A passing glance could have easily missed the elephant hiding in the bushes on Ol Malo. She was small and determined to remain camouflaged. And yet she had been there for several days, trying to fend for herself but desperately vulnerable.
This was the peak of the 2022 drought, which held much of Kenya in its grips. Laikipia was hit particularly hard, creating a crisis situation for its resident elephant population. We cannot be certain how this calf came to be orphaned, but the drought certainly played a role.
Elephants are particularly susceptible to drought. As vegetation disappears, they are unable to consume enough to sustain themselves — and lactating mothers, who are feeding for two, struggle the most. If they do not succumb to drought conditions first, many stop producing milk and are forced to leave their babies behind. Drought also creates an uptick in human-wildlife conflict, as competition over dwindling resources intensifies.
Once it became clear that the calf was indeed an orphan, KWS green lit a rescue. On the morning of 15th September, a team of Keepers flew up to Laikipia in the Caravan. Meanwhile, Ol Malo handled logistics on the ground, capturing the calf and driving her to the airstrip. The operation was carefully choreographed, so the plane landed just as its precious cargo arrived.
We called the calf Muridjo, after an area on Ol Malo. Given how instrumental the Ol Malo team was in her rescue, it is a meaningful name that will forever link her to the people who helped save her life.
Like most drought victims, Muridjo was terribly thin and weak when she arrived at the Nursery. In these cases, an orphan’s survival often hinges on their own determination to live. Muridjo was very feisty during her early days, which kept her Keepers on their toes but also made it clear that she was fighting to live. As the weeks passed, she began to grow stronger and calmer.
The Keepers describe Muridjo as a very outgoing elephant. She is one of the smallest orphans at the Nursery, but she does not want to be regarded as a ‘blanket baby'. While Mzinga, Nyambeni, and Shujaa seem to relish their status as the youngsters of the herd, Muridjo is eager to establish herself as a much older elephant. She tends to eschew the company of her peers, preferring instead to link up with the bigger orphans. But really, this plucky young girl is a friend to everyone.