The Rescue of Olomunyak

Published on the 26th of May, 2024

From shooting stars to four-leaf clovers, lucky charms come in many forms. At the Nursery, ours is a little elephant named Olomunyak.

In early March, Mara Elephant Project (MEP) and Olare Motorogi Conservancy (OMC) reported an abandoned elephant calf in the Enkuyianai area of the Maasai Mara. His saga likely began the month prior, when several mysterious elephant deaths were reported on the boundary of Mara North and Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Given the timing, we can assume that the calf’s mother was one of the victims.

The calf was found in the company of an adult bull. While his giant friend could offer companionship and protection, he could not provide the years of nurturing care and, crucially, the milk that is essential to an infant elephant’s survival. To be absolutely certain of his situation, MEP and OMC rangers observed him throughout the day, hoping that a passing herd might adopt him.

Sadly, that was not to be. The bull moved off and other elephants paid the calf no heed. Instead, he caught the attention of the famed Enkuyianai pride of lions, who were watching him with great interest. A lone, infant elephant calf is very vulnerable to predators.

It was now abundantly clear that the calf was an orphan. KWS greenlit a rescue, but the window had closed to fly him out that day. Instead, OMC rangers guarded the calf throughout the night, ensuring he remained safe from the resident lions.

The following day — 9th March 2024 — a team of Nursery Keepers flew down to the Mara. Meanwhile, OMC and MEP rangers brought the calf to the nearest airstrip. He was relatively calm as they waited for the rescue plane to arrive.

The rangers suggested we call the calf Olomunyak, which means ‘the lucky one’ in the local Maa dialect. It is a very fitting name: While we will never know for certain how Olomunyak came to be orphaned, we strongly suspect that human-wildlife conflict is the culprit. While Olomunyak suffered the great misfortune of losing his family, he was lucky to escape a tragic fate. He survived many days — perhaps even weeks — fending for himself, which is a miracle for a calf of just one year old. It is also a miracle that the Mara’s famous lions didn’t get to him before help arrived.

Olomunyak reached the Nursery just before bedtime. We put him in the front stable block, beside Taroha and Raha. From the outset, he was very friendly and cooperative with his Keepers. It can go either way with orphans who have been on their own for a spell: Some are deeply traumatised and suspicious, while others are just grateful to find themselves in good hands. Olomunyak falls firmly in the latter category. With time to heal, he has wholeheartedly embraced his new human-elephant family.

Olomunyak has emerged as a great favourite among the Nursery herd. The first time he joined the orphans in the forest, Kerrio did not leave his side for the entire day. Latika, Sileita, Muwingu, and even tomboy Mushuru jostle for nannying rights. His age-mate Talek has become a good friend, but one little girl has stolen Olomunyak’s heart.

We are, of course, referring to Mokogodo. The small bull and the small female have become fast friends, spending most of their days together. This led to some jealousy from Taroha, who has been expanding his social circle but remains fiercely possessive of Mokogodo. Soon, the boys reached an agreement: They can both be Mokogodo’s best friends. The moment their stable doors are opened in the morning, the neighbours race over to her room and plant themselves outside until she emerges.

Olomunyak has one little quirk, in that he loves to sneak back to his room at the most inopportune moments. He will stand nonchalantly next to his Keepers, pretending to be fully focused on browsing. Ever so gradually, he then steps further and further away, before making a final sprint to the compound. This party trick comes out when we least expect it, and the Keepers must always be alert to catch him early in the tiptoeing phase!

For a little calf who spent a long, frightening spell on his own, we can understand why Olomunyak cherishes the security of his room. From this moment forward, he will go through life with a family to support him and will always have a place to call home.

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Olomunyak and all the orphans reliant on us, need specialist care 24 hours a day. You can help provide for their needs, while becoming a part of their future, through an adoption.
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