The rescue of Maktao

Published on the 11th of October, 2017

In the early morning on the 21st of July 2017 reports from a community member were received by the DSWT Ziwani Anti-Poaching team based in Tsavo West National Park alerting them about an elephant calf that had been sighted the previous day alone. That morning he was found again, still alone in hostile territory. Because some of the neighboring communities have suffered at the hands of crop raiding elephants and given the location we suspect human wildlife conflict the reason for this young baby being orphaned.

Peter Wambua, the Ziwani team leader, immediately mobilized his men who were accompanied by KWS rangers and rushed to the scene, mindful that any delay could prove costly for this baby abandoned within not a particularly ‘elephant friendly’ community. They communicated with Dr. Poghon, KWS veterinary officer seconded to DSWT’s Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit, and also communicated to the Tsavo West Senior Warden. The decision was made to save the calf in the absence of any elephant herds within the area.

Once the team had captured the calf and brought him back to the safety of KWS’s Makatao base within the National Park, the need for a rescue was reported to Angela Sheldrick who coordinated the DSWT helicopter to head directly to Makatao from Kaluku, the Trust’s field headquarters. Makatao is on the eastern boundary of Tsavo West National Park and approximately an hour flight from Kaluku where the Trust’s air wing is based.

While the helicopter was made ready, with the back seats removed to make space for the baby, DSWT Helicopter pilot Andy Payne loaded the emergency rescue bag filled with all the paraphernalia required to restrain and carry elephant orphans. DSWT bush pilot Neville Sheldrick arranged to accompany Andy so that he could supervise the calf throughout the flight to Nairobi.

On arrival they found a very thirsty yet perky little elephant, following people, and appearing to be in good condition. His dry crinkled skin indicated he was extremely dehydrated and given his desire to drink copious quantities of water, it was clear he was extremely hungry for milk too. Without the correct milk formula on hand Andy made sure he drank a healthy fill of water before preparing him for the one hour flight to Nairobi.

The baby trailed Andy trustingly down the airstrip before he was wrapped in a blanket and bundled onto his side so that his feet could be securely strapped. With the help from the team he was loaded into the back of the DSWT helicopter and made comfortable with a blanket covering his eyes. Neville arranged to sit beside him for the duration of the flight, ensuring he remained calm and still. Thankfully the noise from the turbine engine together with the gentle motion seemed to lull him to sleep so throughout the flight he remained completely calm.

It was when the helicopter began to descend at the Trust’s Nursery situated within Nairobi National Park that he became rather restless. The crew and baby were met by many able hands in the form of our Nursery Keepers and Angela, all eager to be involved in the door to door delivery of an orphaned calf. They set about gently unloading the precious cargo and then hauled him by hand, cocooned in the canvas stretcher the short distance to a prepared stable.

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Being able to collect the orphan without delay and deliver him right to the door of the Nursery stable in the Trust’s helicopter ensured many hours were saved, and with a calf this young and so dehydrated this proved invaluable and certainly contributed hugely to his quick rebound back to perfect health. Because he was so dehydrated, and while fresh milk was prepared for him, a drip was administered soon after arrival to help replace his lost fluids as we know he had to have been a long time without both milk and water before finally being found and saved.

We named this little baby bull Maktao, the name of the area close to where he was found, only with a slight tweak in the spelling so as not to confuse things with the place name. Right from the outset it was evident that this little baby boy had attitude! He was perky and rambunctious once his strength returned, but to begin with remained restless, obviously searching for his Mum, and this was the case for a number of days before he finally settled. We estimated him to be about three months old on arrival.

Maktao immediately became a permanent member of the baby herd, chaperoned by loyal Luggard who has made the baby group his very own due to his injuries inhibiting him from keeping up with the older group, along with Sattao and Musiara, and these elephants have become his friends and companions and certainly helped him settle.

He also found some surrogate Mummy’s in the form of Mbegu and Godoma who constantly pamper the babies, singling out any new arrival for special treatment. It was no different for Maktao, and for him so recently losing his elephant herd, this was the very balm he needed to heal and grow healthy once more and today, Maktao is all energy and attitude.