Published on the 13th of December, 2016
Walking the plains of Tsavo for many years has been a regal old lady, always easily recognised by her distinctive ivory. This year however, the dry season has been long and harsh and with poor April/May rains, it proved too much for this aging female elephant, who was found collapsed with a young calf by her side.
Elephants have six sets of teeth to last them a lifetime, and as the years progress new sets come through, however once they are on their very last set of teeth these get worn over time, and there is nothing like a brutal dry season to amplify this problem. We believe this is what happened to this beautiful matriarch.
A driver from Tsavo Trust first reported the situation to the DSWT funded Mobile Veterinary Unit’s Dr. Poghon, when they found the mother recumbent on the windswept Dika plains, withered and gaunt and in extremely poor body condition, but with no evidence of any wounds or injuries. Her family stood vigil as the DSWT’s Rescue Team together with KWS rangers lifted her to her feet multiple times. Sadly, she was unable to stand and just crumpled to the ground each time. It was clear her life force was ebbing away and it would be necessary to rescue her young milk dependent calf, approximately six months old, who already was undernourished, presumably as a result of her mother’s compromised condition and lack of milk. This old queen of the plains was humanely euthanized to save her the indignation and suffering of being torn apart by predators, whilst her baby was rescued as night approached and was then driven to the Voi stockades where she was placed in one of our taming stockades. She had greens carefully cut for her which she fed on throughout the night, and Keeper Julius slept in the stockade bunk-bed close to her, to keep her company. The presence of an interested army of dependent Voi elephants surrounding her stockade helped settle her as they rumbled in low tones, comforting and reassuring her. She even slept for a while having endured quite the ordeal; how long her mother had been in a collapsed state before being discovered is unknown.
We have called this gorgeous little girl Malkia, which means ‘queen’ in Swahili, in deference to her lost mother, who for sure walked the Tsavo plains even in David Sheldrick’s time, when he was warden of Tsavo some 40 years ago. Considering her impressive ivory, she was lucky to have lived out a long and full life. Now it is our responsibility to look after her precious baby until she too can walk the same plains in the fullness of time as a wild elephant once more. In the meantime, both lifesaving milk and tender care and attention is necessary to save a calf, so a rescue aircraft was immediately dispatched the next morning on the 17th of September with our Nursery Keepers on board, to collect the baby and bring her to the Nursery for the care that we are able to administer here. When the Cessna Caravan aircraft landed on the Voi airstrip our Voi Keepers were already there prepared and ready with the baby, eager to load her quickly so as not to delay. Her screams however attracted a wild herd passing by the airfield at the time and a wild matriarch was insistent on rescuing the distressed baby. So much so that her agitated herd were fast approaching the stationary aircraft on the airstrip. The DSWT driver had to position the Landcruiser vehicle between the wild herd and the loading party so as to prevent a disaster from unfolding. This herd is not her family herd, as she was orphaned many miles away from the Voi airfield.
The baby was prepared for the flight, laid on a mattress, placed on a canvas stretcher so she could be ably lifted into the back of the plane, which had already had the seats removed allowing for ample space for her to lie recumbent throughout the 1 hour flight with a Keeper by her side. She was hydrated with a drip for the duration of the flight and arrived safely at the Nursery by 1.30pm in the afternoon. She immediately fed on milk for the first time since being rescued, which was a relief, but she did look exceptionally tired and was ready to lie down on the soft hay of her stable to sleep.
Malkia has thrived in the Nursery, aided by her forceful nature. She is a very determined and mischievous little girl, whose presence here has certainly been felt. Despite being so young when rescued, and under such sad circumstances, she has settled fast; loving and affectionate to her Keepers from the outset.
Malkia and her little friend Esampu have become extremely greedy and vociferous at meal times, with every feeding time accompanied by noise and barging! Despite being so small they can be extremely disruptive giving the Keepers quite the run around. We are happy to report that Malkia has assimilated into Nursery life seamlessly and appears extremely happy and content amongst the other orphans and her now much loved human family.