The rescue of Kerrio

Published on the 4th of October, 2021

This calf’s story began as gunfire shattered the night air of Kerio Valley. This region is home to about 800 elephants. It is also the scene of long-simmering conflict between the warring Pokot and Marakwet tribes, fuelled by the possession of illegal firearms.

This evening, a fight over livestock theft escalated into a volley of bullets. The sounds sent a nearby herd of elephants stampeding in terror. The next morning, in the early hours of 31st August, tribesmen heard a series of elephant squeals. Investigating the noise, they found an abandoned calf, lying on her side in the grasses. There was more to her condition than met the eye, but that would only be revealed later. They reported her plight to the KWS, who quickly located the baby, still recumbent, and loaded her in the back of a Land Cruiser. Given the volatility of the region, the rangers needed a place to shelter the calf while a rescue was organized. They settled on a school compound, which was the nearest place a helicopter could safely land to fetch her.

This sort of rescue presents enormous challenges. Chesogon is a conflict zone, located in a remote corner of northern Kenya. To undertake the journey by ground was out of the question, so we enlisted the help of Phil Matthews, chartering him and his helicopter. Julius, one of our most experienced Keepers, was also onboard. To add to the turbulent situation, they had to navigate a series of thunderstorms on the flight north.

The helicopter landed in the schoolyard around 3.00pm. Julius stabilised the baby by administering a drip and once that was done, he loaded the calf onboard while Phil refuelled. Little time was wasted as they needed daylight hours to make it all the way back to Nairobi, so they were bound for Nairobi without a moment to spare. Upon arrival at the Nursery, the calf was slid into the bed of a pickup truck, driven to her stable door, and stretchered in. We named her Kerrio, after the Kerio Valley from that region.

Until this moment, Kerrio had been physically supported through each stage of the rescue. Only when the time came for her to stand up in her stable did we see an alarming new dimension to her situation. Kerrio’s hind legs were almost lifeless, wobbling hopelessly when she tried to put weight on them. The Keepers finally helped her to her feet, but it was clear she had no feeling in them. At first, they thought it was just natural numbness from lying down for so long. However, a call to the warden in West Pokot confirmed that she had been rescued in a fully recumbent state, and no one had seen her properly stand, as she seemed unable to, even when she was crowded by curious onlookers.

This added a twist to Kerrio’s story. We can’t be sure if her injury happened before the hostilities in Chesogon or during it: Either she couldn’t keep up with her herd as they escaped the sound of gunfire, or she was trampled in the ensuing panic. Her hind feet were covered in sores and her shoulders appear to be unusually developed, which indicated that this was a condition she had grappled with for some time — but again, we will never know for certain.

Despite her semi-paralysis, Kerrio did very well from the outset. She had a very calm first night and fed well. The next morning, Keepers escorted her on a short stroll around the compound, which she seemed to enjoy, managing to scuff her legs along, but she was surprisingly mobile despite this obvious disability. This was the first of many such walks, and it wasn’t long before Kerrio was ready for longer forays into the forest with the other orphans. Already, her hindquarters are becoming stronger and she can even get up on her own. She can participate in all the usual activities of our Nursery, albeit at a gentler pace. We are hopeful in the fullness of time Kerrio will improve. Kerrio has had an X-ray which did not reveal too much and has been assessed by Vets.

The other orphans have rallied around this cute little girl, who like Luggard is fast stealing hearts. On her first day out, it was incredibly heart-warming to see them surround her, stretching out their trunks to show her that she was now one of them. Our sweet mini matriarch, Larro, is very attentive and always checks in on her. Even Shukuru, who is a bit more reserved with her affections, is smitten with the new rescue. However, no one is more taken with her than Kinyei. She latched onto Kerrio from day one, even offering to forgo her milk feed and mud bath to remain with her new friend. Naleku seems equally enchanted by her, and it seems that a dynamic duo is forming between the two girls.

Kerrio’s story began on a traumatic note, but with such a supportive team of fellow orphans and Keepers by her side, we feel confident about all that her future might hold.

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