The Heartbreaking Loss of Doldol

Published on the 18th of September, 2023

With profound sadness, we must share the news that Doldol left us in the late hours of Wednesday, 13th September. Her death was entirely unexpected and we are still coming to terms with this heartbreaking, incomprehensible loss.

Every elephant holds a treasured place in our hearts, but Doldol cast a special spell on all those in her orbit — those blessed to know her, and those who knew of her. Her very existence was a miracle: She was born premature and abandoned immediately thereafter. That would seal the fate of most creatures, but Doldol defied the odds. A kind man from the local community discovered her and took custody of her for the night, keeping her warm and protected in his boma.

When Doldol arrived at our Kaluku Neonate Nursery on the morning of 23rd November 2021, we couldn’t believe our eyes. She was impossibly small, even for a newborn, barely hitting knee height. Given how quickly she was orphaned, she had not had her mother’s colostrum, which is vital to kickstart a baby’s immune system.

We were aware that the odds were stacked firmly against this little calf, but we were determined to give her our all. We selected Mishak, one of our most experienced Keepers, to lead Doldol duty. Mishak has a unique gift. Many of our trickiest orphan cases were raised by Mishak, and he is the unanimous favourite of any elephant he meets. He was ably assisted by Peter and Jonas, two gifted Keeper recruits.

Aside from the inevitable peaks and troughs that any neonate orphan experiences, Doldol thrived through her infancy. Some of this can be attributed to sheer luck, but much of it is thanks to the unfaltering dedication of her Keepers. They raised her with the care, love, and attention of the most devoted parents, catering to her every need, day and night.

While Doldol’s time on earth was cut tragically short, we know that her chapters were happy ones. She was the undisputed queen of her little corner of Tsavo. We nicknamed her our little beetle, with good reason: Her protuberant eyes were always shining with a glint of mischief, while her perfectly round ears flapped like wings. Even Doldol’s demeanour was like an insect; her tiny body buzzed around Kaluku with great purpose, busy and investigating.

Whenever we suffer an incomprehensible loss, we go back to words said by our founder, Daphne Sheldrick: “Raising orphaned elephants is a cocktail of joy, tempered with a good dose of tears.” We are feeling that sentiment keenly right now. Doldol’s life was just beginning, and it is difficult to fathom why it ended so abruptly.

Doldol’s decline happened without warning. 13th September began normally. After enjoying a slow start to the morning, she and her Keepers met the larger orphan herd from the ‘big side’ of Kaluku. In recent months, Doldol had been spending more and more time with Rokka, Manda, Mayan, Vaarti, Mwinzi, and Natibu. Despite being a bit shy, she really enjoyed their group excursions. This morning was no different.

By mid-morning, however, it became evident Doldol was off-colour and didn’t have much of an appetite. Her Keepers escorted her back to her stable, so she could rest quietly. At this point her walking appeared laboured and her muscles strained. As the day progressed, Doldol’s condition began to decline rapidly.

Despite acting fast, working with our trusted veterinarians to determine the best course of action, her decline continued. We administered IV drips and the prescribed medication to support her, but nothing seemed to work. Doldol’s condition continued to deteriorate to the point she could no longer walk nor stand. At 7:30 that night, just six hours from the first onset of symptoms, Doldol passed away, leaving us all devastated.

While we wish we could provide closure around this senseless loss, Doldol’s death leaves us with more questions than answers. So much of the natural world remains a mystery, and very often, we are unable to find a definitive cause behind an animal’s decline. But in Doldol’s memory, we will continue to dig deeper and try to make sense of this shattering turn of events.

We also extend our deepest gratitude to Doldol’s Keepers. Mishak is the reason that Doldol made it through those precarious initial months, when most neonate elephants wouldn’t have had a chance. Thanks to his unwavering care, ably supported by Peter and Jonas, Doldol led a charmed life.

Being a Keeper is a difficult, often heartbreaking job, and we are eternally thankful for their dedication and expertise. For two years, Mishak's days and nights have been consumed by Doldol. It will take time before he has the emotional strength to invest in another baby. He is taking a well-deserved break to heal and come to terms with such an inexplicable and unexpected loss.

As we grapple with this tragedy together, we hope you can remember Doldol with a smile. Think of her as she was: a bright, buzzy delight, full of joy and determination. And now, taken far too soon, our little beetle flies free.

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