The rescue of a baby elephant on the 4th August 2009 was one of the more dramatic that has ever been undertaken. The 4 month old calf must surely rank as both the luckiest and unluckiest of elephant babies – lucky to have been found intact in the very remote and hostile region around South Turkana Reserve and unluckiest to have been born into a an area inhabited by wild and warring pastoral people of the Pokot and Turkana tribes who are constantly in conflict over the sparse resources centered around land and livestock, and have been so since time immemorial. Theirs is a forgotten Wild West frontier in Kenya where wildlife lives in a perpetual war zone, made that much worse by the fact that in this remote area almost every male tribesman now carries not a spear, or bows and arrows, but an AK47 machine gun, and uses it with impunity.
The Trust received the rescue alert from the Kenya Wildlife Service during the evening of the 3rd August, too late to initiate a rescue that day. The rescue team therefore left at 7am the following morning (4th August) and after a 2 hour plane journey landed at the Turkwel Airstrip, near the Nasalot and South Turkana National Reserves, at 9:30am where they had to await the arrival of the calf. Gunshots were heard going off in the distance while the team waited, so this delay on the ground was nerve wracking to say the least.
Even more nerve wracking was the rescue of the calf. The Deputy Warden of the Nasalot and South Turkana National Reserves Mr. Nduati James organized a very high risk and brave rescue of the little elephant, who had been spotted alone near the Wei Wei River and was heading into an extremely high conflict zone. A protected team of Rangers, escorted by armed paramilitary personnel of both the General Service Units and Police set off to retrieve the calf as it approached the Juluk area where they risked attack by armed bandits who had blocked all roads leading into the area. It took the team all morning to clear the roads of obstructions in order to get a vehicle to the calf. Unfortunately wildlife is caught in the middle of a very serious and ongoing tribal conflict for in order to access water and feeding grounds the animals have to cross the Kerio valley corridor to enter Nasalot Game Reserve from Romoi Game Reserve, where they are caught in the crossfire of the warring Pokot and Turkana people.
Elephants especially are a prime target – their tusks used as barter for guns, sold to unscrupulous middlemen of the infamous Ivory trade, their meat used to feed the rebels and others living in this impoverished region, where life on the edge is exacerbated by severe drought. It is, in fact, a miracle that any elephant still manage to exist in this conflict zone.
We named our latest little living miracle Turkwel. She is the third elephant orphan we have from the area. “Nasalot” of Yatta’s Ithumba unit being one and Ajok who came to us in 1990 the other. She is a very gently and loving little elephant who has been embraced by all at the Trust, both her little elephant peers as well as the humans.