There is a really nice documentary opening today called Born To Be Wild. Created by veteran filmmaker and zoologist David Lickley, Born To Be Wild follows two wildlife rehabilitators on two separate continents as they care for wild orphans.
One of the rehabilitators is Daphne M. Sheldrick, who founded The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fifty years ago. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was founded after Daphne’s husband, a park ranger in Kenya, brought back baby elephants who had been orphaned by poachers. Through trial and error, Daphne learned the best way to care for the elephant calves. The Sheldrick Trust now has dozens of volunteers who care for baby elephants 24/7. The volunteers sleep in bunks in the elephant’s stalls, play with them, and even put sunscreen on their ears (since they have no adult elephants to give them shade). The documentary shows us one baby elephant whose mother has just been killed by ivory poachers. The little elephant is now lost in a herd of bull elephants who have no idea how to care for a baby. So the volunteers chase the bulls off in their car, until a ranger plane can bring the baby to the orphanage.
When the elephants get old enough, they are moved to a “halfway home,” a fenced off area of savannah where the baby elephants can get a glimpse of their new home. The release of the elephants is really heartwarming as a group of adult elephants joyfully greet them.
The other rehabilitator is Canadian primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas. Here, on the island of Borneo Dr. Biruté and her team of volunteers have been rescuing orphan orangutans since the 1970’s. One of the biggest new threats to these endearing creatures is habitat loss due to the palm oil trade. When the trees get cut, the orangutans have nowhere to hide, which put the animals at risk from poachers who kill the mothers and steal the babies to sell as pets. Dr. Biruté and her team find these orphans, rescue them, and raise them much as they would a human baby. They wash them, play with them, feed them, and carry them constantly in their first year, just like their own mother would do. We see one rescue take place, in which a mischievous baby orangutan is being kept as a “pet” in someone’s home. The baby is brought to the orphanage to learn how to live as a wild animal. The baby orangutans are first taught how to climb on a jungle gym before learning how to climb trees. While they are raised by female volunteers in their first few years of life, male volunteers take over once the orangutans are old enough to climb big trees. The male volunteers climb up the trees using both hands and feet much the way an orangutan would. When they are old enough, the orangutans are released into a protected area.
What struck me about Born To Be Wild is the incredible work that goes into wildlife rehabilitation. This kind of dedication is not just restricted to larger animals. Several years ago, my family and I rescued a baby skunk. We brought the skunk to a rehabilitator, who, along with caring for abandoned cats, took care of wild orphans as well. I asked her how much work went into caring for orphan wildlife. She told me that, if you want to rehabilitate wildlife, you dedicate your entire life to that job, with little time for anything else. Because of this wildlife rehabilitation centres rely on public donations to keep doing their life saving work. I would encourage people to donate to, or even volunteer at, their local wildlife rehabilitation centre. The GTA has two wildlife rehab centres, The Toronto Wildlife Centre (www.torontowildlifecentre.com), and Earth Rangers (www.earthrangers.org).
I would also recommend people denote to the two wonderful organizations featured in Born To Be Wild. The website for the film (which has links to the individual organizations) can be found here: www.imax.com/borntobewild/.