In the early morning of the 9th September 2018 KWS Company Commander of the Taita Ranches, Mr Salim Makomba, received a report from the community regarding a submerged baby elephant located on privately owned land in Mzee Kirema’s dam outside of Tsavo East National Park towards Mackinnon Road.
The community members told how they had watered their livestock late the previous evening and while there was a herd of elephants nearby there was no stricken elephant seen in the dam at that time. The following morning, Sunday 9th September, when returning to the Dam, they had discovered the young elephant floating in the middle of it, so the calf had run into trouble overnight.
There was no knowing how many hours he had struggled for, submerged with only his trunk raised for breath. The conditions surrounding the dam and wading into the dam were extremely treacherous underfoot, which meant the calf, once he had slipped had no ability to right himself, and obviously the herd because of the treacherous conditions could not help.
Sensing the dangers and the desperation of the situation, and given that they were in a community area the herd abandon the calf and were long gone by the time the baby was discovered. KWS Rangers responded and once on site they removed their uniforms and waded in, gently edging the calf to the side of the dam where many hands were able to eventually extract him.
This was difficult going because he was by now totally exhausted and unable to stand so remained recumbent throughout. The KWS Rangers travelled to their camp some few Kilometers away with the calf loaded in the back of the land cruiser and immediately called The DSWT funded Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by KWS Vet Dr. Poghon who arrived on site with Keepers from the DSWT Voi Relocation Unit.
Dr. Poghon and the DSWT Keepers were gravely concerned about the state of the calf and felt that he was definitely a candidate for the intensive care that the DSWT Nursery could give if he was to survive his ordeal. The DSWT helicopter was called upon to ensure no time was wasted and the aerial team immediately flew to site. By this time Dr. Poghon had stabilized the calf by placing him on an IV drip while dowsing his body with water to keep his body temperature cool to clean away the compacted mud, particularly behind his ears in an effort to keep his body temperature cool because by now it was midday and extremely hot.
The DSWT Helicopter and pilot Andy Payne arrived on site with all the equipment required to transport the baby safely directly to Nairobi, that way avoiding any further delays. They worked swiftly to prepare the calf for loading, all the while ensuring the drip remained intact so that he could further benefit from more fluids throughout the duration of the flight.
Once he was loaded, the pilot together with one Keeper wasted no time in getting airborne for the one and a half hour flight to Nairobi. With the calf strapped fast he was unable to move but for his responsive eyes, and a quivering trunk, but Keeper Kingoo was there to comfort him and change the IV drips during the flight.
The beauty of the helicopter is it delivers the calf directly to site, alleviating all the additional stress and hassle of airports and transport, and so it was on this day, with a case where time really was of the essence, the helicopter touched down in Nairobi Park opposite the Trust Nursery headquarters with all the Nursery Keepers fully briefed and waiting ready to hastily unload the baby and get him safely into the comfort of a warm freshly prepared stable.
Once in the stable he was unstrapped and unwrapped, and helped to his feet. Remarkably he stood for the first time since his ordeal, and remained calm despite the strange and new surroundings, so much so that one could sense he understood how much he was being helped and was certainly receptive to it all. He even took a bottle of warm milk and set about feeding on the freshly cut greens hanging in his stable.
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Throughout the night he had the company of a Keeper and fed well on his three hourly milk bottles, while continuing to feast on the freshly cut greens all night without collapsing or lying down again. His eyes needed attention having been submerged in foul water for hours. He was also given a long course of antibiotics due to the risk of pneumonia and ingesting the water into his lungs. We named this gentle bull of approximately 18 month old Dololo, a name from the region from where he was rescued.
Dololo remained incredibly weak and had a good infestation of worms too that needed addressing, and we suspect this was his problem even before he slipped in the water hole as he was in extremely poor condition and riddled in parasites. This we see often in the elephants frequenting the areas heavily inhabited by livestock. As the days passed and we completed the deworming regime he grew in strength and after a week staying close to home he was able to join Luggard and another new calf called Merru out in the Park during the day.
The gentle sedate pace of Luggard and Merru was the perfect introduction for this weak calf, and as he gradually grew in strength he has been able to spend increasingly more time with the older orphans. Reflecting on his ordeal he is incredibly lucky to have been saved in time, and it is so satisfying to see him come alive as his condition improves.