By Hannah Partos
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Videographer / Director: Jake Veasey
Producer: Crystal Chung, Nick Johnson
Editor: Joshua Douglas, Ian Phillips
British wildlife expert Dr Jake Veasey tried to reintroduce three-month-old Gold to his elephant family by pushing the baby towards them – and at first it seemed like his attempt had been a success.
“We were over the moon when we thought we’d pulled it off,” said Dr Veasey, who is directing a team of animal workers from the Animals Asia Foundation.
But the team’s joy turned to devastation when Gold was found alone less than twelve hours later, some distance from the area where he had appeared to join the other elephants.
Dr Veasey said that Gold’s mother may not have been in the herd at all, or she may not have recognised him as he had been away for two weeks and smelt of humans and human baby milk.
“Maybe her milk had dried up and she was no longer lactating,” he added.
Four-month-old Gold lost his family in March after he got trapped in a well dug by illegal loggers, who cut down rainforest trees to sell timber.
While the adult elephants were large enough to reach the well’s water supply with their trunks, Gold’s smaller stature meant he fell in when he tried to drink.
Rescue workers had to move the rest of the family away from the well to save Gold without being attacked themselves, as elephants in Vietnam are nervous around humans and view them as a threat.
Despite hopes that the herd would eventually return and find the baby, the adult elephants had been scared off by the human presence.
Now Gold is living in temporary accommodation while the Elephant Conservation Centre build a sanctuary to care for him and other elephants.
“Gold was so depressed and lonely that we worried he might not survive,’ said Dr Veasey, who explained that the team were at first reluctant to “smother him with affection” for fear of giving him “a human imprint” and compromising his chances of a life in the wild.
Gold has been showing signs of chronic stress – pacing back and forwards diagonally – and trying to suckle everything because he misses his mother’s teat.
But Veasey has now ordered specialist bottles for the baby elephant, and hopes that when the sanctuary is built, his health and wellbeing will improve.
Currently there is just one other elephant in the temporary corral with Gold, but Veasey and his colleagues are planning on building herds there by rescuing elephants from Vietnam’s tourist trade.
“Often the females have strong maternal instincts,” he added.
“It would be great to see Gold in a social situation where he can interact with other elephants and thrive.”
Donate towards Animals Asia’s work with elephants and to improve animal
welfare in China and Vietnam www.animalsasia.org