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Ex-Orphan Elephants Discover Tiny Baby Orphan and Lead Him to a Sanctuary for Safety

Toto arrives at his new home
Toto arrives at his new home. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a haven for rescued elephants and rhino operating one of the most successful rehabilitation programs in the world. With over fifty years dedicated to elephant conservation, the team often feels like they’ve seen it all. Yet, Toto’s story stands out as one of the most extraordinary among the hundreds of orphan rescues. Toto was not rescued by humans, but by ex-orphan elephants who somehow knew exactly where to take this little lost baby.

The Beginning of Toto’s Journey

Toto’s journey begins. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

Toto’s journey began in Tsavo East’s northern sector, a region devastated by poaching in the 1980s and 90s. This once dangerous area transformed after the establishment of the Ithumba Reintegration Unit in 2004, along with stringent security measures by KWS, making it a safe haven for elephants once again.

Ithumba’s Miraculous Stories

Ithumba stockades
Ithumba stockades. Source: YouTube, Channel: East Africa Safari Ventures

Over the years, the Ithumba stockades have witnessed incredible tales. Wounded wild elephants seeking help, ex-orphans returning with injured wild friends, and introducing their young are common occurrences. In 2019, an orphaned elephant named Vaarti was even delivered into care by a young wild female.

An Unexpected Arrival

Toto arrives at his new home
Toto arrives at his new home. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

On the afternoon of April 1st, 2022, ex-orphans Loijuk, Naisula, Kitirua, and Olare arrived at Ithumba stockades with Loijuk’s baby, Lili, and a tiny, weakened calf in tow. The calf, just a few days old, had clearly been without milk, desperately trying to nurse from the females to no avail.

A Mysterious Encounter

Toto the elephant
Toto was rescued by a herd of ex orphans: Source: YouTube, Channel, Sheldrick trust

The origin of Toto’s predicament was unknown. The ex-orphans must have found him alone in the bush and, realizing his dire need for help, brought him to the Ithumba stockades, a known refuge for elephants.

The Rescue Operation

Toto Transported to Kaluku
Toto Transported to Kaluku. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

Head Keeper Benjamin raised the alarm, and KWS called for a rescue. The SWT helicopter quickly transported the tiny calf from Ithumba to Kaluku Neonate Nursery, where he was safely settled by sunset.

Naming Toto

Toto with his caretaker
Toto with his caretaker. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

In Kenya, a new child is a celebrated blessing across its 42 distinct tribes. Embraced by the ex-orphans and then his human-elephant family at Kaluku, the baby elephant was fittingly named Toto, a play on the Swahili word for baby, “mtoto.”

Dedicated Care for Toto

Toto and Sammy
Toto and Sammy. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

Neonates need focused care, and Toto required a single, dedicated keeper. Joseph, a seasoned keeper whose journey began in the Canine Unit, was chosen. Sammy, a new recruit with a natural talent for animal husbandry, assisted him.

Early Challenges

Toto is introduced to new friends
Toto is introduced to new friends. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

Toto faced typical challenges of infant orphans, particularly during teething phases. Despite some worrying spells, his fighting spirit and the unwavering support from Joseph and Sammy helped him pull through.

Comfort in the Stars

elephant baby
Toto did not like sleeping alone. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick trust

Toto initially struggled to sleep inside his stable. On restless nights, Joseph and Sammy would sleep under the stars with him, ensuring he settled before returning him inside to sleep soundly.

Toto’s Love for Music

Elephant baby
Toto would never leave his caretaker. Source: YouTube, Channel: Kendrick Trust

Toto developed a fondness for country music. Bedtime routines often included the sounds of country crooners from Joseph’s small radio, helping Toto drift off to sleep.

Unique Appearance and Bath Ritual

little Toto
he had a wooly appearance. Source: YouTube, Channel: Kendrick Trust

Toto is often remarked upon for his woolly mammoth-like appearance. His weekly coconut oil baths, a treasured tradition, protect his skin and condition his hair, which Toto enjoys immensely.

Life at Kaluku

Toto with a baby rhino
Toto with a baby rhino. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

For his first year at Kaluku, Toto’s days were filled with coconut baths, strolls, naps, and playing football. Despite health challenges, his playful spirit remained strong. He made friends with all the animals including a baby rhino.

Joining the Kaluku Herd

Toto with best friend
Toto with best animal friend. Source: YouTube, Channel: Sheldrick Trust

Upon turning one, Toto started mingling with the wider Kaluku herd. Initially shy, he slowly warmed up, especially bonding with Natibu, his best friend.

Toto’s Disappearing Act

Toto playing football
Toto playing football. Source: YouTube, Channel: Kendrick Trust

Toto used to sneak away from the herd after milk feeds to spend quiet time with Joseph. This routine was allowed until Toto felt comfortable joining the group mud bath, where he enthusiastically participated.

Welcoming a Little Sister

Toto with baby sister
The Big boy with a baby sister. Source: YouTube, Channel: Kendrick Trust

In August 2023, Toto welcomed a new days-old neonate orphan to Kaluku. Despite being used to being an only child, Toto immediately bonded with her, forming a sibling-like relationship.

Looking to the Future

Toto with human friend
Toto, a healthy strong juvenile elephant. Source: YouTube, Channel: Kendrick Trust

In two years, Toto has grown into a healthy young elephant with workers reporting how his first tusk was emerging, a small nubbin of ivory he proudly shows off. This marks the beginning of his journey towards becoming a majestic bull, with many years of dedicated care ahead.

Gratitude and Hope

Toto playing ball
Toto will soon be an ex-orphan helping others. Source: YouTube: Channel Kendrick Trust

The team is grateful for the quick-thinking ex-orphans who recognized Toto’s need for help. His story is just beginning, and with his whole life ahead, Toto represents the enduring spirit of elephant conservation. As one of Africa’s oldest wildlife charities and a leading conservation organization, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) embraces all measures that complement the conservation, preservation, and protection of wildlife.


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