The rescue of this yearling calf from the Ijara District of the Tana River proved to be one of the most challenging our team has ever undertaken. The calf, a female, which had a hugely swollen back leg at the knee joint, had been spotted by a Kenya Police Reservist three weeks previously, who reported to the Ndera Conservation and Ishaqbini Conservation Management authorities. For 21 days he had been monitoring the calf with the help of conservancy rangers as they tried to find the mother, dead or alive. Having failed in this it was decided to contact the Community Development Manager of the Northern Rangelands Trust who got in touch with KWS on the 29th October, who then alerted The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that a Rescue was needed.
It was reported that the community were weary of capturing the calf themselves and so the Conservancy vehicle waited at the Masalani airstrip for the Rescue plane and our A Team (Abdi, Adan and Sammy) to arrive, accompanied by Tal Manor who went along to film the rescue. Conservancy Scouts had been diligently watching over the calf to ensure she was not lost, nor came to any harm, as the Pokomo people who cultivate along the Tana River do like their bushmeat. This rescue proved to be one of the most challenging of all time. Due to the torrential rains the previous day and the combination of black cotton soil the vehicle very quickly became hopelessly bogged in the mud. This delayed the rescue so much so that the aircraft and Tal Manor returned to Nairobi when it became clear that there was no way they would get to the calf before nightfall. Our Keepers, determined to rescue the calf, opted to remain behind, and eventually due to a Herculean effort from all concerned they managed to extract themselves late in the evening. After a couple of hours drive they found shelter for the night thanks to Yussuf Aden, the Manager of the Ishaqbini Conservancy.
Early next morning everyone was up at dawn in an effort to complete the rescue. The rescue kit was loaded into the back of a tractor and the journey began at 6:00am. The road to Ndera from Kotile where they spent the night was even more flooded than the one traveled the previous day. The team reached the banks of the Tana River, furtile with an abundance of Mango and banana trees. Here the Keepers met up with eight more Kenya Police Reservists and Abdi our Keeper was able to brief everyone how best to assist with the elephant capture. With the dense vegetation conditions were tough, with only fleeting glimpses of the calf before she was once again lost. The team set off on foot combing the bushes. Eventually she was spotted and our Keepers rushed in to restrain her, she was allot smaller than anticipated. After capture she was prepared for the long journey back to the airstrip which took over 5 hours in the blazing heat, and flooded conditions so many people did so much and worked so hard to ensure this calf was brought to safety.
En route to Masalani airstrip the rescue team were met by Mr. Kiio, the Kenya Wildlife Service Ijara District Warden, and traveled in convoy for the rest of the way to ensure that they did not have a repeat of the previous day.
Eventually after two grueling days the team arrived back at the airstrip. Meanwhile, the Rescue plane from Nairobi returned, bringing with it fresh milk and rehydration plus crates of sodas for those that had helped towards saving this baby. Amazingly, having subsisted on mangoes and wild fruit, she was not life- threateningly malnourished even though she had been without her mother for 3 weeks. She still had strength, but was unable to put weight on the damaged leg which was hugely swollen at the knee joint, with a small puncture on the inside of the joint. Having taken both milk and rehydrant she was airlifted from Masalani Airstrip arriving back at the Nairobi Nursery at 3:30 p.m. where she took yet more milk and water, and was ushered into the Stockade next door to Maxwell. She is an extremely lucky baby, with so many people going to extraordinary lengths in order to help rescue and save her life. A special thanks must be given to all those who have shown such compassion and perseverance, because given the conditions with heavy flooding it would have been easy to give up.
We called the calf Ishaq B after the area and the men that had contributed so much to her survival and eventual rescue. She is a remarkable baby, as despite being encumbered by her swollen back knee, that seems to be improving with each passing day, she is unbelievably tough, surviving one of the most grueling rescues ever, but also 3 weeks without Mum. This is the baffling bit, because a milk dependent calf her age would normally be dead after three weeks without milk. We think it was because she was living off mangos dropped to the ground by the marauding baboons in the area that she lasted as long as she did. They provided her with the company she needed as well, as it was reported to us that she spent time with the baboon troop. The following day she joined the Nursery orphans and was overwhelmed to experience all the attention and an instant elephant family once more. As a result she immersed herself into Nursery life, and in no time began playing in the mudbath with the others. She had had such a long time on her own, mourning the loss of her family, that to be rescued and reunited with elephants came as such a huge relief that she has embraced it from day one. She is extremely pampered with all the other orphans, with the exception of a jealous Kainuk, showering her with love.
A special mention must be made to the Keepers, Abdi, Adan and Sammy, who did so much and worked so hard in order to save Ishaq-B. Their efforts on this rescue were nothing short of heroic.