In a way, Manda was a Christmas miracle. Rescued in a remote area where he could easily have remained undiscovered, he very nearly didn’t survive to see the new year.
On the afternoon of 15th December 2021, Tsavo Trust rangers spotted an orphaned elephant in the centre of Tsavo West National Park. At the request of the KWS Tsavo West warden, we mobilised a rescue. It was already late and with the clock ticking ever closer to nightfall, we sent our helicopter to the scene. Judging by the photos we had been sent, the calf would just fit inside.
While Taru and Justus, our pilot and Keeper, flew to Tsavo West, our SWT/KWS Ziwani Anti-Poaching Team arrived on scene to monitor the baby. The little elephant remained quite close to the road, which would expedite the rescue mission.
The calf was thin and had clearly been without his mother for some time. However, he was a leggy elephant, large for a year old — which is what we estimated his age to be — and he still had plenty of fight in him. He gave everyone a thorough runaround, until Taru and Justus pulled off a coordinated grapple to restrain him.
From there came the next challenge of transporting him. The team secured the calf onto a mattress for his journey, but the helicopter was still a good 100 metres away. That might not sound far, but it is an eternity to haul a baby elephant through the bush. Weighing upwards of 450 kilos (1,000 lbs), it took all hands on deck to bring him to the aircraft. Because of his large frame, it was a serious squeeze to get him inside. A very cramped, hectic flight to Kaluku ensued. Although the calf was sedated, he was still determined to make his feelings known. Justus kept him as calm as possible while Taru navigated the 40-minute flight back to our Field Headquarters.
Because of the late hour, we didn’t have enough time to bring the calf to our Nairobi Nursery. Given how much the first journey had affected him, we knew it would be too stressful to do it all over again in order to bring him to Nairobi the following day. Instead, we decided to raise him at our Kaluku Neonate Nursery, where he would join Mayan, Vaarti, and Rokka before graduating to one of our three reintegration units when he was old enough.
We named the calf Manda, after a hill not far from where he was rescued in Tsavo West. Although we will never know why he was orphaned, we suspect he was another victim of the dry season that swept the ecosystem at the end of 2021, or possibly a casualty of human-wildlife conflict.
For a long time, Manda remained very shy. Rather than join in Vaarti and Mayan’s boisterous games or Rokka's various capers, he preferred to observe from the sidelines. However, he now indisputably rules the roost! Manda is very tall and very strong — and he knows how to use his size and strength to his advantage. Rokka, his nighttime neighbour, seems to enjoy having such a big sidekick. Vaarti and Mayan, meanwhile, are so easygoing that they happily defer to him as the dominant bull.
Once lost and lonely, our darling Manda has finally found his place among a loving herd.