The sudden death of this two year old orphan from Tsavo West on the 11th November, came as a shock to us all, because it happened with no prior warning that anything was remiss with Salaita. Apparently he had been thriving just hours before collapsing. We have always known, from bitter past experience, that a baby elephant can be fine one day, and dead hours later! It has happened many times before, because infant elephants are essentially fragile, but it never fails to come as a very unwelcome shock and surprise.
Salaita was rescued on the 25th September 2010 in Tsavo West National Park where he was found wandering on his own, with no adult elephants anywhere nearby. It is suspected that his mother was probably a poaching victim or a victim of elehant/human conflict outside the boundary of the Park. As an orphan he was flown directly to the Ithumba Stockades in Northern Tsavo East, there to be hand-reared by the Keepers along with another two year old, little “Ithumbah” who was pulled from the mud of the drying Ithumba dam just the day before by the Keepers based at the Ithumba Stockades. Both orphans settled in rapidly, began taking milk, and learnt to trust their human family - their Keepers. They were allowed out of the Stockades for the first time on the 6th October, and slotted into the daily routine like veterans, along with Kilaguni, Sabachi, Meibai and Chaimu enjoying the company and compassion and love of all the Ithumba Ex Orphans, now living wild and free, but who keep in regular touch with the milk and Keeper Dependent Youngsters. All the older elephants lavish a great deal of attention and love on the Youngsters, spending quality time with them as they browse out in the bush, often sharing their noon mudbath with them and introducing them to wild strangers, and even escorting them back to their Night Stockades in the evening.
As soon as we in Nairobi learnt that little Salaita was in a state of collapse, our Mobile Veterinary Unit set out from Voi, the Keepers in the meantime having inserted a life supporting dextrose drip into an ear vein. Sadly the Vet Unit arrived in time only to undertake a post-mortem on his body, because we needed to learn more about what took him out so rapidly. The verdict was bronchial pneumonia – that killer of elephants which is brought on through stress which depresses the animal’s natural immunity. However, it is unusual for pneumonia to strike in a hot environment such as Northern Tsavo. However, the stress of losing his mother and elephant family, plus the terror of being all alone in a hostile environment, then the stress of capture and a plane flight to Ithumba all took a toll on this young bull. As always, one can only say that his end was better than it would otherwise have been had he not been found, and he enjoyed his last few days encompassed by an outpouring of love from both his human surrogate family, and all his orphaned peers. R.I.P. Salaita. You will be sorely missed by the Ithumba Keepers who were so proud of having saved and tamed you, and who were so devastated to so suddenly lose you.