These are the updates we wish we never had to write. With the deepest sadness and disbelief, we must share the news that we lost Oldepe in the early hours of 7th December. We are still wrapping our heads around this tragic turn of events.
Oldepe’s decline was rapid and wholly unexpected. He graduated from the Nursery to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit late last month, alongside his friends Roho and Neshashi. The move went well and entirely without incident. Oldepe embraced his new home from the outset, joining in all the herd activities and never missing a meal. We were thrilled with his seamless transition to Tsavo life.
As the weekend approached, quite suddenly and without explanation, Oldepe’s health began to decline. He grew very listless and lost his appetite. There was nothing obviously wrong with him, no injuries or telltale symptoms to point us in the right direction. We flew in two veterinarians, Dr Limo of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit and our veterinarian from Nairobi, to attend to Oldepe. They ran full examinations, along with a litany of tests and blood work. Despite this, neither were able to establish a diagnosis.
We were largely wading in the dark as we tried to help our boy. We administered vet-recommended medications to stave off possible infections and tried to bolster his strength with drips and rehydration. However, we were up against a fatal challenge: Despite our team’s very best efforts, Oldepe refused to eat a bite of food or drink a bottle of milk. He simply rejected anything that was not water. It was heartbreaking for the Keepers, who stayed with him day and night, desperately trying to coax him to consume even a morsel.
We explored whether it was possible to insert a feeding tube, but this idea was quashed. It is extremely difficult to place the tube in a standing elephant, and the risk of aspiration pneumonia was too great to warrant such an invasive, traumatising procedure.
In the end, Oldepe succumbed to his unwillingness to eat. Elephants must consume enormous quantities to sustain themselves. After several days without food, he was simply too weak to go on.
This was a tragic, shocking end to a young elephant who we have come to cherish. However, we can take comfort in the fact that Oldepe passed peacefully, supported and surrounded by his Keepers. He knew nothing but love until his very last breath.
We will always remember Oldepe as a stoic young bull who had a surprising mischievous streak. Like so many elephants, he nearly lost his life in the drought that gripped Kenya in 2021-2022. We rescued him last November, after he was found wandering the swamps of Amboseli alone. By the time we got to him, he had clearly been on his own for quite some time. He was extremely weak and seemed relieved to be discovered.
Once he started going out with orphans, Oldepe developed a mischievous habit of playing hide-and-seek with his Keepers. When it was nearing time to go home for the evening, he would suddenly disappear into the bush. Each time the Keepers caught a glimpse of him, he would dash off and secret himself away.
The Keepers quickly realised this was all part of the young bull’s fun, so they decided to try some reverse psychology. Instead of seeking him out, they patiently waited back at the stockades. Just as they predicted, Oldepe eventually emerged from the forest and made a beeline for his bedroom. Although his antics certainly created some stress among the Keepers, it was lovely to see Oldepe enjoying himself after enduring such a fraught, lonely time before his rescue.
It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that Oldepe will never return from this last disappearing act. His end is as frustrating as it is heart-wrenching, because we simply don’t have the answers we so desperately seek. We hope the veterinarians will have a breakthrough, but they are as flummoxed as we are.
However, we can take small comfort in the fact that Oldepe’s final chapter was a happy one. His story nearly ended 13 months ago in the drought-stricken swamps of Amboseli. At least his last year was one of ultimate happiness and contentment, surrounded by the love of a family that every elephant deserves. We like to think that Oldepe is just hiding in the great beyond, with all the other greats who were taken before their time.