Sileita’s rescue was of the most tragic variety. Her life began as any elephant’s should, traversing the wilds of Kenya with her mother. A bullet changed all of that. She was found guarding her slain mother, who had been killed by the human hand.
On the afternoon 28th March 2022, KWS veterinarian Dr Mutinda alerted us to an orphan on Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, in Laikipia, whose mother had been shot dead. At just 16 months old, she would not survive long on her own. This part of the country is currently rife with human-wildlife conflict due to an extremely challenging drought. Knowing we didn’t have a moment to spare, we organised a rescue.
After collecting Dr Mutinda from his Lewa headquarters, the chartered Tropic Air helicopter flew down into the low country, just a thirty-minute flight from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. A heartbreaking scene unfolded before them: The beautiful female elephant lifeless, with her small daughter pacing around her. Although young, the calf was full of fight. Her ears were spread wide, ready to fight off anyone who approached.
While young, the calf was just big enough that she could not fit inside a helicopter. Just as we did with Neshashi, a sling rescue was organised. It was a sombre scene as the little girl was airlifted from the parched scrubland, leaving her mother behind. The tragic irony was not lost on anyone: While humans left her an orphan, the same species was capable of moving mountains to save her.
With dusk approaching, the helicopter flew directly to Nanyuki airstrip, where a Cessna Caravan airplane was waiting to transport her for the final leg. They landed in Nairobi at last light and she was promptly whisked off to the Nursery. She was anaesthetised for the helicopter sling operation and groggy for the flight down, so we can only imagine how surreal it was for her: One moment, she was by her dead mother’s side; the next, she was ensconced at the Nursery, surrounded by a herd’s worth of loving elephants.
We called her Sileita, a name chosen from the area she was found.
As we often find with orphans who have witnessed the worst of mankind, Sileita came to us very traumatised. She had a deep aversion to humans and refused any contact so wouldn’t feed from a bottle, eventually only taking milk from a bucket. Day by day, exposed only to gentle nurturing love she began to understand that her Keepers were kind men. Everyone celebrated the first time that she drank a milk bottle from their hands, then accepted a finger to suckle. Slowly, she grew in trust and confidence.
While Sileita has needed time to heal emotionally, she thrived physically from the outset. Her condition was surprisingly good, particularly given that she came out of a drought-stricken area. This is a gift from her mother: Mothers are often short on milk in drought conditions but Sileita must have enjoyed a healthy supply.
Sileita lost her own mother in the worst possible way. While nothing can erase this tragedy, we can offer her the future she deserves. After a period of mourning, Sileita opened her heart to the humans and orphans around her. She is a girls’ girl and loves hanging out with Latika, Kindani, Kinyei, and Olorien. Because she is quite young, she is very cosseted by all the older orphans and can usually be found at the centre of an elephant sandwich. At last this brave little girl has found a family again.