Every orphan’s story is heart-wrenching in their own way, but sometimes, the extent of their suffering threatens to sap us of all hope. Very often, these stories end in tragedy — but sometimes, miracles happen and the orphan pulls through.
Luggard, our little lionheart, is one such miracle. In honour of his momentous graduation to our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit last month, and because of the unprecedented times we all face, his inspiring journey feels a most fitting subject of this month’s Field Notes.
- Angela Sheldrick
Luggard the Lionheart
It’s a call I will always remember. On 31st March 2016, one of our pilots set out for a routine aerial patrol over Tsavo East. It transpired to be anything but: Mid-flight, he spotted a four-month-old calf with a broken leg, who was struggling to keep up with his herd. His injuries were mortal, and it was clear that he didn’t have much longer to live without veterinary intervention.
When the calf arrived at the Nursery, my heart sank. His injuries, which were already a few weeks old, had been caused by a hail of bullets. An X-ray revealed that his right femur was shattered, while another bullet had pierced his left foot. Because of the time elapsed and proximity of the femur injury to the knee joint, combined with the muscle override, operating on or pinning his bone was impossible. It was clear that we would have a gruelling challenge on our hands to save him.
In these cases, we can try our hardest to save the calf, but they also have to have the steely determination to survive. Despite all the odds stacked against him, he had this in spades. From the moment we met him, we were struck by his fiercely bright alert eyes and his stoic bravery. In fact, it was largely through sheer willpower that he had even come this far. This galvanised us all to move mountains to save him, despite the fact that his initial prognosis looked very bleak indeed. We called him Luggard, after the area where he was rescued, but his character quickly earned him the nickname “Luggard the Lionheart.”
It’s horrible to witness pain and suffering, least of all in such a young, innocent creature. In Luggard’s case, time and strength of mind were the only antidotes. What we could provide was a wonderfully nurturing environment, along with lengthy treatments to stave off infection and motivate his own body to go into healing mode. There were some small mercies: A hind leg injury in elephants is always preferable to a front leg injury, as walking on three legs is easier when you have the use of both front, weight-bearing legs. In this regard, Luggard was fortunate. His was not a clean break, so his body would periodically expel bone chips in little pustules. Because Luggard’s body was battling infection for years, he remained rather stunted, and it wasn’t long before his age-mates began to dwarf him.
It is easy to become preoccupied by the injustices of Luggard’s circumstances, but his story is ultimately one of resilience and hope. Given his impediments, he spent much of his four years at the Nursery in the company of younger orphans and new rescues. However, his beautiful soul endeared him to all who knew him, and each member of the Nursery herd had a special place in their heart for Luggard. We saw evidence of this every day: The usually boisterous bulls would temper their wrestling games so Luggard could join in; members of the herd would hang back to walk at his slower pace; Maxwell the rhino would joyfully bound up to meet him at his gate in the morning. As the years wore on, Luggard’s friendships continued to evolve. Many were forged through shared challenges. He grew close with Enkesha, who knew her fair share of pain from the snare that nearly severed her trunk; Ziwadi, who struggled with seizures for months after her rescue, became another dear friend.
Because of his unusual situation, Luggard’s circle of friends has transcended elephants and he became the babysitter to orphans of all shapes and sizes. During Kiko the giraffe’s early days at the Nursery, it was Luggard who browsed in his company. Being his nighttime neighbor was a coveted role: For years, he slept with Musiara on one side and Kiko on the other. Kiko’s customised tall stable was fitted with a special window into Luggard’s room, so the pair could fraternise. The giraffe became so attached to his neighbour that any later attempts to move him into a larger stockade were futile, as Kiko would fret without Luggard’s company! When Musiara finally outgrew his stable and moved into a stockade, we removed the stable partitions so our little Lionheart could have a scrumptiously large area to call his own.
Luggard also forged a permanent place in our Keepers’ hearts. They dedicated so much time to healing him, both physically and emotionally, and have played an integral role in his survival. So, it was a bittersweet moment indeed when we realised that Luggard was ready to take his next step in his reintegration journey and say goodbye to the Nursery. The signs were obvious, as they are with all our orphans who are ready to graduate: By now, he was by far the oldest boy at the Nursery and seemed to have a bit of ennui because of it. He was clearly at a stage where he would benefit from the stimulation and guidance of older elephants.
While Tsavo is his birthplace, Luggard was no longer physically equipped to thrive there. Elephants follow the rains, and during Tsavo’s brutal dry seasons, they are often required to travel vast distances for both water and food. Luggard needed a gentler environment, a lush place he could call home throughout the year. Luckily, we have just the spot: Our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit, situated within the Kibwezi Forest, was purpose-built for special-needs elephants and their friends. Kibwezi is a groundwater forest we have a concession to manage and protect, with sparkling springs and leafy vegetation throughout the year. It is part of our Saving Habitats Program, managed and stringently protected in a public private partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
On the morning of the 31st of May, we bundled up our precious cargo and bid Nairobi farewell. Luggard graduated in the company of Enkesha, his dear friend and fellow survivor. It was a date we approached with no small measure of apprehension, but we needn’t have worried. Both elephants handled the proceedings like pros, breezing into the elephant moving lorry and snacking their way to the Kibwezi Forest. Upon arrival, they were met with nothing short of a rapturous welcome — the full account of which can be read here.
Watching this all unfold was a special moment indeed. Seeing our young Lionheart confidently stride off the truck and into the Umani Springs fold was in such stark contrast to the helpless, nearly lifeless form who was carried into the Nursery four years ago. The members of Luggard’s new herd intuitively know that he needs additional attention and focus. He has quickly become the most pampered member of the Umani family, and is thriving because of it.
Any violence against elephants is unfathomable, but it boggles the mind as to how such a young calf fell under a hail of bullets. Perhaps he got caught in the crosshairs of human-wildlife conflict, or was the unintended recipient of a poaching attempt. While we may never know or understand the circumstances that befell Luggard in his past, we can look forward to his future. When he came into our care, many wondered if he would ever stand up again. Now, our little chap is taking strides towards the life he deserves, surrounded by the most loving support system every step of the way.
Angela Sheldrick produces Field Notes as a special monthly email, providing her personal insight into varying aspects of Kenya's wildlife and habitats, along with the work of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. To be the first to receive future editions of Field Notes, please choose the 'get our emails' option at the bottom of this page and subscribe to the International Newsletter.