The Rescue of Sholumai

Published on the 15th of September, 2023

“There’s a very slim chance — she’s still breathing lightly with a pulse.” Responding to reports of a collapsed elephant calf in Laikipia, the vet’s prognosis left little room for optimism. But over the years, we have learned that any sliver of hope is worth pursuing, so we organised a rescue.

On 5th April 2023, we were alerted of an unresponsive calf. She had fallen in a drought stricken area that is frequented by people and livestock. Elephants must constantly be on the move in this challenging environment, and when she collapsed, her herd was forced to leave her behind.

Dr Poghon of the SWT/KWS Mount Kenya Mobile Vet Unit reported to the scene. At first glance, she looked dead. But closer investigation revealed the faintest pulse, the slightest puff of breath. Running out of daylight, we chartered a rescue flight from nearby. We knew she wouldn’t survive the night without intense medical intervention — but truth be told, we feared she wouldn’t even make the journey down to Nairobi.

For about five hours after her arrival at the Nairobi Nursery, the calf remained completely comatose. When calves are unresponsive for this long, it’s a worrying sign that usually concludes with an unhappy ending. But still, we plied her with drips, hoping for a miracle. In the dead of night, after hours laying unresponsive in her stockade, we saw a flicker of the eyelid, followed by a twitch of the trunk. To our utter astonishment, the calf had returned to the land of the living. We named her Sholumai, an area with caves close to where she was found.

Sholumai recuperating in her stockade

Despite her miraculous resurrection, Sholumai’s challenges weren’t over yet. Although she got to her feet, she proceeded to collapse several times over the following days. But Sholumai is a fighter. She helped herself by feeding voraciously, tucking into her greens and taking water with rehydration. Despite being on the older side, close to two years old, Sholumai never threw her weight around. She seemed to recognise that we had saved her life. As is typical of older rescues, she remained shy, but she quietly accepted her Keepers from the very beginning.

After several weeks recovering in her stockade, Sholumai was finally ready to join the Nursery herd. In their typical inclusive fashion, the other orphans treated her to a warm welcome, clustering around the big girl with lots of trunk touching as they shepherded her into the forest. Before long, Sholumai was pestering the Keepers for extra milk bottles and sneaking off into the park with her new friends. She is truly becoming one of the gang!

The fact that Sholumai is alive today is truly a miracle. We rescued a calf who was as good as dead; today, this beautiful, gentle female has her whole life ahead of her. Sholumai is a reminder that we must always pursue the smallest glimpse of promise, no matter how great the odds may be — because miracles do happen!

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