On the 22nd October Richard Roberts from the Mara Elephant Project contacted us about the plight of a young milk dependent calf, approximately 10 months old, whose mother had been found dead on the plains of the Masai Mara that day. Closer inspection of the dead mother revealed that she had been poached and died from a poisoned spear wound on her cheek. She had been photographed by a visitor happily feeding with her little baby underfoot, both alive and well.
The next day the tragedy unfolded and the same visitor found a very different scenario with the baby confused by her dead mothers side, but in the company of the rest of the herd, trying to come to terms with it all. The little calf was then whisked away by the rest of the herd but not before she had said her painful goodbyes to her lifeless mother. As a milk dependent baby she would have little hope of survival without being rescued as a lactating mother in the herd would never have enough milk to satiate two calves. The tragedy was reported to the Mara Elephant Project and KWS. Everyone realized that her young milk dependent calf had little hope of survival without her Mum and that she needed to be rescued before the herd travelled great distances with her, possibly into Tanzania where the hope of any rescue would be lost forever. The baby without sufficient milk would only get weaker and weaker and eventually be unable to keep up with the herd, and be left behind.
Coordinating together with the DSWT elephant Keeper rescue team who had by now landed at Olare Orok airstrip Richard Roberts of MEP had the unenviable fraught task of separating this baby from the herd before she was spirited away and lost. With careful manoeuvering the calf was separated by vehicle in order to enable the DSWT Keepers to quickly leap from the moving land cruiser and restrain the baby. This took some planning as the matriarch was extremely protective of the young orphaned baby. What had been observed in the meantime was when the orphaned calf tried to suckle her (She had her own calf a little older than the orphaned baby so was lactating) she would push her away, not prepared to share her milk and deprive her own baby. The separation was done extremely effectively by the DSWT, so experienced in restraining elephants, and with so many others from the MEP prepared to jump in and help. The little calf was wrapped and strapped and prepared for her flight to Nairobi, while the rest of the team from the MEP together with the DSWT funded Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by KWS Veterinary Officer Dr. Limo went to do an autopsy on the dead mother to absolutely confirm her cause of death. Her tusks in the meantime had been removed by the authorities.
We named the little girl Roi and she was watched and cared for closely throughout the flight by the DSWT Keepers and given some tranquilizer to take the edge off what had been an extremely traumatic and heartbreaking day for her. She finally arrived at the DSWT Nursery in Nairobi National Park after dark. She was a very robust baby from the outset not having been without mother’s milk for long, and thankfully very soon took to the bottle which made things simpler. She was confined to a stockade for a couple of days but remained aggressive and clearly agitated when the others left her orbit for the day out in the Park. We made the decision to let her out despite her not having tamed down as much as we would ideally like and this made all the difference. She was immediately comfortable and content amidst the older orphans who paid her attention and provided her with the elephant love and affection she craved and missed. She was hooked on her milk bottle so continued to gravitate towards the Keepers for her three hourly feeds.
As the days have passed little Roi has settled in completely and is now extremely attached to her Keepers, familiar with the routine and is playing once more and she appears to be genuinely happy.