There is a pipeline that runs from the crystal clear Mzima Springs in Tsavo West National Park providing the main water supply for Mombasa, Kenya’s port city on the Indian Ocean. This pipeline runs through both Tsavo West and East National Parks and then hugs the boundary of the southern end of Tsavo East as it heads closer to the coast. It was on a section of the pipeline outside the boundary of the Park that a tiny calf, approximately a month old, fell down a man hole, in an area that is frequented regularly by the local people in order to collect water themselves and water their livestock, but close enough to the boundary of Tsavo East to attract elephants in the dry season. How devastating it must have been for an elephant herd when their precious calf slipped and disappeared down into the watery depths of this manhole with no hope of the herd ever retrieving her.
The Mombasa Nairobi Railway line runs close to the pipeline along this particular stretch and it was the railway staff while going about their routine line checks who heard cries from the depths of this particular cement pipeline tank. On closer inspection they found a tiny elephant calf almost completely submerged in the muddy water, with only her head and trunk visible. There was no longer any sign of elephant in the area, and how long she had been there they could not be sure. They were mindful of the fact that for the Druma tribe who live in this area elephant is considered a delicacy so this calf would most surely be eaten so a couple of the railway team guarded the calf while others walked to the Kenyan Wildlife Service Buchuma Gate. The Kenyan Wildlife Service immediately alerted The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Burra Antipoaching Team and the Trust’s Voi Unit Keepers who rushed to the scene, approximately an hour away, armed with the appropriate rescue paraphernalia.
Once there the rescue team managed to maneuver a rope under the calf’s front legs and were able to hoist her to the man hole entrance and pull the tiny waterlogged and exhausted calf to safety. Being so young she immediately latched onto our Keepers, following them and trustingly sucking their fingers and drinking both the rehydration liquid and milk that the Keepers offered her. The Voi team are use to our older elephant orphans who are based at the Voi Unit, the youngest of which is Msinga now three years old, so they were enthralled by this trusting miniature calf, but saddened too that once again, due to humans, another baby is orphaned. Despite the manhole having a metal lid it had been removed and never replaced by the community and an elephant calf paid the price, wrenched away from her family in what must have been terrifying circumstances the night before.
The calf was driven to the Voi Unit while we arranged for the rescue plane with three Keepers from the Nursery Unit to fly to the Voi Airstrip. For the couple of hours the calf was at the Voi Orphans stockades while waiting for the plane to arrive she explored the whole compound, the vehicles, the waterhole and willingly followed the Keepers, but eventually collapsed on the grass outside one of the stables and had a much needed sleep. 15 minutes before the expected arrival of the rescue plane the calf was lifted into the back of the Trusts ‘Greens lorry’ and transported the three kilometer journey to the Airstrip. She immediately inspected the Voi aircraft hanger, the aircraft tyres, and introduced herself to the Nairobi Keepers. There was time for her to have a milk feed before being loaded into the plane and strapped down carefully for the 1 ½ hour flight to Nairobi. The Voi Keepers named her Dida, after the Dida Harea plains in the Southern Area of Tsavo East and were understandably reluctant to wave goodbye to their tiny charge. They were however, thankful that she had been given another chance and did not have to suffer a fate of drowning or being eaten by the Druma, thanks to the compassion shown that morning by the railway workers, the Kenya Wildlife Service prompt response and the rescue efforts of our staff.
On arrival at the Trust’s Nairobi nursery Dida was led to the stable next door to another young elephant calf, a male of over a year old, called Shimba. Exhausted she promptly slept again, but this was short lived and as darkness fell nightmares consumed her, no doubt reliving her ordeal from the night before. She became incredibly restless and continually cried out, her cries distressing both Lesanju and Lenana in stables quite a distance from her own. In desperation Dida was put into Shimba’s stable and from that moment on she slept soundly comforted by Shimba’s calm and mellow presence.
The next morning she joined the nursery babies, Lesanju, Lempaute, Shimba, and Sinya, who were all enchanted with her, with the exception of Sinya who seemed jealous of the attention little Dida was attracting. While it is early days yet, little Dida is showing signs of settling in fast, comforted by the presence of the other orphans and of course the Keepers.