The rescue of Larro

Published on the 18th of February, 2019

On the 2nd January 2019 we were asked to help rescue an orphaned baby elephant, observed alone and struggling within the Ripoi area in the Masai Mara.

The little calf was close to a homestead and the community had reported her presence to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who having gone to the scene had ascertained the baby was indeed alone and orphaned before contacting the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

The calf was reported to be small, less than a year old and thus very much milk dependent. She had been observed for two days with no elephant herds sighted in the area. We set about preparing the rescue kit including blankets, rope, tarpaulin and the first aid kit containing the all-important rehydration fluids which can be so essential for a young calf who has obviously gone for a number of days without mother's milk. Two Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Keepers set off for Wilson Airport, where the chartered airplane was waiting, and took off before 3pm, landing in the Masai Mara at Siana airstrip around 3:45pm.

From the closest airstrip to where the baby had been reported was a 30 minute drive, and the Keepers were mindful that because of the late hour time was of the essence. The KWS vehicle that collected them drove straight to the area where the baby was, as she had not yet been captured by the KWS or Olarro Scouts who remained at the scene monitoring the situation.

The Keepers found her in a thicket where the scouts and rangers were still observing her, and they re-established with the KWS rangers, Olarro Scouts and the local community who first reported the elephant, that elephant herds were nowhere in the area. They were told by Masai Community members at the scene that they had observed her for a few days alone, and she looked thin and dehydrated. The Keepers approached the calf holding a blanket to cover her face, and it did not take long to subdue her due to her size and weakened state. We estimated her to be approximately 10 months old.

After capture the little calf was loaded into the land cruiser and driven to the airstrip, where she was hoisted by many helping hands into the plane and the IV fluids inserted into her veins for the duration of the flight back to Wilson Airport. The plane landed at Wilson Airport just before dark at 7pm, then she was driven the short distance to the Nairobi Nursery where she was safely lifted into a freshly prepared quiet stable.

She was placed in the stable next to Enkesha, who was curious of all the activity going on next door to her at such a late hour, but she was most friendly and welcoming to the new little arrival, which provided enormous reassurance to the little calf.

After the calf had settled down into her new surroundings, the Keepers brought her a warm fresh bottle of milk but she only managed to drink half, unused to the taste of the new formula, but at 9pm she took her feed without hesitation. She was given an injection of Vitamin B as well as the other routine prophylactics prescribed to new arrivals.

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After a couple of hours she settled down and she soon fell asleep after her tiring ordeal. She was not strong enough to stand up by herself, so required assistance to be brought to her feet throughout the night in order to continue with her important milk feeds.

We decided to call the little calf Larro, after the area in which she was found. The initial days were precarious given her weakened state so we kept her for five days in the stockade compound, as she grew accustomed to the Keepers, the new surroundings and milk, and grew in strength.

Once we were confident she had the strength to join the others in the herd we allowed her out with them, and she was very well behaved, settling quickly into her new environment, no doubt comforted by the welcoming nature of all the other elephant orphans surrounding her. In her initial few weeks at the Nursery she remained gaunt and weak, so when the other orphans walked off deeper into the forest to browse during the day, she remained back with Luggard as company who she became very friendly with extremely quickly.

On her second day out with the others, she rushed into the mud bath in excitement, however this proved to be rather premature as she was not yet strong enough to handle playing around in the thick mud and soon she exhausted herself and became stuck. The Keepers had to remove their socks and boots, roll up their trousers and wade in to retrieve her. She's become extremely trusting of her Keepers and already adores them, preferring to spend most of her time with them when out in the forest rather than the other elephants.

The reason for Larro being orphaned remains unconfirmed, but she does come from an area that has seen increased human-wildlife conflict in recent months. The SWT/KWS Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit has between August and December 2018 treated 28 separate cases of speared or arrowed elephants in this same area. Most were able to be saved thanks to the swift response taken when these cases were reported.

There was however a female elephant who had been arrowed and in the panic fell down a steep ravine resulting in a broken spine, unable to move she had to be euthanized by the KWS Vet. She was a lactating female obviously still with a dependent calf who was nowhere to be found at the time. This incident happened on the 22 November 2018 and it is certainly possible that Larro was her calf, given that her body condition was consistent with an elephant baby of that age being without mum for many weeks. Possibly she remained with the herd until such time she became too weak to keep up with them.