The Rescue of Maisha

Published on the 27th of November, 2017

It was touch and go whether orphaned elephant Maisha would make it after she collapsed of starvation in Tsavo East National Park last month. However, the DSWT/KWS Tsavo Veterinary Team refused to give up on her and she was airlifted to our Nairobi Nursery alive, but barely.

On the 5th of September 2017 from the top of Irima Hill in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya Wildlife Service rangers watched a young abandoned elephant calf stagger to water and then collapse soon after having her fill. They quickly called the DSWT funded Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit with KWS Vet Dr. Poghon, together with some of the DSWT Voi elephant Keepers, who immediately rushed to the scene.

There they found a young calf of approximately 10 months old, limp and lifeless lying in the unforgiving sun, surrounded by parched earth and little else. Tsavo’s southern sector is witnessing a terrible drought with the herds that chose to remain behind and not travel to other areas of the Park struggling, and this really indicates how pivotal the decisions of a matriarch can be, as much of Tsavo and Tsavo West remains with abundant food, but south of the Galana River, particularly south of the Voi River, it is bleak because the rains in this area of the Park all but failed in April and May. The toll has been heavy with approximately 150 elephants dying from this drought.

It was swift action that saved this little baby’s life, but for a good 12 hours she lay lifeless despite the IV fluids and all the emergency support she was given. While in the field Dr. Poghon attended to her before carefully placing her on a canvas stretcher and transporting her the 40 minute drive to the Voi stockades where she continued to receive care in the shade of a stockade enclosure while the team waited for the rescue plane to arrive. We wasted no time in arranging things from the Nairobi end, sending a team down to Wilson airport in Nairobi to catch the charter flight the moment we were first alerted of her situation. The flight takes 1 ½ hours and in cases like this every minute counts.

By the time the team arrived her condition had not changed, and a limp body was loaded onto the plane, with only the soft breath from her trunk indicating any sign of life. The IV fluids continued to be infused into her body throughout the flight and then the journey from Nairobi’s Wilson airport to Nairobi National Park.

By the time she was placed on the soft hay of her prepared stable at the Trust’s Nairobi Nursery her core temperature was ice cold, with her blood pressure extremely low. We tried to raise her to her feet but she was simply too weak. Her trunk lay limp, curled and lifeless and while Angela rubbed her body to help blood circulation under the piled blankets her eyes were open, and it was in that instant that all present could sense her desire to live. The time was around 2.30pm and for the rest of the afternoon we continued to hydrate her, and medicate her in a last ditch attempt to energize and kick start her ravaged body.

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No one gave up hope and continued to work tirelessly throughout the night, and finally the team was rewarded when at midnight she was helped to her feet and this time, she had the strength to hold her own body weight and she stood for the first time. More importantly, she had the strength to suckle and took her first bottle of milk.

She did not have the strength yet to use her trunk to feed on greens, nor the strength to chew. When the Keepers fed her soft juicy green leaves by hand she could only suck them feebly. Amazingly, she never lay down again, and by morning appeared stronger so we were able to usher her to the confines of a stockade bathed in gentle morning sun with Emoli, another drought victim from southern Tsavo, next door for comfort.

We named this little girl Maisha, the Swahili word for ‘life’, which given her epic battle and miraculous recovery seemed very fitting. Emoli and Maisha grew stronger together, and they gave each other the will to live, and fight, so that each day this little duet of boy and girl appeared stronger and stronger, until eventually they could walk down for their own private dust bath sessions at the mudbath.

While enjoying these sessions free from the rambunctious others, Luggard and Musiara along with Sattao instead would come to join them and impart further comfort and reassurance. And so it was that these two babies, Emoli and Maisha, became firmly joined at the hip, best friends, who with baby steps recovered from their ordeal literally both rescued from the jaws of death.

Emoli and Maisha are two little miracles, and saving them makes us very proud indeed, as theirs is a friendship that will be unwavering for a lifetime now. The 2017 drought has been heartbreaking; because feeding and sustaining hundreds of elephants through months of drought is simply not possible many have died, not as fortunate as these two who were happily saved in time.