The Rescue of Oldepe

Published on the 18th of January, 2022

As the dry season of 2021 reached its peak, we were called to rescue orphans on a near-daily basis. Oftentimes, these babies were simply found on their own, withering away without love, milk, and protection. Such was the case with Oldepe, who we rescued from the swamps of Amboseli National Park on 10th November.

In early November, Cynthia Moss of Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) received reports of an abandoned calf at the edge of the Ol Tukai Orok palm woodlands. She went to investigate and found a 2.5-year-old bull wandering in a swamp, utterly alone. They waited to see if he would reunite with his family, but tragically, that never happened.

Amboseli is a unique environment, in that its elephant families have been studied, traced, and named by ATE. Oldepe was likely born in 2019, which makes him one of 12 male calves born into the ecosystem that year. (Barnoti, a fellow Amboseli orphan, is another 2019 bull). Given this context, ATE believes that Oldepe is the son of Orna, of the “OB family.” They haven’t been able to census the family recently, but his identity will be revealed in due course. In the meantime, it felt a safe assumption — and a most fitting gesture — to give him an “O” name, forever connecting him to his roots. Oldepe is a favourite haunt of elephants, located to the south of Amboseli National Park.

Our SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Vet Unit was called to the scene, where they confirmed that the calf was indeed an orphan in need of rescuing. While we organised a team from Nairobi, they remained by his side. The swamps of Amboseli are labyrinthine, and if the calf disappeared, he could be lost forever. Ironically, this would not be the first time we worried about Oldepe disappearing.

Oldepe was on the larger side, which can complicate rescues, but the entire operation went smoothly. His condition had deteriorated to the point that he didn’t put up much of a fight — perhaps he was even relieved that help had arrived. By that evening, he was safely ensconced in a Nursery stockade. After spending several weeks regaining his strength within that calm, secure environment, Oldepe was finally ready to join the Nursery herd out in the forest.

And that is when we realised that we had a houdini on our hands! About a week after he starting joining the others, Oldepe developed a naughty penchant for playing hide-and-seek with his Keepers. When it was nearing time to go home for the evening, he would suddenly disappear into the bush. Each time the Keepers caught a glimpse of the calf, he would dash off and hide in the thick bush. The Keepers quickly realised this was all part of the fun, so they decided to try some reverse psychology. Instead of seeking him out, they patiently waited back at the stockades. Just as they predicted, Oldepe eventually emerged from the forest and made a beeline for his bedroom.

Although his new game was quite funny, Oldepe’s antics did cause everyone a lot of stress. The Keepers worried where their charge had gone off to, and the other orphans paced and rumbled until he returned home. Fortunately, it seems that his love of hide-and-seek has now run its course, and Oldepe has remained firmly anchored to the rest of the herd ever since.

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