Umani is not typically a destination for new rescues, but these are extraordinary times. Thus, our little Umani herd just got a bit bigger with the arrival of a special, surprise addition. His name is Kapei, after the area where he was rescued.
Kapei’s story began in Rombo, near the south western boundary of Tsavo West National Park. KWS and Big Life raised the alarm of a possible orphaned elephant. He was in poor condition and it was reported he had been alone for a number of days . We will never know how he came to be on his own, but as the drought reaches its peak, we are experiencing more and more drought related fatalities, mostly the young and the old. It is also possible, however, that he lost his mother due to human-wildlife conflict.
Rangers monitored the calf for several days, in the hopes that his herd was still in the area and would return to scoop him up, but he remained pitifully alone. Once all chances of a happy reunion had been dashed, KWS greenlit a rescue on the afternoon of 14th September 2022.
Big Life rangers undertook the actual field rescue. He presented quite a challenge, as he was about two years old. However, they managed to load him onto their vehicle and drive him to the nearby Ziwani airstrip, where our aircraft, a Cessna caravan, was waiting.
Here, we had a quandary. Drought victims are fragile, so we must be very careful to keep the stress of a rescue to a minimum. It was getting late and we would run out of daylight before we could fly him up to the Nairobi Nursery. So, we decided to do something unconventional and raise Kapei at our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit. Although new rescues usually go directly to the Nursery, drought is a time to think outside the box. Umani is not far from Rombo — for an adult elephant it would be a couple of days jaunt away; for our plane, it was a quick flight in the waning daylight — and because he was on the older side, Kapei would fit in well among the herd.
Kapei’s arrival generated enormous interest among the Umani herd — but no one was more excited than the Keepers! Umani is traditionally a destination for older orphans who have graduated from the Nursery, so he was the unit’s very first ‘new rescue.’ Umani was however created with some of our finest and most experienced keepers who were given just an hour’s notice about their new charge, but they rose to the occasion spectacularly. Kapei was welcomed into a large stockade, lined with soft hay and a bed of powdered earth and piles of freshly cut greens. Because of his precarious state, he was instantly placed on a drip, which replenished his fluids and likely kept him alive.
Then something extraordinary happened. Lima Lima, who had been away on safari for three days, suddenly materialised at the stockades. She walked directly over to Kapei’s stockade and demanded that the Keepers let her inside. They acquiesced and she spent a long time with the young calf, sharing his lucerne and communicating with him. Once she was satisfied that he had everything he needed, Lima Lima sauntered back out.
Kapei arrived a drastic drought victim, riddled with worms and dangerously thin and dehydrated. Although he teetered on the verge of collapse for several days, he really helped himself: From the outset, Kapei had a hearty appetite for greens and lucerne pellets, which helped him regain condition quickly. He readily accepted his Keepers and fell in love with his new elephant family.
Kapei has quite literally landed in a nest of mothers. He marches around the Kibwezi Forest as if he has been there his whole life, always surrounded by a cocoon of elephant bodies. Murera, Sonje, and Quanza really argued over who would be his mum, but they seem to have agreed to share custody. It is wonderful to see how happy they are with their new little charge. Even the younger babies are smitten with Kapei. In fact, his biggest fan is Maktao. They started as stockade neighbours, but that didn’t last long: Maktao insisted that they move in together, and now they share a stockade!