
GRADES 5 - 8
NS.5-8.3 Life Science
NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
GRADES 9 - 12
NS.9-12.3 Life Science
NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms
NSS-G.K-12.5 Environment and Society

See recent news stories in Education World's News Story of the Week Archive.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 04/19/2006
Last updated 03/22/2010