In North Western Laikipia, on the shoulder of the rift looking over Lake Baringo lies a 100 thousand acre ranch called Ol Ari Nyiro. The North Western boundary is home to the Pokot tribe, an unusual mixture of pastoralist, cultivator and hunter gatherer. It was close to this North Western Boundary at 7.30 am on the 20th of September the Kukwa patrol group on Ol Ari Nyiro heard the squeals of a baby elephant below their base near Kudu Dam. On closer inspection they discovered a tiny calf, confused, alone and abandoned with no elephants to be seen any where in the area. The baby, desperate for company, followed them back to their camp, and from there the rangers contacted Sean Outram who works on the ranch and told him about their tiny little orphan. Sean drove to the camp and collected the calf, and loaded her in the back of his vehicle, contacted the Trust in Nairobi, and headed to the closest airstrip to wait for the rescue aircraft. While they waited for the plane additional Ol Ari Nyiro teams were sent out looking for any signs of the mother, dead or alive, and for signs of elephant herds in the area, but so far have found nothing. The elephant populations in this area migrate up north east as far as Samburu National Reserve, the Mathews Range and the Ndoto Mountain range, and South East towards Rumuruti forest, and the Aberdare Mountains, although this corridor is being steadily closed off by settlement.
It is difficult to know whether she is a victim of human wildlife conflict, or whether she is a victim of Pokot poaching. They are a brave, brutal, tough and bush savvy people, and they hunt elephant unlike any other tribe. They use the tactic of surprise; either squatting under a bush camouflaged by branches or lying on the ground covered, and then at the opportune moment leap up with spear in hand spearing vital organs. This surprise tactic causes the wounded elephant to flee and from there they run the elephant down, all the while spearing at the back of the feet and legs trying to hamstring the animal.
Both Mishak and Benson, two of our keepers armed with rehydration and milk, made the one hour rescue flight over the Aberdare mountain range and across the Laikipa plains to the bush Airstrip of Ol Ari Nyiro Ranch in a small Cessna 206. They were surprised to be met by one of the smallest elephants they had ever laid eyes on but despite being so tiny, closer inspection revealed her umbilical cord had totally healed, and already she had four teeth, two on either side, and the pads of her feet seemed to be well sealed suggesting that despite being so small she must be at least seven weeks old. We named her Makena, after the hills close to where she was found. Makena also means ‘Happy’ in Kikuyu.
After taking some rehydration her front legs and back legs were carefully tied and she was loaded into the small plane and flown directly to Wilson Airport in Nairobi. The moment she stepped onto the airfield apron she lay down and rolled around on the loose gravel, enchanting all those that looked on with absolute amazement and she seemed oblivious to the busy airport around her. Later she followed Benson past the aero planes, the fuel bowsers and the gawking onlookers to the aircraft hanger where a land rover waited to transport her the short distance between Wilson Airport to the Trust’s Nursery in Nairobi National Park. No one could believe this tiny fuzzy bundle of mischief, who soon took over the Nursery compound. After a drink of water and a splash and spill from the bucket she flopped down wiggling away in the small muddy patch which had formed as a result of the spilt water. One by one all the Keepers came to view this cheeky little newcomer who was happy to follow everyone and anyone.
It was clear that she was ready for walking, and used to walking great distances, so from 3 pm until 5 pm she was on the move, very reluctant to be in the confines of her stable. Eventually, as night fell and the temperatures began to drop she had to be forced into the warm stable next door to Narripi, but was clearly unhappy to be confined, climbing up the wooden walls with her two front feet, and crying most of the night. It became evident that her mother’s memory was still fresh in her mind, and that the constant desire to walk was infact a desperate search for her mother. Narripi was disturbed too as a result of Makena’s restless night, and so the next morning both the Keepers and Narripi looked rather worse for wear.
Naserian and the older orphans were brought to Makena the next morning in an effort to comfort her, and both Lualeni and Naserian were quite overwhelmed by the little new comer, wanting to whisk her away with them immediately, but her search for Mum continued. Despite the company of Narripi, she continues to walk and walk, never wanting to rest and is still obviously very distressed. We are hopeful that this will slowly subside in the coming days, and that she will begin to feed better, and rest, as the memories of her recent trauma slowly fade. Obviously we are faced with the usual challenges with one so young.