For over a week in early April everyone at DSWT, KWS, Save the Elephants (STE) and their followers, watched an elephant called Cherie fight for her life. Cherie is a female elephant from a family known as the First Ladies in Samburu, Northern Kenya. She had appeared sick with stomach pains before finally collapsing on the 7th April 2014 with her approximately 6 month old calf beside her. KWS veterinary officer, Dr. Bernard Rono, who heads the DSWT funded Meru Mobile veterinary unit, was called to Samburu to inspect her from a safe distance as she was clearly too weak to survive an anesthetic. Dr. Rono could determine no visible injury and could not be certain what her ailment was. It was heartbreaking for all involved to be so close but unable to treat Cherie, instead having to rely on the elephants amazing healing powers and hope for the best.
Cherie was monitored over night with a rescue team ready to retrieve her young calf if the worse should happen. However, on the morning of the 8th April Cherie was found on her feet feeding, with her calf suckling and her family all around her. Everyone’s hopes were briefly lifted but sadly it was not to be. By the afternoon Cherie again lay down on the river bank and seemed to be fading away. Her calf now too seemed to be appearing weaker and more listless, as if he hadn’t been getting enough milk. The team was torn between rescuing the young calf, which would mean euthanizing Cherie, or giving her another chance to make a recovery.
Again Cherie seemed to make a vast improvement over night and on the 9th of April was found feeding on Commiphora bushes which the Samburu people also use for medicine, but poor Cherie collapsed by the afternoon leaving everyone in suspense.
Sadly, on the evening of the 9th of April Cherie laid down for the last time in a dried up watercourse. She passed away leaving her young calf, and everyone who had watched her battle for her life, to mourn her passing.
KWS rangers, Nasuulu community scouts and STE staff stayed overnight to keep watch over her calf. A storm was brewing and the young calf, obviously wanting to seek the comfort of his family, tried to leave his mother’s limp body during the night. The monitoring team attempted to catch him as they were afraid they would lose him and he had no chance of survival on his own and remained vulnerable to predators. However, he was still strong and after two hours of chasing him through Salvadora (Sokotei) bush and skidding around in the mud they had to call it a night. The following morning the team thankfully managed to locate the young elephant again and after a dramatic rescue; dodging several bull elephants and fighting the thick Sokotei bush, the young bull calf, named appropriately Sokotei, was captured.
The DSWT rescue plane touched down in Samburu and efficiently loaded the calf for transport to Nairobi with the help of all those involved in his safe capture. His trip throughout the flight was uneventful but he was immediately placed on dripsto aid dehydration and his stress levels managed for the duration of the flight. He arrived at the Nursery by early afternoon on the 11th April 2014. He was clearly very thirsty; downing two bottles of milk, a bottle of water and a bottle of rehydration! After he had quenched his thirst he started to investigate his surroundings, examining all corners of his new home and even standing up against the walls of his stockade. Sokotei did not behave aggressively towards the keepers or worried onlookers and readily held his trunk out to investigate the people around him. When two keepers entered his stockade, after a few initial mock charges, he decided to accept them and having sucked their fingers eventually lay down, tired and grieving.
It wasn’t long before the other orphans were brought to the stockade; eager to investigate what all the commotion was about. Barsilinga and Kithaka were first to approach the gate and the three young elephants entwined their trunks in greeting. Tundani was next up followed by young Suswa. Barsilinga never left the gate, offering great comfort to Sokotei, though Kithaka, as always the most mischievous, tried to sneak up on Sokotei’s observers and push them over. Sokotei quickly realized the chain and padlock was holding the gate closed, preventing him from joining the other elephants, so he started to try and remove it with his trunk! Finally, it was time for the older orphans to return to the bush and give Sokotei some peace and quiet as he was clearly exhausted from his tragic loss and dramatic rescue. He was visibly lifted having seen the other elephants and started playing with his greens and later lay down to roll and then rest.
In the meantime back in Samburu Dr. Rono had performed an autopsy on Cherie and it was established that she had a twisted gut, and had not been able to defecate for nearly a week. A serious infection had taken hold as a result and internally her gut had begun to rot.
Thankfully, Sokotei’s blood work results revealed nothing ominous. He joined the others out in the forest the very next day and loved their company, although clearly was missing his mother and family. He loved his milk feeds but was suffering from terrible diarrhea which was extremely difficult to halt. His stomach simply could not cope with all the stress and of course this very different milk. We changed his sleeping quarters to be near Barsilinga to help reduce his stress.We treated him with antibiotics to help the stomach and resorted to changing his milk formula.
Thankfully a combination of everything we did seemed to do the trick and after a very precarious two weeks Sokotei’s stomach normalized and he grew stronger and happier with each passing day. He has settled down, still loves his milk bottles and is growing fond of the Keepers. Although initially he was reluctant to return to his stable at night he now knows the routine and runs home in the evening, along with all the others, knowing exactly which stable to put himself into while he settles down for the night. We are confident that Sokotei will be afforded a second chance thanks to the commitment and dedication of all those who have done so much to save this precious little chap.
Hopefully Cherie’s son will grow up to be a strong wild bull and carry her genes into the next generation.