Published on the 23rd of May, 2016
We were never really certain that this little chap would make it. When rescued he was just 48 hours old, his umbilical cord still attached and the hind side of his ears, petal pink. He cut a pathetic figure as he emerged from the manyatta where he had been cared for so diligently by Samburu tribesmen in the distant Ndoto mountain range in an area known as Suruan. Regrettably, yet well–meaningly, the tribal family whose livestock tiny Ndotto had become mixed up in after his birth, saw how hungry the little baby was, and mixed him some maize-meal local porridge called ‘uji’, which contained fat and cow’s milk as well. We at the Trust know from experience that cow’s milk is death to an elephant always resulting in fatal diarrhoea, so Ndotto’s beginning was especially fraught and which is why he is our little “miracle”. This part of Samburu land is truly isolated and remote, so it is only thanks to the diligent efforts of the caring community who walked many miles in order to report Ndotto’s presence that he survived at all.
He was rescued during the early morning on Thursday 7th August 2014 by helicopter, that being the only mode of transport that could reach his remote location. Thereafter, delayed by poor weather conditions, the helicopter only arrived back at the Nursery at 10am, sending clouds of dust into the air as it landed near the mud bath area. As soon as the engine had been stilled, the doors were opened and the Nursery Keepers set eyes on a little red bundle for the first time which weighed no more than 40kgs.
Carrying the calf easily in their outstretched arms across the mud bath area, he was covered in blankets and laid down in one of the warm stables, one of the tiniest elephants ever to come into our care. It was assumed that such a tiny calf must surely have been born premature. He was immediately fed a fresh mixture of the usual milk formula suitable for an elephant, which he hungrily accepted, as everyone marvelled at the perfection of this miniature little creature; tiny feet with perfect nails, soft little ears flapping to keep cool and fuzzy hair all over his pink and soft newborn skin. However, already there was a glint in his eyes, since this little elephant obviously had no recollection of his mother, accepting immediately of anyone and everyone.
We decided then to call the newcomer “Ndotto”, after the mountain range from whence he came, which in Swahili means ‘to dream’. As a newborn Ndotto’s survival was challenging and fraught from the beginning. It took three and a half months before he began to cut his first molars confirming that he had been born premature by a couple of months. But from those precarious first few months when survival hung in the balance, Ndotto has certainly made up in character for what he initially lacked in size! Now he is 21 months old and one of the most playful, fun-loving orphans we have ever had. Beloved by all the other Nursery Orphans, he plays and romps with anyone – even the older boisterous boys Enkikwe and Olsekki who are prone to bullying others give him the time of day, and he is a firm favourite with our mini-matriarch, Mbegu.
He and his best friend Lasayen spend hours entertaining each other, as well as the visiting public who come to see the orphans during our 11-12 noon open visiting hour, the two posing with trunks high in the air, as they push each other around, roll on the ground and even try to climb, something they both enjoy. We have never had a baby elephant with such a passion for climbing, whether it be a tree stump, a water trough, a fellow orphan trying to dust bath or a Keeper trying to eat his lunch! The Keepers sometimes call him ‘tortoise’ – because of his small size and his now rotund belly. His passion for climbing might perhaps be as a result of his small size and a desire to appear bigger!
In that respect Ndotto’s time will come for in only 10 years or so he too will stand about 8 ft tall amidst the ranks of our Ex Orphans roaming free in Tsavo, having made the transition to a wild life. From a beginning that was so precarious, we look forward to the day when we can see Ndotto walking amongst the giant Baobabs and Comiphora/Acacia thickets of pristine Tsavo – a dream truly then come true.