Awesome nannies: Orphaned elephants in Africa are being pampered, fed and even playfully burped!

Like any babies, they need to be doted on every hour of the day, fed warm milk and burped after meals.

But these are no ordinary infants, and the two British women looking after the demanding young orphans are no ordinary nannies – they are playing mum to elephants.

Abigail Hearn, 24, and her colleague Lisa Olivier, 28, are helping to raise the huge animals as their own at Knysna Park in South Africa.

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Trunk call: Abigail, left and Lisa, right, with Fiela the baby elephant, whom they nursed after her mother rejected her

Down the hatch: Fiela had to be bottle-fed every two hours – baby African elehants need 16 litres of milk a day, going up to 30 litres when they are six months old

Best efforts: The elephant nannies were devastated when Fiela died at the age of three months

They clean, feed and even sleep next to the young animals who have either been left orphaned or rejected by their mothers.

‘It is a 24-hour job looking after  the elephant calves,’ said Abigail, a zoology graduate from Sussex.

‘The last baby we all looked after was called Fiela, and she was so lovely but a stubborn little thing.

‘Her mother had rejected her so she had five of us here at the elephant park who became her surrogate mothers.

‘We would bottle-feed her every two hours and even burb her, by massaging her tummy, and when she started teething we had to rub teething gel into her mouth.’

Tragically, the efforts of the nannies were in vain and Fiela died at the age of three months.

Abigail said: ‘She had an under-developed heart, so she still had a  lot of fluid from her lungs and no immune system at all, which culminated in her death.’

‘It hit the nannies really hard – we were just devastated. It really felt as if I had lost a child.’

Slam trunk: Abigail and Lisa treat the elephants as if they were children – even playing ball games with them

Bath time: Some of the orphans, like baby Fiela, were rejected by their mothers and needed human care

Mothers touch: The elephant ‘nannies’ had to feed Fiela every two hours, burp her and massage her tummy

New life: Lisa, right, moved to Africa from Somerset three years ago and is now married to elehant manager Theo Olivier, while Abigail, left, had lanned a six-month stay as a safari guide and is now a park research assistant


Abigail said that despite the tragedy: ‘Being a substitute mother to Fiela was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.’

She added: ‘We would have to sleep next to Fiela in her pen at night with just a cushion, and snuggle in next to her. She would often fall asleep with her trunk in my arms with her head leaning up against me. She would wake in the middle of the night after a nightmare, and start charging round, half asleep, with no idea what was going on, bless her.

‘You can’t help but build up such a strong maternal bond with the baby elephants. Even once we began to reintroduce Fiela back into the elephant herd, as we have to do with all the orphans, whenever she saw any of us, she would run up and wrap her trunk around our legs, or start playing with our hair.’

The young African elephants, who weighed 15st at birth, need 16 litres of milk a day until they are six months old, when the daily amount goes up to 30 litres.

Wild life: The women spend most of their days out in Knysna Park, South Africa, living with the elephants

Full time: The ‘nannies’ even sleep next to the elephants so that they can give them the 24-hour care they require

Hard work: A fully-grown elephant can produce 20kg of dung a day – and the ‘nannies’ have the job of cleaning up after the babies as they work up to adult standards!

Abigail first travelled to South Africa just days after she graduated from Nottingham University, to train as a safari guide for what was supposed to be a six-month stay.

She has been working as a research assistant at Knysna Elephant Park for almost two years.

It is a similar story for Lisa, who moved from Somerset to South Africa three years ago after graduating from Exeter University. She  is now married to fellow elephant manager Theo Olivier.

As well as nannying the babies,  the British pair also dedicate their time to looking after the nine  elephants in the park, many of  whom were orphaned during the elephant culls that were legal in South Africa before 1996, or rescued from the circus.

On the move: Nine elephants live in Knysna Park in the Western Cape Province of South Africa

Saving grace: Many of the elehants were orphaned during the elephant culls that were legal in South Africa before 1996, or rescued from circuses

Safe haven: A breeding female herd lives in the park, along with occasional male bulls, who stay in the park until they are kicked out from the territory by the dominant female


Calf love: The ‘little’ elephants weigh 15st at birth and continue to grow to between 350st and over 1,000st