Latika is another orphan of the dry season, but with a cruel twist: she is also a snare victim. Surviving this particular dry season has been a challenge for all elephants, but this little elephant’s struggle was compounded by the wire snare cinched around her neck.
It all began at Salt Lick Lodge in Tsavo East National Park. Elephants frequently converge to drink at the waterhole outside the lodge, especially during the dry season. The evening of 10th October 2021 was no different, with a steady stream of wild visitors passing through. Looking out at the elephants, however, lodge staff saw something amiss with one of the smallest guests. A young calf, no more than 18 months old, had a wire snare encircling her neck. They continued to monitor the calf who appeared to be without a mother or herd and despite the comings and goings of elephant herds she remained back, seemingly belonging to none of them.
They raised the alarm, and first thing in the morning, we mobilised a treatment. While our pilot flew the helicopter to Voi and collected KWS veterinarian Dr Poghon, our SWT/KWS Ziwani Anti-Poaching Team headed to the scene.
They arrived to find the calf following a herd, but very much on the periphery. The snare had clearly taken a toll on her, as she was in poor condition and struggling to keep up. While the herd showed polite interest, they didn’t seem terribly invested in her. Always, but especially during challenging, drought-stricken times, elephants cannot afford to look after milk-dependent calves who are not their own. All signs indicated that this little elephant was an orphan.
Dr Poghon darted the calf from SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit’s vehicle. Meanwhile, our pilot used the helicopter to steer away the nearby elephants, so treatment could commence. While the snare could have proved fatal, it hadn’t yet cut too deep. Dr Poghon was able to remove it with relatively little issue, before tending to the painful wound encircling her neck. With treatment completed, Dr Poghon revived the calf.
At this point, we suspected the calf was an orphan — but we weren’t yet absolutely certain. The team decided to monitor her, in case there was any hope of reuniting her with her family. Once she was back on her feet, they shepherded her back towards the herd she had been following. She linked up with them, but they remained quite standoffish.
Our Ziwani Anti-Poaching Team left the scene only to return a good five hours later to find the herd had moved on and she was left behind. At this point It was abundantly clear that she was an orphan. The little elephant cut a lonely, vulnerable figure on the open plains, where lions and other predators are plentiful.
The calf was small and very weak, so our Ziwani rangers, with instructions from KWS, were able to capture her unassisted. They secured her in the back of their team vehicle and drove her to the nearest airstrip, where our Cessna Caravan picked her up in the late afternoon and flew her to Nairobi, where she arrived at our Nursery well after dark.
We named her Latika, after the area near where she was rescued. We will never know exactly what happened to Latika. Perhaps she was rooted to the snare, and only after her family was forced to leave her behind was she able to break free. More likely, she was already weak because of the dry season, and the snare compounded her compromised state and left her unable to keep up with her herd, which due to the drought was forced to move in search of food.
Despite her traumatic beginnings, Latika settled into Nursery life slowly but surely. We continue to struggle to help her regain condition, but day by day, the signs are there that she is beginning to improve. The Keepers report that Latika is quite selective about the company she keeps, although she has formed a little cohort with some of the other new rescues. She also doesn’t like change. When she was moved from a taming stockade to a stable, she protested until we put her back into her original bedroom!
One thing is certain: This young elephant is a fighter. While her fraught beginnings are behind her, we suspect Latika will grow into a force to be reckoned with.