The rescue of Sagateisa

Published on the 11th of April, 2022

By all accounts, Sagateisa shouldn’t be alive today. Many would not have survived the ordeal she endured — but then again, she is no ordinary elephant.

We received the call on the afternoon of 24th November 2021, as Tsavo was in the grips of a brutal dry season. Taita Sanctuary scouts had spotted yet another victim of the unsparing conditions, an infant elephant whose reason for being alone remains a mystery, but calves are often the first to fall by the wayside in drought years, growing too weak to keep up with the herd as they search for browse to sustain them.

Our SWT/KWS Ziwani Anti-Poaching team monitored the Sagateisa area in the Taita ranches, where they found a desperately thin elephant. To make matters worse, she had been attacked by an opportunistic predator, most likely a hyena, which had mauled her rear end.

By now, the hour was getting late and we were fighting the light. However, we knew that another night alone would surely seal this little elephant’s fate. Together with KWS we moved heaven and earth to organise a rescue, while our Voi team helped bring the calf to the nearest airstrip. Our Cessna Caravan scooped her up and we flew her directly to Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, where our Nairobi Keepers were waiting. They whisked her off to the Nursery, all-too-aware that we had a fight on our hands to keep this elephant alive.

Over the years, we have learned to cling onto every sliver of hope. However, looking at Sagateisa, it was difficult to feel anything but despair. She was desperately ravaged by the drought, jutting bones encased in parchment skin. Her wounds from the hyena attack were festering with the threat of infection, and she was riddled with worms. Even her ears began to droop forward listlessly. (When an elephant’s body condition is very poor, the ear cartilage collapses.) Banking on her survival seemed like a hope too far.

Sagateisa dipped close to death on many occasions, but she came back from the brink each time. We quickly realised that this was an elephant with an incredible will to live. Her injuries must have caused her great discomfort, but she stoically faced the pain and cooperated with the Keepers’ treatments. She took to her milk bottle right away, supplementing her diet with nutritious greens that were placed in her stable. A few good days expanded to a few weeks, and slowly, she regained her strength.

There is a poignant twist to Sagateisa’s story. She arrived amidst a deluge of orphan rescues, when the Nursery was nearly at capacity. We resurrected a very special bedroom for Sagateisa: the double stable that was once home to Luggard, our beloved lionheart. No one had lived there since his departure, but given its sheltered, sequestered location and extra spacious interior, we felt it was a perfect place for our new girl. Luggard was another elephant who came to us with the odds stacked against him. Although his journey was tragically cut short, he had a fierce will to live and was one of the bravest elephants we have ever met. It is a similar fierce spirit that has helped pull Sagateisa through her own saga against all odds.

Now that her strength is returning, Sagateisa is savouring the good things in life. She loves to be at the front of the group and is always the first to charge into the mud wallow. This is a telling barometer of her recovery; elephants who are feeling vulnerable avoid rambunctious situations, rather than dive into them. Angela [Sheldrick] notes that she is one to watch, because she exhibits all the qualities that make for an excellent leader. Today, Sagateisa is a little force of nature — but in the fullness of time, perhaps she will be the matriarch of her own wild-living herd.

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