Naserian's Rescue

12TH May 2004, in the late afternoon, we received a message from Save the Elephants in Samburu National Reserve alerting us to the fact that what was obviously an orphaned elephant calf had been seen trailing the wild herds, and suffering continuous rejection by them

12TH May 2004, in the late afternoon, we received a message from Save the Elephants in Samburu National Reserve alerting us to the fact that what was obviously an orphaned elephant calf had been seen trailing the wild herds, and suffering continuous rejection by them.

The calf was estimated to be between 4 and 6 months old and, we were told, was in the process of being captured. It had been seen trying to cross the Uaso Nyiro river along with wild elephants, but was constantly pushed under water by one herd member, which is very un-elephant-like behaviour towards a needy baby! There have been reports of recent poaching around Samburu – some seven or eight elephants apparently killed. However, the theory held by Save the Elephant personnel is that the calf could have been separated from its mother and herd by being swept downstream by floodwaters, so the true circumstances of it becoming an orphan must remain unclear.
There was just enough daylight time left on the 12th May to be able to bring the calf back to the Nairobi Nursery that evening, so a plane was hurriedly scrambled, this time a Caravan chartered from Boskovic Air Charters. It carried three Keepers, Edwin, Dismis and Pius, all the usual rescue paraphernalia - the circular tarpaulin with rope handles all round, milk and rehydration in a crate of beer bottles, a KWS Vet named Isaac and everything needed for sedation, plus a BBC Natural History Film crew currently here to start the shooting of "Elephant Diaries", a series modelled on the highly successful "Big Cat Diary". This will entail l year of filming all our orphans in the 3 different locations – the Nairobi Nursery plus the moving of six of the older Nursery group to join Emily’s herd in Voi, as well as the
translocation of 12 of Emily’s group to the newly established Northern Area Ithumba base, where Imenti is now based, big events scheduled to take place in June. When the rescue plane landed in Samburu, the calf had not yet been able to be captured and was still trailing wild herds, of which there were many in the area. Furthermore, another BBC Film crew had been filming the rejection of this orphan by the wild elephants, (something that puzzles us about the Samburu elephants since those of Tsavo seem bent on actually hijacking rather than rejecting calves, as is illustrated by the story of orphan "Irima"! ) Following frantic phone negotiations with the Charter Company, it was agreed that the plane and the Rescue Team could overnight in Samburu as best they could, and now that a Vet was in situ, an attempt would be made to capture the calf during the night. It was feared that were it left overnight, it may not survive the hyaenas.
The actual rescue was dramatic and traumatic. There was much confusion with vehicles and blazing headlamps trying to focus on the target, people rushing hither and thither, and excited elephants dashing about in the dark, with much trumpeting and screaming. A huge bull appeared out of the shadows in response to the distressed bellows of the calf as it was being overpowered and loaded into the back of the truck, which just managed to make a get-away in time. However, the KWS Vet and our team were, apparently, very professional and the sedated calf was spirited away to safety.
The calf was a female, roughly 6 months of age, and still strong. She was incarcerated in a small office overnight, with our three Keepers. She took rehydration salts and milk, and was given Arnica for stress, but it was a far from comfortable night for the Keepers, who were buffeted around and got no sleep at all. They thought the calf had been without a mother for about a week, since the cheekbone beneath the eye was beginning to become prominent through loss of condition.

Those of us back at base likewise spent a restless night, wondering how things were going in far-away Samburu National Reserve. First thing in the morning, the news came that they had the calf, and the plane would be arriving at Wilson Airport in Nairobi at 8.15 a.m. Unsure about the actual size of the new arrival, both a Stockade, and a Stable were prepared, and at 9 a.m. the vehicle carrying the sedated calf drew in. Lying on the rescue tarpaulin she was already coming round, and we decided to put her in Tomboi’s night stable, which is next door to that of Wendi. Traumatised and still "wild", it took two Keepers all their time to try and restrain the baby, who was trying to climb out and break out, but she took more milk and water, and gradually Keeper Julius and Stephen worked their magic. Having consulted our Samburu Keepers, it was decided that the calf be called "Naserian", which is a girl child’s name in Samburu, meaning "the lucky one". After the noon mudbath, the other Nursery elephants came to meet her, extending their trunks through the separating partition of the next door stable. She was overjoyed to see them, and they her. Selengai and Wendi were especially attentive, and following this introduction, little Naserian, who is slightly taller than Sunyei, visibly settled down, and having been given homeopathic remedies for trauma and stress, slept fitfully. Amazingly, by nightfall this totally wild elephant was sucking the fingers of her Keepers, taking milk eagerly from a bottle, and even enjoying the company of her human Attendants, much to the amazement of the film crew. That night she slept soundly, with her little trunk reaching through the separation to touch Wendi next door. And, first thing in the morning, she was out and about with the others, all documented for "Elephant Diaries" – truly the same mini miracle we have witnessed many times before with orphans who have had the input of other elephants! Any bystander would not have been able to tell which elephant was the newcomer who had arrived just a day ago. Napasha was particularly caring of her, comforting her, touching her gently, and making sure that she felt loved. Ndomot didn’t want to share Wendi with the stranger, and tried to block Wendi whenever she tried to get near the new calf. Sunyei took over, and little Naserian was taken into the mini Nursery herd, taking the cue from them, even hurrying to the noon mudbath, where she enjoyed a mudwallow and then joined the others in greeting the visitors.

Tomboi, is the one who had to give up his stable to the newcomer, and join Taita and Olmalo in one of the Rhino Stockade that they share. To begin with, he thought this was a novel idea, but the next night he complained loudly, but will soon settle in.

The arrival of little Naserian brings the number of baby elephants in our Nursery to l0, which makes for a pretty full house. The most we have ever been called upon to accommodate at any one time has been 12!

Naserian promises to be a special elephant and we are glad to be able to offer her another chance of life, and the special care that all 55 of our rescued elephant orphans enjoy, given the same tender loving care by their Keepers that their own elephant family would have given them, until such time as they are comfortable with the wild herds and ready to take their place where they rightly belong, back with their own kind, in a large Protected Park where they will enjoy freedom and the quality of life that is their birthright.