The Rescue of Ashanti

Published on the 30th of August, 2023

Ashanti is a very special orphan. Maimed by a poacher’s snare, she is instantly recognisable within the Voi herd. Her name embodies strength, courage, and resilience. She is yet another victim of the 2022 drought — although poachers added an additional, tragic twist to her circumstances. We are deeply grateful that fate gave this sweet young girl the second chance she deserves.

Ashanti’s rescue story began on 17th October 2022. During a routine patrol on Rukinga Ranch, the SWT/KWS Burra Anti-Poaching Team spotted a young elephant calf stuck in thick, sticky mud. There were no other elephants in the area. This is often the case with calves stuck in mud; their family tries their best to free them, but once it becomes clear that they are hopelessly stuck, they are forced to move on.

At two years old, the calf was far too young to survive on her own in a drought year. The rangers rolled up their sleeves and waded into the mire. They managed to haul her onto firm ground, and then transported her to the Burra base while a rescue was organised. Because she was on the older side and rescued nearby, we brought Ashanti directly to our Voi Reintegration Unit.

Like so many other drought victims, Ashanti arrived in a dire state. However, she had endured a dual tragedy: The end of her trunk was completely severed. Given the clean cut, she had obviously been maimed by a poacher’s snare. While the wound had healed by the time we rescued her, it left Ashanti doubly compromised. The snare had severed the ‘fingers’ at the tip of the trunk, which allow African elephants to dexterously grasp even the smallest blade of grass. She was still milk-dependent and lacked the skills to adequately browse. During a drought year, this would have sealed her fate.

Fortunately, Ashanti got the lifeline she needed. For several weeks, she remained within the stockade compound as she acclimated to her new life. When she made her debut with the orphan herd, Mbegu and the other matriarchs formed a protective circle around her. They were very interested in her short trunk and clustered to investigate it, with great gentleness and concern — it is incredible how elephants immediately pick up on these things.

Ashanti is a calm, shy young girl. She has become friends with Kilulu and Kenderi, while Mbegu — who is such a good ‘mum’ to everyone — always pays her special attention. However, during milk feeds, we see a new side to Ashanti. This is when her mischievous behaviour comes out in full force: She is the first to finish her bottle, and she always tries to demand an extra. She is already very good at browsing, despite her compromised condition. On her first day out with the herd, when little Ashanti dropped to her knees in order to eat grass directly with her mouth, the girls looked shocked.

But these techniques will help Ashanti flourish in Tsavo, when she is grown and living wild. We have seen countless elephants thriving in the wild with cut trunks. Animals are very resilient, and these special elephants simply learn how to live with their impediments.

Ashanti will be no different. Drought years will be difficult for her, but she is already adapting to her compromised trunk. We have every confidence that she will be able to live a completely wild life, in the fullness of time. But for now, Ashanti has a home with us, for as long as she needs it.

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