With drought victims, time is of the essence. Dehydration and emaciation take an enormous toll on a young elephant, and if an orphan comes to us too far gone, it is extremely challenging to bring them back from the brink. In a vast wilderness like Tsavo, orphaned elephants could easily be swallowed up by the landscape, left to their lonely fate before they are ever discovered.
Oftentimes, our pilots make the first crucial sighting that ultimately saves a life — for during a drought, aerial patrols take on a whole new dimension.From their vantage point, they are uniquely positioned to spot something amiss in the infinite wilderness that would otherwise be lost forever. Those who are spotted and rescued in time are sadly the lucky few.
Such was the case with Weka. On the morning of the 8th September 2022, our fixed-wing pilot was conducting a routine patrol of the Voi River circuit. Scanning Tsavo East National Park as it unfolded below him, he spotted a small, lone elephant calf who looked to be in a very bad way. Based on her skin-and-bones emaciated appearance, she had been without her herd for some time.
To be absolutely certain that she was indeed an orphan, the pilot proceeded to spend an hour circling over the area. What he saw was heartbreaking: The calf trailed a couple of herds that came to drink, but each time was chased away. Drought is all about survival, and elephants cannot afford to feed an extra milk-dependent baby.
The pilot landed and joined the SWT/KWS Buchuma Anti-Poaching Team and a group of Voi Keepers, who had assembled at the scene. Together, they managed to restrain the calf and drive her to a nearby airstrip, where a caravan and our Nursery Keepers were waiting.
Weka arrived at the Nursery in very poor condition. Despite some collapses in the beginning gentle, nurturing care worked its magic. Very slowly, her cheeks began to fill out and her skeletal appearance softened as her strength increased. She had a good appetite and embraced Nursery life from the outset, which undoubtedly helped her recovery. She is a shy little girl, but she is part of a lovely trio of friends with whom she feels very comfortable. Her friends arrived in the Nursery around the same time she did, so they have lived a parallel journey. Out in the forest, Weka, Muwingu, and Kitich enjoy quietly browsing together, away from the rowdy antics of the bigger elephants.
Weka was named by our Keepers. Her name means ‘lonely’ in the local Kamba language. Weka had a solitary start to life, but now she will never be alone again.