Though 10-year-old Wylie Malek has difficulty relating to people, he's formed a strong bond with elephants - and even gotten a job out of it.
Ever since he was a baby, 10-year-old Wylie Malek has been obsessed with elephants. Whether watching the animated animals in Dumbo or visiting the real deal at the zoo, he’s been fixated on the huge, fascinating creatures. For Wylie, who is autistic, elephants seemed easier to relate to than other people.
Wylie’s family home in Winston, Oregon is just a few miles from a safari park, which counts three elephants among its residence. So since Wylie was in diapers, his parents have brought him to the park to visit friends like African elephant Tiki.
It didn’t take too long for park officials to notice the special relationship that the quiet boy had with the elephants—and so two years ago, they offered him the chance to get up close and personal with his giant friends every month.
In a unique job shadow opportunity, Wylie works with the animal trainers, learning how to feed the elephants, shovel their waste, and even give them baths. By all accounts, he is a model employee.
“Wylie likes to outwork me, I think,” elephant keeper Timmy Hamilton told the News-Review. “We were sweeping hay in the barn and we had a race and he won.”
And even as Wylie has been focused on helping the elephants, the elephants have been helping him, too. The more time Wylie spends with the elephants, the more outgoing he becomes with the adults and classmates around him, sharing stories of his experiences caring for the elephants.
Though Wylie is learning more about how to relate to other people, he still considers the elephants his best friends, and would love to look after them forever.
“I feel lucky,” he said. “I like it out here.”