A 10-day-old African elephant (Loxodonta africana) somehow became separated from its herd and wandered into a house at the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand, South Africa.
Above: The elephant herd at the Thula Thula Game Reserve. You'll want to expand it to really see the details.
The female infant has been named "Tom," after the reserve's chef, who discovered the wayward pachyderm. She was thought to have walked at least three miles before ending up inside the living room of the reserve's director, Francoise Malby Anthony.
While rangers went out into the reserve to find the infant's herd, Anthony and colleagues gave her food and water. "She must have had a strong survival instinct," Anthony told me by email, "as she was really starving when we found her. Very stressed, starving and lost."
"Why she was so far from the herd is a mystery," Anthony said. "We have a herd of 25 elephants, and we assume that she must have been distracted or playing with a branch and the herd carried on walking and left her behind." Given how strong the familial bond is among elephants, that is itself very unusual.
Tom with her mother after being reunited.
"What we know for sure is that she was seen the night before, about 3 AM, around the tented camp, about 5 kms from my house," Anthony explained to me. She doesn't think that the mother rejected the newborn infant, as "the herd accepted her back after her wandering adventure."
While Anthony and the reserve's staff took care not to be in excessive contact with the elephant, some physical contact was necessary to care for her. They were worried that the herd might reject her if she didn't smell right. "But all these are assumptions obviously, and most important is that the adventure had a very happy ending," she added. The infant was successfully reunited with her mother.
Tom's mother had originally been rescued from a neighboring reserve, by Anthony's late husband Lawrence, author of The Elephant Whisperer. The neighbor was going to allow a hunter to pay for the right to kill her and take a trophy.
"[Lawrence] had an amazing relationship with our herd of elephants that he saved from death 15 years ago," Anthony said. That relationship appears to still be quite strong.
The blonde woman pictured below is Francoise Anthony. Tom, the chef, is pictured in red. The woman wearing a khaki shirt is Shireen, a ranger.
All photos courtesy of Francoise Malby Anthony, used with permission.