On the evening of 18th September, 2006 we received news that a cow elephant had died on Ol Pejeta Ranch near Nanyuki, and with her was her milk dependent calf, who was desperately trying to awaken its dead mother.
This female elephant and her calf had joined a resident herd of others in August, and at the time it had not been noticed that, in fact, she was extremely unwell. This rescue alert came too late for us to be able to take action that evening, so Batian Craig, the Manager of Ol Pejeta, assigned a guard to keep an eye on the calf during the night, and ensure that it was not targeted by predators attracted to the body of its dead mother or wander away and be unable to be found the next day.
Apparently, it was heartrending to watch the calf, who was just over a year old, franticly doing everything possible to rouse her dead mother, alone and terrified in the hostile environment of darkness, beside the inert and cold body of a loved one that simply would not respond. Once all the arrangements were in place at the Nairobi end the following morning, and Ol Pejeta received word that the rescue plane was on its way, the calf was captured and taken to the Ol Pejeta Airstrip. The Keepers aboard the plane were armed with all the usual rescue paraphernalia i.e. the rescue tarpaulin, rehydration fluids and milk and an injectible antibiotic to forestall pneumonia and other stress related ailments. As soon as the plane landed, the baby was strapped onto the rescue tarpaulin, its legs and head stapped to avoid any possibility of it being able to struggle whilst airborne. Whereas at first it looked as though a serious ear infection had been the cause of the calf's mothers death, when an autopsy was performed, her condition was far more serious than just this. The entire spinal column was seriously infected as well, so she must have suffered unbelievable agony as septicemia drained away her life force. Obviously this had also affected her lactating capacity as well, because the calf was thin.
What caused such a serious infection is, of course, not known – perhaps some mysterious disease to which elephants occasionally succumb for Batian Craig mentioned his father Ian Craig having seen one other such case on one of the nearby Group ranches years before. We will never know, but it was indeed fortunate that this cow elephant came to the ranch as an outsider, probably knowing that death was inevitable, and her calf would be safer there where elephants and others are welcome and protected – Knowing elephants as we do, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that this was a deliberate move on her part.
The Ranch lies within the foothills of Mount Kenya, whose three highest peaks are named after the famous early Masai Witchdoctor/Chieftains, Batian, Nelion and Lenana. In fact, the Manager of Ol Pejeta is named “Batian” after one of these mountain peaks.. Because of this, and since Ol Pejeta Ranch lies within the shadow of Mount Kenya, we felt it appropriate that our latest little female orphan, who is about 14 months old, be named Lenana.
As usual, at first little Lenana was quite “wild” and aggressive towards the Keepers, but within just a few hours she could not resist hungrily downing her first milk feed offered her by a Keeper, before trying to pin him against the wall! The other eight Nursery elephants were brought in to meet, and comfort her, and that night she slept in what is known as “The Taming Stockade” next door to that occupied by Kora, the biggest boy in the Nursery, who, along with Lualeni (the biggest girl) will soon be traveling to Ithumba to begin his gradual graduation back into the wild system. That night Lenana was exhausted, and slept well, again hungrily downing her three hourly milk ration. She was so anxious to join the others that we allowed her out the following morning, but she was still too afraid of the Keepers to accept her milk out in the bush, and since elephants lose condition frighteningly rapidly, the next day we decided to keep her in the Stockade with two Keepers to work on her and secure her confidence. (Indeed, just that one day without milk had resulted in the skeletal pronounced cheekbones indicative of milk deprivation). After two days in the Stockade with the Keepers, Lenana is now out and about happily embraced by the others.
The photographs of Lenana beside her dead mother are courtesy of Ol Pejeta.