On the 16th of October at 5.00pm a very thin young elephant was spotted standing right next to the road near the Voi Headquarters in Tsavo East National Park with a tiny calf in distress at her feet. She was trying to lift the calf up, but his legs would melt away under him as he dissolved back onto the red earth. This scene was noticed by many visitors for many hours and eventually our mobile veterinary unit was called to come and investigate.
By the time the Vet Unit arrived the baby lay completely motionless in the red dust, and the young female was even beginning to bend the branches of a nearby bush over him and dust him with dirt. It was clear that the calf was in a very advanced state of dehydration and every last bit of energy had been sapped from his body. It seemed too to those that observed this extraordinary scene that the young female, whether she was the calf’s mother, maybe without sufficient milk due to her lack of condition, or possibly a young female who happened upon an abandoned calf, was literally asking for help. She seemed totally unperturbed by the vehicles so close by and offered no resistance at all. It was clear too that the calf was dieing and he required immediate attention. When the vet vehicle moved closer she turned away from the calf, and watched motionless from a short distance away while the team carried the baby to the nearby vehicle. Despite this the calf remained motionless in the back of the car, eyes firmly shut, but there were still signs of life, although only just.
This all took place not further than 1/2 kilometers from the Voi Unit stockades in Tsavo East National Park, at 5.00 in the afternoon, and once back at the stockades the calf was laid down on a mattress while the vet examined him. He had obviously been without milk or water for some time, as his skin was totally dehydrated, his eyes sunken and unable to open, and the veins behind his ears almost non existent. The Keepers were able to ensure some rehydration got down him while he lay on the mattress motionless but for the sucking of the teat. It was also observed that this calf despite being so young had very worn pads to his tender young feet suggesting that in his short life he had walked great distances already. He was estimated to be 2 – 3 weeks old.
From 7.00pm onwards life crept back into his tiny fuzzy limp body, his eyes opened and he seemed desperate to suck on anything that he could wrap his dry mouth around. With much assistance he was lifted up, and just managed to stand on trembling legs by about 9.00pm. He took some diluted milk mixture and spent the night in Julius and Abdi’s room, while the two Keepers ensured that he received intensive care throughout the night.. His arrival at the stockades was met with great interest from the other orphans, but particularly Emily and Aitong and Sweet Sally who happened to be visiting at the time, and they remained outside the door where he was for much of the night offering low rumbles for comfort. Desperately weak no one held much hope in him seeing the new dawn.
His desperate state remains a mystery, was the female his mother without sufficient milk, or was she not his mother at all as he had obviously been without milk for many days? What was clear to everyone was that without help this calf was certainly not going to make it. He was called Ndololo after the area where he was found, the Walingulu word for ‘place of water’, ironic as fluids is clearly something that he has lacked in his short life. As dawn broke everyone was deeply relieved to learn that against all odds he still was alive, and spending more time on his feet, nevertheless collapsing regularly. A rescue aircraft was mobilized and he was loaded onto the Cessna 206 and flown to the Nairobi Nursery. He lay motionless throughout the whole flight, but once landed when loaded onto the pick up truck he managed to stand on wobbly legs. He was later carried into a freshly prepared stable where he immediately slept some more. But with continuous rehydration and a weak milk mixture he seems to be getting stronger. He seemed initially only to be able to walk in small circles, and it seems that he does not have the sight in one eye, but he is getting stronger forty eight hours after his rescue.
For Ndololo it is early days with a long road to travel and we hope and pray that he will have the fight in him to survive. For those interested in supporting this tiny calf by fostering him it is important that we make it clear that his success would be a triumph, with odds stacked against him, as starvation victims especially at this age are very difficult cases indeed, and there is obviously another whole chapter that we know little about that would offer explanations as to why he finds himself in this state. We will of course try our level best to ensure that this calf grows up to live a wild life back where he was born, Tsavo. We wonder too about the young female, possibly his mother, who for some extraordinary reason found herself all alone looking after a tiny dieing calf, reaching out for help to all those that watched, offering no resistance at all, as if knowing that the fate of this calf was now beyond her control.