Mary the Elephant

What are the Odds?

Circa 1984, Kenya

Dee Steel and her family were our Discovery Beach House guests in 2013. Her son Simon called after he read about our volunteer work with the great apes on our web site.

I think you may have something in common with my mother,” Simon said. “She used to work with elephants in Kenya.”

“We only knew one elephant in Kenya and that was 30 years ago. She was an orphan at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club Animal Orphanage. Her name was Mary.”

Simon was quiet for a moment, “I think my mother knew Mary.”

An Elephant, A Giraffe and an Ostrich

We’d told Mary’s story many times over the years. After her mother was killed Mary was taken to the animal orphanage  and nursed back to health by one of the owners, Iris Hunt, . Mary soon made friends with a baby giraffe and a young ostrich at the orphanage. The giraffe and the ostrich would plaster themselves on either side of Mary and the three of them would promenade around the compound together. Giraffes and ostriches mature much sooner than elephants and Mary’s friends eventually returned to the wild.

Mary with William the giraffe. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

Mary with William the giraffe. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

But they never forgot Mary. Once a year, on a schedule known only to them, the giraffe and the ostrich would return to the orphanage to visit Mary. They would plaster themselves on either side of her and promenade around the compound for hours until the call of the wild beckoned them back to places Mary could only dream of.

Mary made an unforgettable impression when we met her in 1983. She coiled her trunk around my forearm several times in an endearing way. She had a cold, so my arm slipped easily from her grip when I pulled it away. It was then I realized I’d been slimed with a forearm full of baby elephant snot, lol! Other than it being hilarious and gross at the same time – it felt like a blessing at the time. I still feel blessed by the experience, now that I think about it.

A Happy Ending

Fast forward 30 years later to the living room of our vacation home in Costa Rica. The Steel family invited us over for a visit soon after they arrived. It turned out Dee had known Mary. “She was adopted by an elephant named Eleanor. Here, this is for you,” Dee said handing us a photo. “Mary returned to the wild with Eleanor.”

Mary the Elephant

Mary the Elephant with her adopted mother, Eleanor. Photo courtesy of Dee Steel

We held the photo as if it were a precious emerald. My husband David and I were thrilled with the happy ending to Mary’s story. What are the odds that a British family would travel to Costa Rica, stay in our vacation rental home and we would have an elephant friend in common from 30 years ago? We will always treasure your gift, Dee Steel. Thank you.

Tsavo National Park. Mary's forever home.

Tsavo National Park. Mary’s forever home.


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