The Rescue of Hildana

Published on the 15th of January, 2024

Tsavo was badly affected by the drought in 2022. Hildana is one of the ‘Voi kids’, an older orphan who was rescued from the Tsavo ecosystem and brought directly to our Voi Reintegration Unit. On 8th August 2022, a older elephant calf was reported at the water hole on a conservancy not far from Hildana Lodge in the Taita hills. He was on his own and in very poor condition. The calf repeatedly attempted to join passing family herds, but was rebuffed each time.

This scenario was tragically common during the drought: As food sources dwindled, mother elephants struggled to produce enough milk. Eventually, their undernourished calves grew too weak to keep up with their herd. In difficult times, wildlife must be singularly focused on survival. The weakest are left behind, and passing herds cannot afford to take a weak, milk-dependent calf under their wing.

Given it’s close proximity to Voi, a team of our Voi Keepers mobilised to Hildana Lodge having been alerted by KWS of a pending orphan rescue. They monitored the water hole for some time, in order to be absolutely certain that he was indeed an orphan. Time and again, they witnessed him try and fail to join passing herds.

It was clear he was definitely an orphan and, without help, would not survive. Because of the calf’s size, we had to call for backup. Rangers from Mwatate Sisal Estate arrived and the operation could commence.

Despite the orphan being large he was very weak, which made the rescue easier than anticipated. The team managed to load him onto the vehicle and then drove him directly to our Voi Reintegration Unit. Given his older age and proximity to Voi, we decided to bypass the Nursery stage entirely. In honour of his origins, we named the calf Hildana.

Hildana spent several weeks recuperating and taming down in a solo stockade. This is protocol for new rescues, as they can be flighty and need time to acclimate to their new life. His first day out with the Voi herd coincided with the debut of another newcomer, Dabida, who was rescued just a few days after Hildana. Mbegu kept close to both boys — but she had an assistant! Ndotto sidled over and made it clear that he also wanted to look after the little ones. Mbegu kept glancing at the older bull, sending him a signal that he could stay with them, but he must be calm and respectful.

The Voi Keepers describe Hildana as ‘cheeky.’ For the first year after his rescue, he delighted in badgering the other Voi kids for no reason at all. The older Voi orphans helped him learn his manners, and he has settled into a rather charming rogue. His best friends are Akina, a female, and Kilulu, a male — fellow ‘Voi kids’ who arrived just a few weeks after his own rescue.

He may have been rescued on the older side, but Hildana is totally at home among his new human-elephant family. Given that he is remaining in the Tsavo ecosystem, it is entirely possible that he will reunite with his natal herd in the fullness of time. But whatever the future has in store, Hildana will always have a family and a home with us.

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