On Tuesday 28th May 2013 a young female elephant calf was sighted by a Kenyan Wildlife Service maintenance team who were erecting a new electric fence within the vicinity of Aruba Dam in Tsavo East National Park. The elephant calf was reported as being clearly alone and desperate and due to the new fence, the baby was trapped and confused. The new fence has only one single gate entry into the fenced off area, which has been designated by the KWS for research purposes, located 2kms from the central Aruba Dam.
The period the calf had been trapped within the fenced area is unknown as is the fate of the calf's mother and herd. It is suspected that the calf and it's mother might have strayed into the new fenced area and the mother somehow lost the calf on exiting the enclosure and was unable to find her way back in to retrieve her baby. Another possibility is that the calf is an ivory-orphan, as eight elephants were brutally poached near Ndara recently.
The calf's presence was reported to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Voi Stockades in Tsavo East on the afternoon of the 28th of May by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The head Keeper of the Voi Stockades contacted the DSWT Nairobi HQ that afternoon to make the arrangements for a rescue plane from Nairobi the following morning as darkness was already setting in.
So the new calf, who has been estimated to be approximately 8 months old, put up a huge fight when the Voi Keepers arrived at the scene at Aruba, escaping their attempts at rescuing her and reacting extremely aggressively to their presence. Yet the Keepers eventually succeeded in capturing her and loaded her into the waiting vehicle to be transported back to the Voi Stockades. On arrival at the Voi Stockades, the calf began to settle down and thankfully drank clearly very dehydrated, as there was no access to water within the fenced area where she was found. Apart from a few bruises and minor abrasions the calf was in good condition.
The presence of the other orphans at the Voi Stockades was a huge comfort to the new arrival who desperately needed love and reassurance. Shimba, who is recovering remarkably from his lion attack injuries was a great help in getting the calf settled down, stretching his trunk through the stockade fence to offer affection and encouragement and reassurance.
In Nairobi on the morning of the 29th the Nairobi team and plane were ready to depart on their mission having been briefed the previous evening. Three of the Nairobi Keepers set off to Nairobi's domestic airport at 9am to catch the rescue plane to Voi in Tsavo East where the Voi Keepers were preparing the calf for her plane journey to Kenya's capital city.
After a smooth flight with clear views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chyulu Hills and the great expanse of Tsavo, the plane landed on Voi's airstrip, which is located only a few kilometres from the Voi Stockades. On arrival at the stockades it was obvious that the orphan was going to be a handful to re-capture as she was still wild and fearful. Those who were still present to keep a careful eye on the new baby included some of Voi's big ex-orphans including Emily, Lolokwe and Icholta.
The entire stockade's workforce and the Nairobi Keepers were all needed to help to get the new arrival restrained and on the ground in order to brace her legs and keep her safe and secure during the flight. With all hands on deck the calf showed huge amounts of strength in managing to evade being taken down, yet after a few minutes she succumbed to the keepers, whilst ex-orphan Emily bellowed and stomped around the stockades concerned about what was happening to her.
The calf was quite a weight and again all hands were needed to lift her into the waiting vehicle and to get her to the airstrip. The transfer went smoothly and within half an hour the calf was being lifted into the plane, strapped securely inside with an IV drip administered to ensure she stayed hydrated during the flight, and a mild sedation to keep her calm.
Saying farewell to all of the Voi staff the Nairobi Keepers climbed into the plane alongside the calf, keeping her reassured and making sure she was as comfortable as possible during the journey. The orphan gave into exhaustion during the flight and fell into a peaceful sleep, awoken when the plane arrived back in Nairobi.
A DSWT vehicle was waiting at the airstrip and the calf was soon on her way to the DSWT Nairobi Nursery in Nairobi National Park. At 2.30pm she had finally reached her final destination and was carried into her stockade. After untying her, the Nairobi Keepers carefully lifted off the blanket covering her face, which was keeping her quiet and calm, and helped her up. Unsteady on her feet she dazedly stood in the shade of her stockade eyeing the humans surrounding her warily yet being too tired to fight them off, she seemed to know she was in a safe place with caring people to look after her. This calf was lucky to have been found alive and well as the area in which she was sighted is a favourite place for the infamous Tsavo lions, also the challenge of lack of water as she couldn't have had any way to access it during the time she spent trapped by the fence.
It took Arruba a good few days to calm down and feed on milk, and once she trusted the Keepers enough to follow them she was let out of the confines of her stockade to join the Nursery orphans. By this time she knew them as they had been brought to her stockade for every feed time in an effort to coax her into drinking the milk formula that she seemed so reluctant to take.
Once out with the others elephant communication worked its magic yet again, and it was as if she knew the ropes from the outset even venturing to the public viewing between 11 -12 with the others, seemingly unperturbed, a far cry from the frightened calf that only a week before was brought to the safety of the Voi stockades.