With a Nursery heaving at the seams with baby elephants, our hearts sank when we received the call from our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit with news of yet another baby elephant of approximately 7 weeks old needing to be airlifted from the Voi airstrip in Tsavo East National Park to the Nairobi Nursery.
It was before 7.00am on a routine patrol that our Ziwani Antipoaching team, camped in an area in Tsavo West between Kisushu and Ndii, that our team came across a distressed female elephant at a heavily trampled area around a breather tank in the Mzima Springs pipeline. The men kept their distance, and observing through binoculars concluded that her calf must be trapped in the tank. They immediately radioed our Mobile Veterinary Unit based in Voi to come and assist, for as long as she was standing vigil, rescuing her baby was impossible. The area was dense bush, with a single track running parallel to the pipeline, and all antipoaching patrols have to be done on foot. It was hoped that the vet could dart the mother, rescue the calf and reunite them. However, as the sun rose higher into the morning sky the mother grew increasingly agitated. and they watched helpless as she made the decision to move away from the scene melting into the undergrowth, seemingly resigned to the fate of loosing her calf forever. By the time the Veterinary Unit arrived, two and a half hours later, due to the distances and the nature of the bush track, any sign of the elephants had disappeared.
They rescued the calf, pulling her out with ropes, and hoped that her bellows would attract the attention of her mother and the herd bringing them back close to the scene. But despite hanging around in the area for some time, and driving up and down the track scanning the thick comiphora woodland, there was no sign of any elephants remaining in the area. This is a very remote corner of Tsavo West National Park, with no tourist routes in the area, and no road networks. Any hope of a happy ending to this rescue faded fast, with the sun beating down, and the midday heat reaching dramatic temperatures, a battered and bruised baby in their care, the team was left with little option but to rescue the calf. Leaving it there in the hope that her mother would return to retrieve her was contemplated, but with the dense bush cover she would be lost to our team immediately she penetrated it, and more than likely would make a meal for predators. At only seven weeks old she was also desperate for milk, having been without for so long.
She has terrible wounds that will more than likely turn into suppurating sores as was the case with Sinya, and has one eye too that looks milky, probably damaged while she was trapped and struggling in the pipeline breather tank.
The good thing is she has taken to her Keepers, her milk bottle and the other young orphans in the baby group and has settled into Nursery life fast, and we hope it will not be too long before she has made a full recovery from the nightmare ordeal she lived through. Given that the pipeline from Mzima Springs runs through over 200 km of Tsavo National Park , the odds of little Ndii, as we have called her, being found was extremely slim. It is fateful indeed that night our antipoaching team was camped close by and in a position to rescue her, but we cannot help reflect on her mother's loss, and how desperate she must have felt unable to do anything about the situation, and having to walk away from her baby.