All in a Day’s Work at the DSWT

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust begins yet another year of rescuing, raising and rehabilitating orphaned baby elephants whilst being dedicated to its many other wildlife, community and habitat initiatives

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust begins yet another year of rescuing, raising and rehabilitating orphaned baby elephants whilst being dedicated to its many other wildlife, community and habitat initiatives. Whenever a call is received at the headquarters in Nairobi it is always a worry that yet another elephant calf is in trouble or another elephant or wild animal has been seriously injured.


Every day, throughout all of the Trust’s operational bases within Kenya at the Nairobi Nursery, Kaluku headquarters, Voi and Ithumba Stockades in Tsavo East, Kibwezi Forest, Amu Ranch and our veterinary unit bases in Tsavo, the Masai Mara and Meru National Park, all of our ground teams are hard at work responding to reports and emergency calls whilst carrying out their daily routines and operations.  Each day is full of activity, sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes joyful, but there are some days where all our teams are pushed to the limit whilst they fight to save the lives of Kenya’s dwindling elephant populations and threatened wildlife species; Wednesday 8th of January 2014 was just one of these challenging days.

The first call to be received early on the 8th was from Ian Craig of the Northern Rangelands Trust concerning an orphan rescue at Sera Conservancy in Northern Kenya.  The young 6 month old calf in question had fallen down a man-made well, which was discovered by conservancy rangers. The rangers successfully extracted the abandoned calf from its imprisonment, but it is unknown how long the baby elephant had been stuck in the well, all the while submerged up to eye level with only the trunk available to breathe.  At the Nairobi Nursery plans were immediately made to send a rescue plane with a team of Keepers to the Sera airstrip.

Whilst these arrangements were taking place second call was received, this time from the Maasai Mara where an injured lioness, with a spear lodged deeply in her front paw, had been located and required the attention of a vet urgently.  The lioness had been speared by Masai herdsmen. The rangers of the area had been monitoring her throughout the night ensuring her safety against hyenas in order for the KWS to officially make the report. KWS, in partnership with the DSWT, gave the go ahead for a Sky Vets operation to take place, as the DSWT-funded Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit was on leave.  This operation saw KWS Field Veterinary Officer Dr Mijele flown from Nairobi by the Sky Vets program to the Mara in order to remove the spear and treat the lion’s wounds.


As the plane with Dr Mijele headed west towards the Masai Mara and the Sera Conservation rescue team flew north, another report was received from Rukinga Ranch adjacent to Tsavo. The previous day the Sky Vet Program had flown down the KWS veterinary officer, Dr Kaitho, to search for a wounded bull elephant.  The elephant was in extremely difficult terrain and despite being on foot they had not successfully gotten close enough to dart him. Despite many hours the team, flown by the DSWT’s aircraft and the pilot, Nick Trent, the bull still hadn’t been sighted since that day but the search continued.

Back at the Nairobi Nursery yet another report was received, this time from the Kenya Wildlife Service in Amboseli regarding a female elephant that the KWS/DSWT Sky Vets had treated previously on the 19th December 2013. She is a well know female called Zombie from the ZA family.  Sadly the female had not improved in condition despite no obvious injuries since her December treatment. She was clearly very ill, and had a young calf over just over two years by her side. As her strength ebbed away, her young calf stood vigil by her side throughout the weeks that she grew weaker.  When treating the elephant in December the veterinary team observed that tshe did not have any physical injuries, however her body score was extremely poor (2.5 on a scale of 5). The elephant’s muscle tissue was wasted due to the fact that the animal had been off-feed for a considerable period of time.  After treating her with antibiotics, metabolic stimulation and anti-inflammatories, she was revived and was quickly reunited with her calf.  Sadly only a few weeks later on the evening of the 7th January 2014 she slipped in a muddy waterhole and was too weak to get up again, her she remained in a recumbent position . Her calf stayed by her side and did his best to ward off hyenas during the night, who were attempting to feast on his dying mother. The community scouts and KWS rangers who had been monitoring the condition of the ailing mother soon realised that there was little hope for her survival and made the decision to call in the Sky Vet.

The KWS Veterinary Officer, Dr Lekololo, started his journey to Amboseli with a second elephant rescue team of Keepers from DSWT, who were needed in the sad event that the mother elephant would not survive and her calf would become an orphan. Simultaneously, the first rescue team had just arrived, after a 1.5hr flight, in northern Kenya, Sera Conservancy.  The community rangers had looked after the baby elephant at their camp the previous evening before transferring the orphan  to the Sera airstrip where the men erected a crude boma to keep her in while they waited for the rescue plane to arrive.  The calf was weak having been without food for a significant amount of time and was in urgent need of hydration, and immediately took both milk and  water.  Immediately she was prepared for the flight and a drip was administered for the duration of the return journey to Nairobi. On arrival in Nairobi, blood works revealed a very serious bacterial infection; so she had obviously been trapped in the well for a significant time before being rescued. We have been told the water levels were so high in the well that for much of the time her eyes would have been submerged which caused a terrible eye infection, leaving her blind.  We called her Losesia after the Losesia community of that area.


Dr Lekololo soon arrived in Amboseli with the Keepers and undertook the journey from the airstrip to the location of the sickly mother and her calf. The veterinary team were quick to make the decision that this female would need to be euthanized so serious was her predicament. The baby bull was successfully darted, and captured that day and has been named Ziwa.

Whilst this was all going on one of the DSWT’s newest arrivals, Sagalla, was in a collapsed state. She had been rescued in Tsavo East having been severely incapacitated by a cable snare caught around her leg her pain unimaginable and her life was ebbing away despite our best efforts and a brave fight. Despite her gallant struggle under the cruelest of circumstances Sagalla died at 4.00pm in the afternoon.


Before sunset all of the rescue and veterinary teams returned to their bases. The Nursery welcomed two new orphans Ziwa and Losesia. The Masai Mara Sky Vet team successfully removed the spear from the lioness’s paw giving her a good prognosis of recovery, whilst the search for the injured Rukinga Ranch bull in Tsavo continues. We lost the life of one in Amboseli, and dear little Sagalla, who was dealt such a cruel hand, but neither were lost without every effort made to save them. On this day, like every other day, we have helped to save the lives of many others.

The Orphans’ Project, Anti-Poaching, Aerial Surveillance and Mobile Veterinary initiatives all rely on your kind support, please consider giving through our donations page: