The 29th April 2009 was both an auspicious day but also a hectic day in the Nairobi Elephant Nursery as we were embroiled in the transfer of 3 older inmates, (namely Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya) to the Tsavo Rehabilitation facility as well as having to coordinate yet another elephant rescue, this time from Mugie Ranch in Laikipia where a cow elephant, well known to the Management of the Ranch over the past l0 years, suddenly succumbed to a longstanding abscess on her flank. This cow, who was lactating when she died on the 16th left a very young milk dependent orphan who was still amongst the herd at the time her body was found. The longstanding huge lump on her flank left her partially paralysed following the birth of an earlier calf, and apparently had affected her in the same way after the birth of her latest baby. No foreign body was found in the tissue of the swelling during a post-mortem examination so what had caused this condition remains unclear.
Her calf was a 6 week old baby monitored amongst the herd since the death of his mother and only definitely identified as the orphan when he became progressively weaker and began falling behind, unable to keep up with the others. However, in order for him to have survived the 2 weeks without milk, he was obviously able to snatch just a little milk from some of the other lactating members of the herd, as there were another three calves his age in the group, but obviously what he was able to take was not enough to sustain life.
This little elephant was captured with the help of a visiting British Army team, undertaking a Remote Adventure Training Expedition in the Laikipia and Samburu districts of Northern Kenya, who happened to be on Mugie Ranch at the time. Captain J.E. Faull (who just happened to be Kenya born) was in charge of the army expedition and in consultation with the Mugie and KWS Game Scouts, decided on a plan of action. Since the weakened calf was still attended by an adult Carer having dropped out of the main herd, it was decided that Capt. Faull drive the army Bedford truck between the calf and the cow, while the ground team rushed in to cover the calf with a blanket, overpower it, and load it onto the back of their Pickup truck. However, the Bedford truck was cumbersome and slow to manoeuvre through the bush and grinding its way through shrubs and felled trees the cow began to move away, trailed by the weakened calf. The ground team, eager to seize this opportunity, rapidly leapt off the back of their Pickup and rushed in to throw a blanket over the calf in order to capture it before the truck was able to manoeuvre into position. The cow elephant swung round threatening to charge, and with just 30 paces separating her from the ground team, things looked very tense. Quick thinking on the part of the Head Mugie Scout saved the day. He stepped forward and fired a warning shot above the head of the angry elephant, and this bought the few precious moments needed for the truck to roar into a protective position between the elephant and the Snatch Squad! Thus, thankfully disaster was averted, and all ended well. The calf was captured and driven to the Mugie Ranch airstrip to await the arrival of the rescue plane, which was only sent once it was confirmed that the calf had been successfully captured.
Since the calf was extremely dehydrated and enfeebled, and was in a state of collapse on the airstrip the rescue team had to wait the two anxious hours it took the aircraft to arrive praying the baby would survive. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team inserted a Dextrose drip into an ear vein during the flight, and upon arrival he received 2 litres more intravenously, becoming visibly stronger as the night progressed. However, he was also scouring badly, so he was treated for this too. A good sign was that he was ravenously hungry, and took both milk and rehydration orally in addition to the drip.
As usual, he was extremely restless during that first night, but had rallied well by the next morning. The best news was that the scour had abated - a hopeful sign. At the suggestion of the Manager of Mugie Ranch he was named Olkeju to identify his origin, the Samburu name for "footprint" and also that of a small stream close to where his mother died and where he was captured. However, his Army Rescuers will always know him as "Johnny Olkeju", Johnny being the name by which British soldiers are known in Northern Kenya.
A day or two later his Army Rescuers came to visit him in the Nursery, delighted that he was still alive, despite being so skeletal and weak. They will be following the life of little Johnny Olkeju closely, for he made that particular Training Expedition in Northern Kenya so memorable and will always have a special place in their hearts.