The rescue of Karisa

Published on the 14th of February, 2017

On the 23rd of November we had the heart breaking task of rescuing a baby elephant from Kirisia Forest in Northern Kenya, whose mother had a shattered leg caused by a bullet

On the 23rd of November we had the heart breaking task of rescuing a baby elephant from Kirisia Forest in Northern Kenya, whose mother had a shattered leg caused by a bullet. This was a horrendous case of human-wildlife conflict in which the elephant was completely unable to move as a result of her injuries. During the time she was under observation, she remained immobile, bravely being protected by her two-year-old calf, who remained by her side throughout. 

Our rescue team was dispatched to the closest airstrip, accompanied by KWS Vet Dr Fred Olianga. Once on the ground, a Samburu Trust vehicle and scouts rushed them to the scene where the decision was made to tranquilize the calf and anesthetize the mother.

In a situation such as this there is always the fear that whilst succumbing to the effects of the anesthetic, the mother might fall on her calf, but the team managed to prevent this as she staggered and began to fall. They then managed to capture and restrain the calf whilst Dr. Olianga attended to the recumbent mother. She had a horrendous compound fracture on her leg, with a part of the shattered femur visible through the skin. There were also bullet wounds to her head as well, so it was now very evident that the kindest approach would be to euthanize the mother elephant and rescue the calf. Such decisions and rescues always weigh heavily on all involved, but this was a particularly painful and tragic case. However, all attention now focused on the calf, who had bravely remained by the mother’s side throughout the ordeal, despite the situation having attracted a large crowd of curious community members. The calf was then captured, prepared for travel, and loaded into the Samburu Trust’s landcruiser to be driven to the airfield where the rescue plane waited. His beautiful mother was put out of her misery.

We have named this brave little boy Karisa after the area in which he was rescued (with a different spelling). Initially he was understandably extremely unsettled and aggressive, but thanks to the presence of the other orphans surrounding his stockade at night, he very soon settled, and began feeding well, taking his milk from a hand-held bottle. He then began to suckle on the Keepers’ fingers and as the days passed, became much calmer and happier in his new surroundings. Having experienced so much trauma in his young life, we were all committed to doing our absolute utmost to ensure that he could overcome the heartache of losing his Mum and it was not long before he appeared ready to join the others out from the confines of his stockade. From day one, he relished their company, and was immediately warmly welcomed. Since then Karisa has settled remarkably well, and really appears to be happy again, and settled with many special elephant friends around him, all having lived through trauma of losing their Mums. Thanks also to the dedication of the Keepers and the company of other elephant friends, psychological healing happens over time, and true happiness is again found.

Of course, since Karisa was approximately two years old when rescued, he remembers his wild life well and will certainly never forget his beautiful majestic Mother, but one thing we have learnt by rearing the orphans is that they possess the incredible ability to turn the page and forgive. Such forgiveness is the most humbling part of it all when a calf who has witnessed horrendous cruelty to his mother who had been shot in the leg and the head by humans, and who had ripped him away from her side. Despite this, he has quickly learnt to love the men in green who are his Keepers and new human family and whose gentle nurturing will ensure that he is given a second chance of life, and more than that, a quality of life in wild terms when grown. Karisa’s circumstances were first reported by Julia Francombe, and it is thanks to KWS Vet Fred Olianga, who so swiftly made himself available to be on hand with the DSWT Rescue Team plus special gratitude to the Samburu Trust Scouts and KWS rangers who ensured that this little calf was given the best possible chance of happiness and a wild life again when grown within a Protected Area where he would not be so vulnerable to human wildlife conflict in the future.