The Rescue of Siria

The morning of the 3rd April brought the rescue of an l8 month old male elephant calf from an area close to Governor’s Camp in the Masai Mara

The morning of the 3rd April brought the rescue of an l8 month old male elephant calf from an area close to Governor’s Camp in the Masai Mara.   He was named “Siria”, the name given to the nearby escarpment that provided the stunning location for the famous burial scene in Out of Africa.   The calf was rescued when the decision was made by KWS and the Mara Conservancy to euthanize his poor mother who was suffering from advanced septicemia and had no chance whatsoever of recovery, whose slow decline had been observed over two months.  

The suffering and agony of this unfortunate cow at the hands of humans was shockingly pitiful to behold.   Not only had her trunk been severed by a wire snare, but her left front foreleg had become enormously infected from a spear wound.   With her were her two calves, an older sub adult and the l8 month old still milk dependent baby who has now been named Siria.  Baby elephants cannot survive without mothers milk under two years and a half years old, and the conditions have to be extremely favorable in order for them to survive without milk under 3 years old.   The mother obviously knew that she was dying, for she encouraged her older calf to leave her and join the rest of the herd and took her little calf close to Governor’s Camp, relying on the proximity of humans to deter hyaena and lion attacks on her baby, who was also becoming progressively weaker due to his sick mother’s lack of milk due to her septicemia.  

Our mobile Mara Veterinary Unit had treated the ailing cow twice in the past one and a half months, the first treatment taking place in February 2008 when she was first noticed limping, with a huge infected lower joint wound caused by the spear.   She was immobilized and the wound was seen to have been deep, penetrating the carpal joint, but it was flushed and drained.   Before being revived, the elephant was given long acting antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and vitamin injections, in the hope that she would make a recovery.

One month later in March 2008, her condition had not improved.   The leg had become even more swollen and she was unable to move far from the Swamp.    Moreover, she had lost a great deal of body condition.  Again our Veterinary Unit was called by the authorities to administer a second treatment.  She was darted, the wound flushed out with Hydrogen Peroxide and Iodine, and more antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs given.   An incision was also made on the other side of the foot to allow for further drainage of pus and fluids from the wound. 

Thereafter, she laboriously moved closer to the Lodge compound where she felt her baby would be safer, for by now he too was losing body condition, and becoming progressively weaker, for she was too ill to produce milk for him.   There she could be closely monitored by Mr. Dave Richards, the very ele-friendly Manager of Little Governor’s Camp who kept our Vet Unit informed of the elephant’s deteriorating condition.   By the beginning of April, she was so obviously in intense pain and unable to move.   The other front leg had also become enormously enlarged, and pus was being exuded from the severed trunk.  Clearly the elephant was now in an advanced state of septicemia so the Vet was called again to assess her condition and together with the Conservancy authorities make a decision as to whether or not she should be humanely euthanized, and the calf saved.   This time, it was patently obvious that there was absolutely no chance whatsoever of recovery and the elephant’s suffering was such that the decision was made to end her misery and rescue the calf, who also faced death without access to milk.   The calf was therefore physically captured, which proved easier than anticipated due to his weakened state by just throwing a blanket over his head and restraining him with a few men.   He was then tied and transported to the Rescue Plane which had been sent by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (with the approval of the Conservancy authorities and the Kenya Wildlife Service,) who understood that as a milk dependent baby of l8 months, it, too, had no chance of survival had it been left in situ, and would have either been torn asunder by hyenas, or left to die a lonely and lingering death from milk deprivation.   The vet accompanied the calf on the plane along with the Trust’s Keepers, having administered a tranquilizer to keep Siria calm throughout the flight.

Upon arrival (evening of the 3rd April, 2008),  little “Siria”, although weakened, dehydrated, riddled with stomach parasites and by now showing tell-tale signs of emaciation, still had enough reserves to give us all a run-around during his first night at the Nairobi Nursery.  However, by the next morning he was hoovering up milk from a bucket, and eating as many greens as we could cut for him, but remained reluctant to drink from the bottle.  After two more days in the Stockade with an Attendant Keeper, he was calm enough to handle, and on the 6th April could be let out with the other older Nursery Elephants, having first been de-wormed.  Lenana, Makena and Chyulu were ecstatic, all showering him in love, each one wanting to “possess” him, holding him with their trunks, even rounding him up to return him to the mudbath when he tried to escape having been temporarily spooked by all the visitors, and generally affording him such a warm and loving elephant welcome, that immediately he relaxed and began to feel quite at home with his new elephant and human family.  He seemed to crave their company and comfort having had some lonely months by his sick mother’s side and no interaction with other elephants.  The older orphan elephants have also showed him how to drink his milk from a bottle instead of a bucket.