It might seem contradictory for such a magnificent creature, but elephants struggle the most during the dry season.
This is nature’s equilibrium at work: As an apex species, elephants would have few threats to their survival in an ideal world. To balance the scales, nature made them fragile. Elephants have inefficient digestive systems and require great quantities of vegetation to sustain themselves. Scarcity of food has lethal implications, so during drought conditions, they are on a constant quest for life-sustaining browse. It is usually the very young or the very old who fall first, but no elephant is safe from drought.
Such was the case with Choka’s mother. On 8th November 2021, tourists reported a calf standing vigil beside his dead mother. He was located on the Ndara Plains, which was experiencing the worst of Tsavo’s extended dry season. Knowing there wasn’t a minute to spare if we were going to save his life, we hastily assembled a rescue. While the SWT helicopter flew to the scene, a team of Keepers from our Voi Reintegration Unit rushed to the calf’s side.
Our Keepers were met with a heartbreaking sight: Dwarfed by the drought-stricken plains, the skeletal calf was huddled by his fallen mother. We mourn the loss of any elephant, but it is especially heartbreaking to see a young family torn apart. The mother must have hung on for as long as she could, but the dry season had proven too much for her to overcome. Based on the calf’s withered condition, her milk bar had depleted in the days and weeks leading up to her death.
Dusk was falling, so we brought the baby directly to our nearby Voi Unit, where he was tucked into a cosy stable and given much-needed drips and milk. The older orphans were intrigued and delighted to have such a tiny guest spending the night! Bright and early the next morning, we loaded our precious cargo onto the SWT Caravan and flew him to Nairobi.
Only once he was at the Nursery did we appreciate how small Choka was — in fact, he dethroned Kerrio as the smallest member of the herd! As is often the case with starvation victims, worms had taken hold. This can be a death sentence for an infant elephant, so we had to tread carefully. However, Choka helped us by fighting to survive. Despite witnessing the tragedy of his mother’s demise, he still had a fierce will to live. He fed well, drank well, and determinedly forged ahead.
Choka's name means "exhausted” in Swahili. He was rescued at a challenging time, as many elephants succumbed to desperately dry conditions. It feels all the more special that this lion-hearted little calf beat the odds and is so full of life today. Despite the personal loss he suffered, Choka has embraced his new family with gusto and can always be found at the heart of the Nursery herd.