This is one of the hardest updates I have ever had to write. Our beloved Luggard the Lionheart passed away in the early hours of 11th May, leaving us in tatters. His last moments were peaceful, surrounded by the people and elephants who loved him most.
While Luggard’s decline was sudden, it was perhaps not wholly surprising. He had always been our miracle rescue; few elephants could have survived the gunshot wounds inflicted upon him, let alone a calf of just four months old. When Luggard was rescued, his rear leg shattered by bullets, many considered euthanasia to be the only possible outcome. However, we recognised a fierce will to live shining bright in his eyes and knew we had to do everything we could to save him. That lionhearted spirit carried him bravely through the past five years, but ultimately, I believe his body had taken him as far as it could go.
Our hope was that, as Luggard grew, his body would continue to heal. Far from improving, it seemed to deteriorate. It was subtle, at first: His right rear leg would swell up periodically, hindering his mobility. In the past, he recovered from these flare-ups quickly, but they began to happen with increasing regularity. Emotional decline is often the most telling indicator of an elephant’s inner turmoil, yet Luggard was unfalteringly happy to the very end. His blissful little rumbles, brought upon by something as simple as a trunk hug or an ear rub, communicated that loud and clear.
Two days ago, things began to change. Luggard always looked forward to a good night’s sleep; he was one of the first orphans to settle down and the last to get up in the morning. So, it sent alarm bells ringing when he spent the night standing quietly in his stockade. The next day he seemed happy enough, feeding well, basking in the company of his beloved mothers from the Umani Herd. Upon returning home that evening, however, Luggard collapsed in his stockade. We prepared ourselves for the worst, and tragically, our boy never stood again. He seemed utterly at peace, lying beneath the starry sky until he closed his eyes and he slipped away.
We are left absolutely bereft, wondering what more could have been done to save him. However, it seems that Luggard simply ended the struggle that defined his tragically curtailed life. His was a hard-fought battle: In the months leading up to Luggard’s death, we consulted a series of vets to try to get to the bottom of his deterioration. Just last week, another vet was flown in from Nairobi to take a close look and a series of blood tests. Each examination left us with more questions than answers. While Luggard’s blood readings were surprisingly good, his declining physical state told a different story. I am so grateful to our Keepers, who pulled out all the stops for him. To compensate for his limited browsing capabilities, they bolstered his diet with nutritious supplements and hand-picked greens. They were diligent about the orphans' daily walks, keeping him close to home and avoiding any difficult terrain that would add further stress to his situation. Perhaps most importantly, they recognised that what Luggard needed most was to be included. He was an elephant who thrived off the company of others, human and elephant alike.
The big girls at Umani Springs were equally committed to Luggard’s welfare. He had their hearts from the moment he stepped foot into their world. Murera, Sonje, Lima Lima, and Quanza dedicated the past year of their lives to him, happily putting their own reintegration journeys on hold to cater to his every need. They were keenly aware of Luggard’s limitations and went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate them, even developing a babysitting rotation so he was never alone for a moment. This never seemed to burden them; indeed, being on “Luggard duty” was a coveted and highly competitive privilege.
While we wonder at our decision to move him to Umani Springs, it was the only possible option. An elephant’s physical health is inextricably linked with their mental well-being, and as he grew older, it became clear that Luggard craved more from life than the Nursery could offer him. We can find comfort in the knowledge that Luggard’s final safari was a happy one. Umani Springs gave him the opportunity to broaden his horizons - to see more of what the world had to offer, but also to enjoy being cared for and loved by older elephants.
We can learn a lot from Luggard. Despite the pain and suffering our kind inflicted on him, not once did he show an ounce of bitterness. Even during his early days at the Nursery, when he must have been in terrible pain, he never let his circumstances define him. He eagerly emerged from his stable each morning, undeterred by his limp, just excited to meet up with his friends and discover what the day had in store. This same open-heartedness defined his time at Umani Springs, as an incident from earlier this year so perfectly illustrates: One afternoon, the Umani orphans encountered a magnificent bull in the forest. Everyone hung back a bit apprehensively, but Luggard - who had been shy towards wild visitors in the past - walked right up to him and introduced himself. A lovely interaction ensued before our little boy returned to the herd, looking quite proud of himself for pushing his own boundaries.
In a more just world, Luggard would have grown into a majestic bull himself. While he was robbed of that destiny, his years with us were very happy ones. We only wish his story could have ended another way. Luggard leaves a hole in the hearts of all who knew him: the Keepers and elephants who were with him every step of the way, along with the people around the world who were so invested in his survival. He was such a gentle elephant, epitomising all that is so wonderful about these creatures. His heavenly spirit will forever preside over the herd who loved him so.