During aerial patrols of the Tsavo ecosystem, it’s not unusual to see small groups of elephants traversing the open plains, however, while on a routine flight over Taita Ranch on the morning of 5th September, Wildlife Works pilot Keith Hellyer spotted something that made him pause: a young, milk-dependent calf walking in the company of five adult bulls.
With the nearest herd of elephants a long way away, and none of its lactating females appeared to be without their own calf. Given the circumstances, KWS management requested the calf be rescued. As soon as the authorities notified us about the situation, we put a plan in place. While we assembled a team from our Voi Reintegration Unit, which was the nearest stockade, our pilot flew to the scene to take high resolution photos of the calf. After the photos confirmed her young age and the fact that she was indeed solely in the company of bulls, we mobilized a rescue.
We knew that the calf’s chaperones, five wild bulls, would be a significant obstacle to contend with. For everyone’s safety, our helicopter gently shepherded the group to the nearest road, where our rescue team was waiting to intercept. The calf cooperated and peeled off from the bulls and headed right towards the Keepers. The rest of the rescue was fairly straightforward; the bulls ambled onwards making no attempt to intervene while we swaddled the calf in blankets and prepared her for transport.
We decided to bypass the Nursery stage and instead raise her at our Voi Reintegration Unit not terribly far from where she was rescued. This decision clearly suited her; although she was visibly stressed by the day’s events, she immediately tucked into the freshly cut greens waiting for her in the freshly prepared stockade. The layout at Voi is such that her 'taming' stockade is situated within a larger stockade where Mbegu and her little herd sleep, so she was soon ensconced in the comforting presence of elephants once more and responded instantly.
Mbegu, unsurprisingly, quickly lay claim over the calf. She faces fierce competition as the older girls at Voi go crazy over younger babies and they were ecstatic to find a new arrival in their midst. Everyone enjoys coddling her, although Mbegu is quite strict with who is granted that privilege! Already, she is right in the thick of things, browsing in the bush and splashing at the mud bath, sandwiched in between the many loving members of her new family.
We rescued the calf from an area dominated by an imposing rock face called Pika Pika, so that name felt apt. Although it’s unclear why Pika Pika was orphaned, we might guess at the reason. This year offered up another challenging dry season for wildlife, causing many elephants to leave the boundaries of Tsavo National Park in search of food. As a result, human-wildlife conflict surged in the area, leaving many calves abandoned in the process. It is not unusual for orphans, seeking protection from Tsavo’s notorious lions and hyenas, to latch onto bulls — but they sadly cannot provide the sustenance so vital for a milk-dependent calf’s survival, and the baby invariably gets left behind. We’re thrilled that we could spare Pika Pika from this fate and provide her with the care she needs until she’s ready to return to a wild life in Tsavo.