Enkesha, Our Fearless Leader

Published on the 4th of October, 2022

In February 2017, we received a heartbreaking report from the Mara: A baby elephant had become tangled in a snare, the wire wrapped taut around her trunk. While rangers monitored the patient, our SWT/KWS Mara Mobile Vet Unit reported to the scene. With early intervention, snare wounds are easily treatable and victims often make a complete recovery in the field. They hoped that would be the case for this young calf.

The team was met with a sobering reality. The snare had nearly amputated the calf’s trunk, leaving it hanging on by a slip of skin. Dr Limo was faced with three options: amputate the trunk, attempt to reconstruct it, or let it heal naturally. However, none of these options could be undertaken in the field, as constant monitoring, medication, and veterinary attention would be crucial to her recovery. To leave the calf in the Mara would be a death sentence.

After exploring all possibilities, KWS and Mara management greenlit a rescue. That afternoon, the calf was flown to our Nairobi Nursery, where she could receive the treatment and aftercare she so desperately needed. This was not a decision taken lightly, but given the magnitude of her injury, it was the only possible avenue to save her life.

And thus began Enkesha’s journey with us. The day after she arrived, three veterinarians embarked on a three-hour operation to painstakingly stitch together her trunk. That is when we discovered the incredible tenacity of this little elephant. Despite being heavily sedated in the days afterwards, she managed to dismantle the veterinarians’ meticulous stitches.

Elephants have over 40,000 muscles in their trunk, so the inherent, constant wiggling already presented a formidable foe to stitches. However, Enkesha had that extra bit of dogged determination. She made it clear that her trunk would heal naturally, with nary a stitch to support her!

It took extremely diligent veterinary care and lots of mental stimulation to shepherd Enkesha through her recovery. As the weeks turned into months, the sliced skin of her trunk began to knit together. She was very proud to show off her progress, picking up leaves, twirling around twigs, and even throwing dust on herself. By year-end, she had almost full functionality back in her trunk. Although it in no way affects her daily life, she will always bear a small, scarred hole where the snare once cinched — an everlasting reminder of the ordeal she survived.

Enkesha quickly established herself as the Nursery’s lone ranger. Unlike typical mini matriarchs, who dote on the younger babies and surround them like clucking hens, Enkesha was always happiest when blazing her own trail. She enjoyed the company of friends, but she preferred to organise her day on her own terms.

In May 2020, Enkesha was showing signs that she had outgrown the Nursery phase. At the same time, we were planning our next step for our lionheart, Luggard, who had been crippled in a hail of gunfire. He needed a sanctuary that would support his compromised state, while Enkesha needed broader horizons. They had always been friends at the Nursery, so it only felt right that they graduate to our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit together. Enkesha, with her fiercely independent streak, would be the perfect steadying influence for Luggard in their new home.

The Umani Keepers were bemused by the self-sufficient little elephant who whirled in their world. The afternoon she arrived, Enkesha eagerly led the orphans out into the Kibwezi Forest. She had no idea where she was headed, but her plucky spirit propelled her forward. Within weeks, she had mapped out the best browsing spots and mastered how to pick up her milk bottle with her trunk — which was a particularly impressive feat, given her compromised trunk.

Sora is one of the people who knows Enkesha best. He became a Keeper the year she was rescued and helped raise her through the Nursery stage. When it was time for Enkesha and Luggard to graduate, he moved with them to Umani Springs. Over the years, he has seen her transform from a vulnerable, healing calf to a formidable young leader. As Sora notes, “Enkesha normally leads the group, which makes us hope that she will be a good herd leader, a good matriarch, and a good mother.” He notes that she is very friendly, too!

Enkesha continues to inspire all of us. Although she is significantly younger than the ‘original’ Umani orphans, they universally adore and respect her. When Maktao, Kiasa, and Kiombo graduated to Umani Springs last year, Enkesha saw a golden opportunity to hone her leadership skills. She takes every opportunity to care for them, sometimes even shepherding them on private outings to the Chyulu Hills. Enkesha is an excellent babysitter on these unchaperoned excursions, proving that she is a calm and capable leader. She has also adopted Maktao as a little brother; we often see Maktao affectionately sling his trunk over Enkesha’s back as they walk side by side. Like all of us, he really looks up to Enkesha.

Just as Enkesha’s life was beginning, a loop of wire threatened to rob her of everything. Now, she has her whole future ahead of her — and it is all because of your support. Thank you for making Enkesha’s miracle possible.

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