The rescue of Bongo

On the night of 17th September 2013, at 10.30pm, our Meru Mobile Veterinary Unit arrived together with a Kenya Wildlife Service vehicle and rangers with a rescued elephant.

On the 17th of September at 10.30pm at night our Meru Mobile Veterinary Unit arrived together with a Kenya Wildlife Service vehicle and rangers with a rescued elephant. This elephant has huge, approximately between 4 – 5 years old, and had been observed for nearly a month on community lands in Kimunye in Kirinyaga County – The community had constantly reported sightings of this elephant, all alone without a herd, but deep in community lands on the slopes of Mount Kenya in recent weeks .

 A number of rescue attempts had been made by KWS in that time, but the calf would disappear deep into the forest and proved impossible to catch. Things became desperate when the community threatened to kill the elephant if KWS did not remove it from the cultivated lands, and so the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Meru Veterinary Unit with Dr. Bernard Rono, a seconded KWS Veterinary Officer was called to the scene. After a lengthy wait they managed to dart the calf and load him onto the back of the KWS landcruiser and travel with the calf in the back at night all the way to the Nairobi Nursery. This is a journey that took them close on four hours at night. It had been an extremely challenging rescue, particularly given the location and the size of the elephant. The unexpected nighttime arrival of yet another elephant, this time big, had everybody scratching their heads as the calf had by now been revived, so off loading him was challenging to say the least. 

Between the Keepers, the KWS Ranger, and Robert Carr-Hartley a plan was made. While the rescued elephant lay recumbent in the back of the vehicle he was injected with antibiotics and also a tranquilizer to take the edge off his stress and aggression. Then with team work and enormous effort he was offloaded from the landcruiser and onto the canvas stretcher placed on the ground just behind the vehicle. He was then lifted by as many as 15 men and carried into the stockade. His restraining straps were removed and everybody fled for their lives scrambling out of the stockade before he could get to his feet. Between the anesthetic, the journey and the tranquilizer he was slow to get to his feet, and required assistance. Three of the Trust’s elephant Keepers were brave enough to climb back into the stockade and gave him a helping hand. . He got to his feet and immediately started to feed on the greens placed in his stockade, and took water from the bucket placed strategically next to his stockade door.  For the rest of the night we let the Nursery orphans perform their magic communicating with him and calming him down, and did not stress him further with constant human presence.

The following day was challenging as this was a large elephant, much larger than we are use to rescuing – with tusks about five inches long, although one had been broken. His rescue was not because he was unable to survive without milk, but because he would have been slaughtered had he remained there – Dr. Rono felt that his chances at a new life and family were best placed through the Nursery and the Rehabilitation Program in Tsavo rather that being transported directly to the Aberdares and released there in a new environment and with no family and friends. By now he was extremely aggressive, but feeding well, and getting through incredible amounts of vegetation that constantly had to be replenished. We have given the name Bongo – synonymous with Mount Kenya, and a very African name. As the days past Bongo learnt about milk, although old enough not to need milk, but certainly still with an appetite for it. He began taking the milk from a bucket very early on, and very soon understood the milk bottle and quickly tamed down enough to take his milk from a Keeper in a bottle. His stay in the stockades has been a lengthy one, as Bongo is the largest we have ever had in the Nursery. We need to tame him down sufficiently so that he can be safely transported to one of our two Relocation Units in Tsavo.