By Baz Ratner
SAMBURU, Kenya (Reuters) - An elephant orphanage in Kenya is testing goat milk as a food for its small herd as a potentially healthier and cheaper form of nutrition than human baby formula - a solution that also puts money back into the pockets of the local community.
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, in Samburu County in the semi-arid scrublands of northern Kenyan, helps to rescue orphaned and abandoned elephant calves.
When the elephants are old enough to survive on their own, the sanctuary, founded in 2016, releases them back into the wild.
The sanctuary has been using costly powdered baby milk to feed the calves, but Dr. Steven Chege, the facility's veterinarian adviser told Reuters they have started using goat milk-based formula as a potential replacement, especially for infant calves.
“This is an animal that has just have maybe lost a mother, they have been separated from their family. So, they get a lot of psychological traumas, that is a big challenge, which can compromise their health," he said. "Goat milk is very good for the survival and the health of small (elephant) calves."Human baby formula, he said, was very expensive, and that switching to cheaper goats' milk could slash feeding costs for the sanctuary's herd which fluctuates between 15-30 animals.
"Goats milk is very rich in protein, and not just protein, it's very highly digestible protein, unlike cow's milk," he said, adding it causes less stomach upsets.
On a recent day, the calves rushed across a dusty enclosure to take a gulp of the milk, exposing their budding tusks as they opened their small mouths to take in feeding bottles.
Local goat farmer, Liwana Lenakukunyia, one of many farmers selling goats' milk to the sanctuary, told Reuters she was happy to get a new source of revenue. Many of the farmers who are benefiting from the new scheme are women.
"Since we started milking goats and selling the milk to the sanctuary, at least we have our own cash whereby you can feed your family with," she said.
(Reporting by Baz Ratner; writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Katharine Houreld, William Maclean)