Zongoloni’s heartbreaking story has made grown men cry. This unfolded on Sunday 22nd September.
We first heard about the plight of her mother when we were contacted about an injured female with her calf, within the bush lands of the Taita Sisal Estate. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit was immediately deployed to treat the mother and in order to do so her young calf was also anesthetized. A victim of poaching, a bullet wound had penetrated deep and shattered bone on the right front leg of her mother. Dr. Poghon cleaned the wound and treated her with painkillers, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs, but with a bullet possibly still embedded within the bone and bone fragments evident the prognosis for a successful recovery was guarded. Everybody there hoped that this story would end happily.
A week later the injured mother and calf were again sighted on the Conservancy within the estate. It was noted that her shoulder remained very swollen but it appeared that she could put more weight on the leg. Fortunately her condition did not appear to have deteriorated, it seemed at this point that the outcome would be ultimately positive.
Very tragically after a week passed the collapsed mother and her calf were located by patrolling scouts on Mgeno ranch. She had obviously collapsed a couple of days before as evidence of her desperate struggle to get back to her feet was evident all around where she lay. She was in a distressed condition from the injury, but also because the pair had clearly been without water or food for some time. Her young calf remained by her side at all times, chasing off any intruders, extremely protective of her mother, but her condition was deteriorating too without milk or water. Those that first located the collapsed mother with her dependent young calf waiting helplessly by her side, observed her drinking her dying mother’s urine she was so desperate for fluids. Under the scorching sun, this heartbreaking scene played out, the agony of a single bullet wound and the pain and suffering it wrought as the weeks past.
It was at this point that Angela Sheldrick was contacted by Kevin Carr-Hartley and his wife Jen from the Taita Sisal estate after they had alerted KWS and the mobile veterinary team. It was clear that the baby was in desperate need of rescuing if she was to live, and sadly her beautiful mother needed to be euthanized and put out of her misery. When the DSWT/KWS Anti-Poaching team from Voi arrived on the scene what they witnessed was so heartbreaking that some were moved to tears. Watching on as this young milk dependent calf stood bravely protecting her dying mother, frightened and confused, robbed of her family.
The DSWT Nairobi rescue team were by this time on their way. This was one of two rescues our teams were undertaking on this day, as another calf was being rescued from Amboseli National Park. When the DSWT Keepers landed at the Taita Estate airfield they were immediately taken to Mgeno Ranch. The calf was captured by the team, tranquilized and prepared for the journey back to Nairobi, and her mother was then euthanized.
During the 1 ½ hour flight the dehydrated calf was placed on a life saving drip. The team arrived after night fall back at the Nairobi Nursery, and she was off loaded and placed into her stockade next to Vuria with Faraja with Jasiri on the other side. The company of the other elephants was comforting for her and she even took some milk from a bottle clearly still calm from the effects of the tranquilizer. She was named Zongoloni, the Taita name for a hill located close to where she was rescued.
Zongoloni is approximately 18 months old and was extremely aggressive once the tranquilizer had worn off, and any chance of her taking milk was doubtful, but thankfully she began to feed well on the browse brought into her stockades. Every day during her stay in the stockades the others would be fed around her enclosure so as to give her a sense of new friends, their routines and to show that the Keepers were friendly. Having experienced what she had, Zongoloni was extremely difficult to tame down. It was 12 days before she was tame and comfortable enough taking milk from a bottle, and to join the other Nursery orphans out in Nairobi National Park.
When she was finally let out of her stockade to roam free in the forest with the other elephant orphans and their keepers, we were still concerned that she may run away. Zongoloni remained aggressive, but had by this time become extremely attached to the milk bottle. She amazed us all when she was let out for the first time, as she settled immediately, and fell into the routine of the Nursery orphans seamlessly. The other Nursery orphans were not initially as accepting of her as we had hoped, but as each day passed Zongoloni became more comfortable with her new elephant friends, and them with her.