Three Weeks, Three Elephants Saved From a Dam

Published on the 7th of August, 2022

What do you do when a full-grown elephant becomes stuck in a muddy trap? That was the quandary facing our teams not once, not twice, but three times in the past three weeks.

Like many landscapes in Kenya, the Tsavo Conservation Area is in the grips of drought. Unlike many drought-stricken areas, however, Tsavo still has watering points and fresh vegetation. The bordering Galana and Kulalu Ranches serve as an extension of sorts to the park, offering additional resources for wildlife during these trying times. Elephants’ quest for food takes them deep into these ranchlands.

Given the prevailing drought, many dams on the ranches are beginning to dry up. Faced with a muddy expanse before them, most elephants prudently walk around the edge. However, some intrepid souls take a shortcut directly across the dam.

If we could advise wild elephants, we would tell them to take the long way around: Elephants are particularly vulnerable to drying dams, with their thick, sticky mud and slick floors. If an elephant slips and falls, its head must be in the right position to throw and propel itself to standing. Without that momentum, it thrashes around with little traction, creating a quagmire. Suddenly, an innocent slip turns into a big situation.

First rescue mission

In the past few weeks, a dam on Kulalu Ranch became the scene of three ‘big situations.’ Aware of the perils drying mud presents to elephants, these areas are vigilantly monitored. On the morning of 12th July, ADC scouts reported that an elephant had become stuck in the deeper waters of the dam.

First rescue mission

Our SWT/KWS Dakadima Anti-Poaching Team raced to the elephant’s side. (As we always say, our rangers wear many hats!) With the support of KWS rangers, ADC rangers, and personnel from Kulalu Camp, they secured a rope around him and then used a vehicle to pull him to solid ground. The elephant walked off without a backwards glance — a bit waterlogged, but otherwise unharmed by his ordeal.

Second rescue mission

On 31st July, a different elephant fell foul of the same dam. This time, the SWT/KWS Kapangani Anti-Poaching Team reported to the scene. Five hours and the combined force of two Land Cruisers later, they managed to extract him.

Second rescue mission — free at last!

The elephant had spent the better part of the afternoon stuck in a muddy quagmire, but within two minutes of being pulled onto solid ground, he was back on his feet. The team noted that he was in good health, which is good to see in these challenging times. He strode majestically across the plains, a stark contrast to the helpless, recumbent creature they had been grappling with just minutes before.

Third rescue mission

The third operation unfolded the following day — and this was when something extraordinary unfolded. Again, an elephant was reported stuck in the drying mud. Again, our team reported to the scene, working alongside KWS and ADC rangers. Of the three, this was the most difficult rescue mission. Day turned into night, and still our team continued trying to excavate the elephant. It wasn’t until 10 PM that they finally succeeded.

Third rescue mission — before the wild herd arrived

And that was when the most remarkable thing happened. Just as the team pulled the bull to solid ground, a wild herd arrived. The rangers quickly backed off so the herd could drink in peace. Instead, the elephants gathered around the recumbent bull and helped him to his feet.

This was an incredibly special moment to witness. We always marvel at how cooperative adult elephants are during rescue missions. Even though they are completely wild, they seem to know they are being helped. These operations are hands-on in nature; rangers must dig around the elephant and loop ropes beneath their bodies. Through it all, the bulls remained compliant and never threatened their rescuers.

But still, it felt very fitting that wild elephants took over for the final act of the third operation. With an assist from his friends, the bull got to his feet and disappeared into the darkness. As he continues on his way, we will continue to work behind the scenes, helping Kenya’s giants navigate these challenging times.

Your support makes these life-saving field operations possible. Any contribution you are able to give at this time is deeply appreciated.

Share the article