On the 2nd August, 2007, a one year old calf from the Mount Elgon elephant population fell down an 8 metre (26 ft.) dis-used Pit Latrine in community land abutting the Mount Elgon National Park. The Western tip of Mt. Elgon which is undeveloped, has been set aside as a conservation area by the local council, and is now known as the Chepkitale National Reserve. This corner of Western Kenya borders Uganda and is inhabited by a mixture of tribal people, traditionally predominantly Elgon Masai and WaNdorobo before other tribes moved in. The dis-used pit latrine was invisible, having been overgrown with lush vegetation since the area enjoys high rainfall. Therefore, it was not visible when it claimed the yearling elephant, subsequently given the name to identify her origin.
It was already late during the evening of the 2nd for the community to be able to do anything about trying to rescue her, so she had to endure a terrifying night down that very deep, dark, unsavoury hole, in freezing temperatures and pouring rain. It was a miracle that she did not die of grief, fear and lonliness that night, but the community returned at first light, and ascertained that she was still alive.
Having alerted the resident Kenya Wildlife Service officer, they began to dig a deep sloping trench so that the calf could exit the hole, a task that took several hours before she was within reach. She was helped out, very stiff and sore, and her legs roped before being loaded into the KWS Pickup and driven to the Park base, a journey that entailed another 4 grueling hours over bumpy roads. At base, she was housed in a vacant horse stable, but by the time we received news that a rescue was needed, it was again too late to organize a plane that day. Nor was a plane available the next day until 11 a.m. but in the meantime we issued instructions by phone that the little elephant be given no milk, but only water. Our Keepers left Nairobi at noon, with all the usual rescue paraphanalia, armed with formula milk, rehydration salts and a loaded syringe with the first of what will be a five day course of prophylactic anti-biotic to try and protect her from the dreaded pneumonia. Although her physical condition was not bad, the left side of her body was very bruised, the left foreleg swollen at the joint and the left hind leg so injured that she could put no weight on it. However, following examination by the Vet, it is thought not to be broken, but there has obviously been extensive tissue and tendon damage to both limbs. Her head was also badly bruised and bashed, and one ear has a large tare.
Our latest little orphan, is the first that has come into our care from the Mt. Elgon population of elephants. She will be vulnerable to pneumonia, to stomach disorders from having eaten soiled dirt, and from possible internal injuries over and above the very painful sprains on her left-side limbs. So far, she has been a reluctant feeder, refusing milk, and only taking small quantities of vegetation, but she has drunk copious quantities of water, and some rehydrant. However, she has settled calmly having been embraced by all the other Nursery elephants, especially Lesanju, Lempaute and Shimba, who have been keeping her company throughout the day, initially actually with her inside the taming Stockade, but now out and about close by, since she cannot walk far. Her recovery lies in the lap of the Gods, but everyone here at the Trust will do their utmost to save this precious newcomer, so that she can grow and join other orphans of misfortune, lucky enough to have been saved in time to have a second chance of life. She owes her life to the Ndorobo tribesmen who cared sufficiently to work very hard to rescue her when it would have been easier just to walk away.
The Elgon elephant population, said by KWS to number some 200 to 300 now, having suffered a heavy toll to poachers in the eighties are world famous for having tunneled deep into the extinct Mt. Elgon volcano in their search for minerals, excavating caves that penetrate several kms. deep into the side of the Mountain. Since elephants cannot see in the dark, they feel their way into the dank and dismal recesses of these huge bat-filled caverns carefully walking with a restraining trunk over their babies, to access traditional mining bays deep underground. There they chisel off chunks of sodium-rich volcanic ash from the sides of the cave and eat it in order to find the minerals they need for their large bones. They work only by touch, with many pitfalls on the way, but ever since birth, the babies have accompanied the adults in their quest in a region where high rainfall has resulted in a deficient mineral content of the vegetation through leaching. All forest dwelling elephants have to desperately search for the minerals they need, but in only one place on earth, Mt. Elgon, has this search resulted in such large caves which penetrate deep into the sides of the extinct volcano named Elgon.
Thanks to Dr. Ian Redmond OBE. for the use of his photographs of Elgon's wild elephants in the Kitum Caves.