The date was the 18th January 2005, and after an absence of 9 months, he suddenly appeared, in all his grandeur, this huge 16 year old Amboseli Bull who is one of our now fully independent “Big Boys”, a free spirit amongst his wild kin in Tsavo National Park doing what bull elephants of his age should be doing – travelling far and wide acting as the scouts for the cow herds, investigating new territory, finding new feeding grounds, and safe havens for those that will ensure the perpetuity of their kind, their females and the young. It was as though he had never been away.
Thereafter, every day, Edo came to spend quality time with the orphans, playing with them in the brimful waterholes, feeding with them on the lush vegetation brought on by recent rain, and keeping Emily and Aitong company to take them back home to their Stockade in the evenings, before taking leave of them at the Gates until another day. Then this favourite Big Boy left with Emily and Aitong and Aitong’s little satellite, Sweet Sally, taking them off, no doubt to introduce them to his other wild friends.
Events like this, make all the years of toil, sweat, anxiety and heartache worthwhile, especially when one remembers Edo as the little orphan of 16 years ago, who had even lost the will to live, and simply wanted to lie down and die, having lost everything most dear to him – his mother, his family, and his Amboseli homeland.
His story, written all those years ago, makes poignant reading.
WATCHING EDO COME TO LIFE BEFPORE OUR EYES
Daphne Sheldrick wrote this piece about Edo 16 years ago, when he first came into our Nairobi Nursery.
Almost everyone has heard of Kenya's Amboseli National Reserve, famed for its docile Elephants who have been the subject of intense scientific scrutiny over the past l5 years. The Amboseli Elephants are unique, since they comprise one of the very few populations in Africa that have been spared the depredations of mankind either in the form of poaching or official "culling". They are some 800 in number and every individual is known and has been documented. They have graced the pages of many books and have been featured in many films. One of the most famous of Amboseli's Matriarchs is a cow known as "ECHO". In 1989 Echo's oldest sister, 'Emily', died after eating contaminated garbage from one of the park's safari lodges.
"Edo" is Emily's last calf, little nephew to "Echo". He was one of Amboseli's most playful babies; a hot favourite with both the Scientists and the public. He also happened to be the star of a film being made by the Japanese when tragedy suddenly befell the family and destiny dictated a turn of events. On this day his gentle mother paid the price of feeding off garbage she found in one of the many Lodge dumps and amongst the waste edibles was broken glass, torch cells, ash trays, bottle tops and many other by-products of mass tourism, all of which similarly went down the hatch to be later extracted from her stomach during post-mortem examination.
The Amboseli Scientists who were cooperating with the Film team were alarmed one day to find the "E" family, Edo included, minus Emily. Had both he and his mother been absent together, there would have been no real cause for alarm, for Elephants are social animals and often visit their friends, just as do humans, keeping in touch through "infrasound" and probably also by telepathy which we believe to be a real means of communication within the Animal Kingdom. But on this particular day Edo was without his mother; nor was he the usual playful, bouncing baby of yore. He was a sad and despondent little Elephant, who trailed miserably and listlessly behind the herd, now but for fate, doomed to die, since no baby Elephant can survive without milk when orphaned less than two years old.
Whilst the Elephant family will naturally shelter and protect an orphaned member, the sad truth is that there are very few cows with the lactating capacity to suckle two milk dependent calves. At maximum milk feeds, a baby Elephant in captivity will be taking upwards of 58 pints in a 24 hour period, so it would be a tall order for a cow Elephant to meet the demands of two, nor will she jeopardise the health of her own calf by taking on another. "Edo's" Aunt "Echo" had a young calf of 6 months, the same age as "Edo"; a little cousin with whom he often played in happier times, but now play was the very last thing on his mind. Time and time again he was filmed literally pleading pathetically with his sister to be allowed a turn at the milk bar, and time and time again he was gently but firmly rebuffed, pushed aside by a giant foreleg. He would bellow and beg, throw tantrums and grovel, but all to no avail, for "Echo", the Matriarch, stood firm.
Several days passed thus and very rapidly he was losing strength until he was seen trailing ever further behind the group. Fortunately he had access to water in the Amboseli swamps and although he tried to assuage his mounting hunger by stuffing down soft greens, they passed through his body virtually undigested. At last, and fortunately for him, human compassion was to intervene. The Film Unit were not prepared to stand by and let the star of their documentary perish before the camera even though such were the rare occasions when Science was uncharacteristically prepared "to let nature take its course". Edo's inevitable death would have been far too public for comfort, and so we, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, were called in to help and when Edo was sufficiently feeble to be overpowered, he was captured and driven back to the Trust's Nairobi Headquarters, which duplicates as the Elephant Nursery and also is my home.
In residence at the time was Tsavo's "Dika", a little Elephant who at 3 months old had witnessed the brutal massacre of his entire family by Somali poacher/bandits, and whose grieving had spanned four long months. Also there were "Ndume" and "Malaika", two tiny waifs, who had been flown in bruised and battered, having been beaten and hacked about by infuriated tribesmen on the day their herd left the fastness of the Mount Kenya forests to infiltrate human habitation.
On arrival, Edo had obviously already made up his mind that he was going to die. He flatly refused all food, would not even try to stand, and his eyes began to take on the glazed look of hopelessness and invariable death. Recognising the symptoms and fearing the worst, we hurriedly sent for the other orphans, who were out in the bush with their Keepers - the human family that shared both their days and their nights, who had replaced their lost Elephant one in infancy, and of whom they were now almost equally as fond.
"Dika" was the oldest orphan currently in the Nursey, "Olmeg" and "Taru" having already left for Tsavo. He immediately came striding up to where "Edo" had collapsed, rumbling softly and touching him gently with the tip of his trunk. Edo's eyes opened a little wider and a look of sheer disbelief crept into them as they began to focus. Immediately he struggled to rise, and with some help, managed it. "Dika" then gave him a gentle nudge as though to say, "Come on chum - put up a scrap!" Edo's ears instantly stood out like dinner plates and he gamely attempted a feeble retaliation. Then we offered "Dika" a bottle of milk, which he downed with relish before Edo's eyes, the tip of his trunk resting as usual against a Keeper's cheek. Next, Edo was re-offered his bottle of milk and this time, to our great astonishment and satisfaction, down it went, as did a second, then a third, until before our very eyes, Edo, Amboseli's "favourite" calf, literally came back to life from the jaws of death, encircled and encouraged by the other three small orphans.
Within an hour he was sufficiently strong to be able to walk unaided to the mudbath, and although he did not partake of it on this occasion, he was an interested spectator to the playful antics of the others, clearly thinking, "well, life can't be that bad after all! If its O.K. for them, it must be O.K. for me".