Kelelari's Story

An elephant of approximately four years old was orphaned on the plains of the Masai Mara, but it was thought and hoped that he would be old enough to survive without his mother and assimilate back into his family herd and continue life in the wild. His story was to be different however, as he lived an isolated life on his own from that point on. Lodge owners in the Mara and their guests watched this little lonely elephant for months hoping that one day he would be scooped up, but it never seemed to happen.

Kelelari's Story

His size was a complicating factor, as he was a big elephant, bigger than what we can rescue normally by plane, and logistically it would be a challenge. With that in mind the months passed, and in that time he would remain close to the properties and people for protection, painfully aware of his vulnerability without the protection of his herd, in an area with plenty of predators. When you know elephants whose whole life and social structure revolves around the demonstrative nurturing touch of family, living a lonely and isolated life out on the plains of the Masai Mara must have been a very frightening existence for one so young. Soon he became a target for lions, and he survived three separate lion attacks, two times saved by a herd of buffalo who he chose to hang out with for company, who stampeded when the lions attacked, causing the lions to think again. His most recent attack left his behind chewed up and him without a tail, with significant wounds from claws and teeth in his back. For everybody who had to witness his struggle, it was time to move mountains in order to save him, as he was orphaned unnaturally in the first place, with his mother killed at the hands of humans.

It was at this point that Angela Sheldrick from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was contacted and asked if a plan could be made to save him and bring him into the DSWT fold of orphaned elephants. Photographs were shared and it was clear that he was too big for a Cessna Caravan aircraft and due to the severity of his wounds and poor body condition not in great condition to consider a long stressful journey in the back of a lorry to Nairobi. Angela made contact with the owner of de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo, a short takeoff and landing utility aircraft with extraordinary take off distances, shorter than many light aircraft. Thankfully everyone involved from Dac Aviation and Mr. Noor, the owner of the aircraft, were swept along by a desire to do all they could to help. Mobilizing this particular aircraft is no small undertaking and finally the crew and DSWT rescue team of Keepers left for the Mara at around mid day Friday the 25th of November. The owner of the plane and the CEO of Dac Aviation came on the rescue too, moved by the idea of being able to participate in something so novel and noble.
The Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit funded by DSWT, and headed by KWS Vet Mr. Limo were on the ground monitoring the calf, and the moment the timing was right began the capture of the calf, sedating him by darting him with a tranquilizer and then restraining him before tying and loading him onto the back of a tractor trailer borrowed from a nearby lodge. Man power was required and masses of people were on hand to help from the property Mahali Mzuri. Loading the elephant onto the tractor trailer required a herculean effort, which had to be repeated to load him onto the by now waiting Buffalo aircraft which had landed on a bush strip in the middle of the Mara. With a storm brewing and sweeping across the plains he was moved into the aircraft and strapped and secured for the flight, with the DSWT Keepers watching closely over him, comforting him throughout the journey home.
The flight back to Nairobi passed huge thunderous storms which were brewing on the rift valley edge, but in just thirty five minutes they arrived safely at Wilson Airport in Nairobi. This is when it became even more challenging harnessing enough helping hands to off load an elephant weighing a ton and some, onto the awaiting vehicle. DSWT had been sure to send more Keepers to assist and thankfully again many people were on hand and offered to help too.

Finally when they arrived at the Nursery he was off loaded again, requiring all hands on deck once more and placed in a stockade. Before he was unstrapped he was medicated further and his wounds dressed. Finally he was unstrapped and he rose to his feet confused by his ordeal, but still calm from the tranquilizing drug. He began to feed from the outset and once the other orphans arrived to their night stockades he settled down further, communicating with all those around him.

As the weeks passed we were cautious with this large calf, giving him time to recover from his wounds and settle within the confines of his stockade before letting him out to join the Nursery orphans, mindful that given his size he might well be a handful to control. Our concerns were misguided, as when he was finally allowed to join the other Nursery orphans out in the forest, at first reluctant to leave his stockade, he eventually joined them for a 3.00pm mud bath which he absolutely loved, and returned in the evening back to his stockade at bedtime seemingly familiar with the routine with no fuss whatsoever and has never looked back. Now totally healed, he has turned into such a gentle and loving boy, with absolutely no pushing and barging behavior evident, and despite being the biggest in the Nursery fold at the moment he has been no problem at all. He has grown to love his Nursery elephant family, his Keepers, the visitors and absolutely understands events defining his life, embracing his new home and the second chance he has been afforded. It feels deeply satisfying to have been able to help this elephant, especially knowing him intimately as we do now, as he is such a gentle, appreciative and courageous individual who has rewarded us enormously with his affection and obvious gratitude. It feels good to be able to offer this wonderful little bull, dealt such a cruel blow so early in life, a second chance; a chance to grow up with friends all of whom have suffered a similar fate, and know that one’s efforts have ensured that he can at least have a fair chance at living out a full and happy wild life in the fullness of time. A huge thanks goes out to all those who have helped save this life, who so generously offered their help, and worked so hard to make it a reality. This little bull would surely be dead by now had mountains not been moved; we have aptly called him Kelelari which means 'loner' in Maa.

Adopt Kelelari for yourself or as a gift.

Adopt Kelelari for yourself or as a gift.

Current Age

11 years old



Rescued date

25 November 2016

Rescue Location

Maasai Mara, Naboisho Conservancy

Date of Birth (approximate)

14 October 2012

Reason Orphaned


Age at Rescue

4 years old (approx)

Current Location

Living Wild

Kelelari's featured photos

Our digital adoption programme includes the following:

Personalised adoption certificate.

Monthly email update on your orphan and the project.

Monthly watercolour by Angela Sheldrick.

Access to special content; latest Keepers' Diaries, videos and photos

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Latest updates featuring Kelelari

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Kelelari's latest photos

Kelelari, Dupotto and Karisa

Kelelari and Karisa at the watering hole

Kelelari splashes around in the water

Kamok, Karisa and Kelelari

Kelelari not wanting to go into the lorry

Kelelari went on to the truck for the first time

Kelelari was unlucky with lucerne today!

They thought Kelelari was too big!