Rescued Baby Elephant Waited by His Poisoned Mom

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A three-month-old pygmy elephant has found a new mother in 29-year-old nature reserve keeper Augustin David after his was poisoned to death.

After pictures surfaced of the baby elephant trying to nuzzle his mother back to life, wildlife officials and nature-lovers were brought to tears. 

Baby elephant Joe was not poisoned, but his mother was one of 14 elephants in Malaysia known to have died from it. 

Though poison might not have killed Joe, he likely would have waited by his mother until he starved to death if he were not rescued. Even with 24-hour care at the nature reserve he now calls home, many experts thought Joe could die of a broken heart. 

But then he was introduced to Augustin David. David and Joe have developed a remarkable bond, and David is often referred to as Joe's "surrogate mom."

David truly is like a mother to Joe, as he has to face a difficult and demanding schedule of feeding him every two hours, even through the night. 

Then he plays with Joe by running around the compound at Lok Kawi zoo, and gives him baths. Joe has a distinct dislike for the baths. 

"He has clear likes and dislikes," David said. "He doesn't like showers, so we have to wash him in his pen." 

Joe has proven to be a needy little elephant, nudging and kicking David in the legs when he doesn't pay attention to him. 

"He's active, playful and naughty," David said. 

Though Joe seems completely healthy and happy, veterinarians warn that he is not safe yet and could still die at any moment. 

"He is far from safety yet. It's too soon to be sure that he will make it - sometimes baby elephants can look OK and then die suddenly," Dr. Diana Ramirez, the vet seeing over Joe's recovery, said.

"They are very prone to colic and it can be fatal very quickly. Once he's past six or seven months, we can be more confident. But he clearly has a strong will to survive."

Malaysia is home to about two-thirds of the world's population of Borneo pygmy elephants, a population that is quickly diminishing. 

Authorities are looking into the elephant poisonings, and trying to determine if they were killed deliberately or if it was accidental. Last week, many claimed palm oil plantation workers were responsible for poisoning them.

Some experts think the elephants ate toxic substances used to keep pests away from the crop.

The Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, where the elephants live, is close to the palm oil fields. Poachers seem not to be responsible as the elephants still had their tusks and none had gunshot wounds. 

If Joe survives, he will likely stay at the park, where he can call 16 other injured and orphaned elephants his family.