The phone call we received on the evening of the 3rd of May, 2021 made our hearts sink: A gravely injured female elephant had been sighted on the Chyulu Hills. Her right hind leg was shattered, likely as a result of falling in the rocky terrain, leaving her unable to walk. She had resorted to shuffling along in a seated position, struggling with every little movement. To further compound an already tragic situation, the female in question was the mother of two calves. One was a young, milk-dependent baby, the other was much older, around seven years of age.
When our SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Veterinary Unit first arrived on the scene, the magnitude of her circumstances unfolded before them: The female and her calves were marooned in a rocky, waterless area on the lava slopes. They had initially been reported in the company of a herd, but the others had clearly moved on in search of water. The female wasn’t capable of making a lengthy trek downhill, so she and her calves remained rooted to the spot. They were in the company of two adult bulls, who had stayed back to watch over the family unit. We often see bulls assume the role of guardian in fraught situations.
After exploring all possible avenues, KWS concluded that euthanasia was the kindest option. They relayed this news to us, and with heavy hearts, we helped coordinate a rescue. As dawn broke the next morning, our most experienced Nursery Keepers boarded a Cessna Caravan aircraft bound for Ol Donyo airstrip, where our helicopter was waiting to take them into the Chyulus. Dr Kariuki and our SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Vet Unit were in position early, monitoring the little family and two adult bulls who were standing vigil.
Fortunately, the bulls and calves were engaged with browsing and had drifted away from the immobile mother. Our helicopter gently coaxed the bulls further into the forest, which allowed our Keepers to move in from the ground and safely complete the rescue. It was a potentially complex mission, but it all happened without a hitch.
The next phase, however, became more complicated. Due to the calf’s not insignificant weight, only one Keeper was able to accompany him in the helicopter. This presented a problem when they landed at Ol Donyo airstrip, where the plane was waiting. It usually takes at least six strong men to carry a baby elephant, but we only had three people onsite: The Keeper who was in the helicopter, our pilot, and the Cessna’s pilot. It took a truly Herculean effort to carefully lift the calf out of the aircraft and onto a waiting stretcher. There was no time to waste once this task was completed, as our pilot then had to fly back up the hill to assist with the veterinary operation. Once Dr Kariuki darted the female from the air, the rest of the Keepers boarded the helicopter and were flown down to the airstrip.
Euthanasia is always a last resort, but in this case, it was the only course of action: The mother was in so much agony that she could no longer stand, let alone travel to water. There was not a dry eye among the group as she closed her eyes for the last time. However, it gave us a measure of comfort to know that she was in a better place, relieved of her pain at last.
While we couldn’t save this beautiful elephant, we could offer a future to the young calf she brought into the world. Her older calf remained in the company of the bulls and would be well taken care of. We felt sure he would be absorbed into the herd who had been seen with them the previous day. While it weighed on us to separate the brothers, that was the best course of action for their individual needs.
All of this unfolded near Esoitpuss, a massive, blue-hued rock where vultures roost. In the local Maa language, “esoit” means rock and “puss” means blue. We named the rescued baby Esoit, forever connecting him to the place of his birth.
It proved to be a fitting name in more ways than one, for Esoit has been a pillar of strength amidst extremely traumatic circumstances. He immediately settled into Nursery life, embracing his Keepers from the outset and adapting to all the new routines without incident. Every elephant is enchanting in their own way, but it must be said that Esoit is an exceptionally cherubic calf. His bright eyes, perfectly round face, and charming personality have won him a devoted coterie of admirers at the Nursery, human and elephant alike. There is one curious feature about Esoit: His right hind knee is markedly calcified and inflexible, indicating an injury he must have sustained when he was very young. However, it doesn’t seem to hold him back in any way and he whizzes around just as adeptly as the other orphans.
Interestingly, Roho has proved to be one of Esoit’s biggest fans. The boys are neighbours, and as we have seen time and again, this immediately cemented their friendship. They spend their days cavorting around the forest together, rolling in the mud or tussling over tree branches. At night, they are in constant communication, entwining trunks through their stockade partitions or helping themselves to each other’s piles of greens. Even shy Naboishu, who is typically known for his roughhousing, singles out Esoit for gentle pushing games.
While nothing can replace his lost mother, Esoit will still grow up knowing the love and support of a family. Already, he is an intrinsic part of our Nursery herd. It is our privilege to raise this remarkable calf and, when he is ready, we will help him reclaim his place in the wild.