Doldol is our miniature miracle. She is the smallest orphan to ever come into our care — claiming a title previously held by Kithaka and then Ndotto — and, truth be told, she hasn’t grown much since then! Beneath this diminutive frame is an enchanting personality and a mighty determination.
Her story began in Dol Dol, a town on the edge of the northern frontier of the Laikipia Plateau, an area that stretches from the snow-capped slopes of Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley. On the evening of 22nd November 2021, a tiny calf was discovered in the heart of community land. Her mother must have been disturbed during birth and then took off into the night, leaving her abandoned calf behind.
This part of Kenya gets freezing cold at night, buffeted by gusts of alpine air that swoop down from Mount Kenya. It is a challenging environment for any creature, let alone a calf just hours out of the womb. Luckily, Doldol had a guardian angel. A kind man from the community took custody of her for the night, keeping her warm and protected in his boma.
He got a report to KWS, who alerted Angela Sheldrick that same night. Our SWT/KWS Mount Kenya Mobile Vet Unit headed to the scene, arriving in the early hours of the morning. A helicopter scooped up the baby and flew her to the nearest airstrip, where our Caravan was waiting with two Keepers onboard.
Our Keepers and pilot have rescued dozens and dozens of orphaned elephants between them, but they were shocked by the tiny bundle before them. The calf was impossibly small, even for a newborn, barely hitting knee height. She had clearly not yet had her mother’s colostrum, which is so important to kickstart a baby’s immune system. As the team carefully bundled her into the plane, they wondered if she would even survive the flight down to our Kaluku Neonate Nursery.
Typically, a team of Keepers care for new rescues. However, a calf so small warranted extraordinary measures. Neonates need a parent, a figure to look up to and love. The continuity of a single carer also ensures a level of hyper vigilance; this person knows all the nuances of their little charge and can immediately clock even the most subtle changes, which is vital during such a precarious stage.
We selected Mishak, one of our most experienced Keepers, to be on Doldol duty. Mishak has a gift; he has raised some of our most tricky orphan cases and is the unanimous favourite of any elephant he meets. In fact, his popularity sometimes causes a problem, as the orphans fight over who gets time with their beloved Mishak!
Because Doldol had not yet had her mother’s colostrum, she was in a very compromised state. We decided to put her in the stable block by Angela and Robert’s Tsavo house, which had been unused since Bondeni, Kindani, and Kinyei graduated.
Swaddled in her blanket, Doldol made this quiet corner of Kaluku her little kingdom. She spent the cool mornings walking on the sandy beaches of the Athi River, observed only by the resident hippos, their small, round eyes poking just above the water’s edge. As the sun rose high in the sky, she would head down to the mud bath. Too small to properly wallow, she flopped down in the mud while Mishak coated her body from head to toe. After a long nap in the shade, Doldol would spend the afternoon exploring the green lawns of Angela and Robert’s home.
Although this protective creche initially didn’t include any fellow orphans, Doldol spent her days surrounded by an eclectic assortment of critters: mongoose peeking through the bush, hornbills hopping around the branches overhead, a posse of dik-diks following from a distance. News of Doldol even spread to Lugut, an orphaned Verreaux's eagle-owl. He started making unexpected sojourns at midday, swooping down to sit in her mud bath and observe the impossibly small elephant — who, truth be told, wasn’t much larger than himself!
For a long time, Doldol was raised as an ‘only child’ — and she really embraced the role. She loved Mishak with her whole heart and became his little shadow, never letting him out of her sight. Initially, this even extended into the nighttime hours: After putting her to bed, Mishak tried to retire to the bunk bed perched above her stable. However, with a series of irate trumpets, Doldol made it clear that she wouldn’t accept him sleeping anywhere but by her side, so Mishak was forced to drag his bedroll down to ground level! (Fortunately, Doldol grew out of this after a few months.)
Doldol thrived through her infancy, but each day is precarious for a neonate. Mishak recognised that nothing could disrupt her fragile equilibrium, and despite our entreaties that he enjoy a well-earned break, he refused to take leave for a full eight months — so committed was he to her success. He was helped by a gifted new recruit named Peter, who became Doldol’s second parent.
Doldol’s world expanded significantly in July 2022, when another neonate entered the fold. This was a most unwelcome development for our ‘only child,’ who had grown very used to being the centre of her universe. Doldol greeted her new ‘sibling’ with unveiled disgruntlement, all suspicious glances and cold shoulders. She spent several weeks stomping around in protest.
Mishak and Peter did a wonderful job navigating this period. Once Doldol realised that the new girl wouldn’t replace her, she began to thaw. Soon, she had wholeheartedly thrown herself into the role of big sister.
Doldol may be a big sister in name, but everything about her remains very little. If elephants could come in dwarf form, Doldol would certainly qualify. She remains the smallest elephant we have ever seen. In fact, she is the same size as her ‘little sister,’ despite being a full seven months her senior! Only time will tell if a growth spurt will kick in, but for now, Doldol is our miniature elephant.
Around Kaluku, we call Doldol our little beetle. It is a fitting nickname in every sense: She is tiny, with adorable, protuberant eyes and perfectly round ears that are constantly flapping like wings. Even her demeanour is like an insect; she buzzes around with great purpose, always busy and investigating.
It is rare to be part of an elephant’s journey from the very, very beginning. Abandoned minutes out of the womb, Doldol defied the odds simply by surviving. Now, this miniature miracle has her whole life ahead of her.