On 17th March 2019, Robert Carr-Hartley received a phone call from Governor Samuel Tunai of Narok County, the County which the Maasai Mara Reserve falls within. He was calling in regard to reports of an orphaned elephant whose plight had come to his attention.
A team of rangers had been tasked to observe the calf to provide security and monitor him over a couple of days. The decomposing carcass of a lactating adult female elephant had been found near the same location three days earlier, so it was concluded this orphaned baby elephant belonged to her. There were other elephants in the area but none of them appeared interested in absorbing the calf into their herds, and being so young he would definitely not be able to survive without milk and protection.
On the day of his rescue, an elephant family comprised of a mother and three youngsters came passing by, and one baby from her herd briefly inspected the orphaned calf, but while the encounter was friendly it was only brief before they chose to move on, and like a number of times before, the lonely calf was left behind, and surprisingly he made no attempt to follow them either.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) funded Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit, headed by KWS Veterinary officer Dr. Limo, travelled to the scene having reported the matter to the KWS authorities in Nairobi as well. Once they arrived on site it was obvious, given the condition of the baby, that he was an orphan. To tell the condition one looks at an elephant’s face, not the stomach, and if the face is sunken with cheeks evident and the forehead hollow, that is always a telling sign of poor condition, and in his case it was clear he had been without his mother’s milk for some days. The Unit, KWS and Conservancy Rangers all worked closely together to capture the calf, before safely loading him into the land cruiser to travel a short distance to the closest bush airstrip known as Olkiombo, to await the rescue plane.
In the meantime the charter plane, along with the SWT Keeper team tasked with heading to the Mara to collect our latest arrival, were coordinated closely ensuring that both teams converged at the Olkiombo airstrip in the Mara around the same time. This happened like clockwork, avoiding any delays and enabling the calf to be swiftly transferred from vehicle to plane, loaded into the aircraft comfortably and strapped down for safety, before being flown to Nairobi to the Trust’s Nursery Unit situated within Nairobi National Park.
This young little bull’s arrival at the Nursery was a revelation because rather like Tundani who came to us years before, he arrived tame! It was as if he appreciated being saved. To have food, protection and the company of others was all he craved and very quickly he was taking his milk bottle and suckling the fingers of the Keepers. His transformation from wild to being extremely friendly with his Keepers was so rapid that it caught everybody by surprise, particularly as he remained a strong calf, and after just two days we felt he was more than ready to head out into the Park with the other Nursery elephants.
Our little loving Kiombo (named after the area he was found within) never gave us any trouble and just seamlessly transitioned into his new life. In only a matter of days he would rush home in the evening just like all the other old hands, and race to his particular stockade, rounding the corner at break neck speed heading for his bedroom, very quickly familiar with both the routine and his surroundings. After a good warm bottle of milk and some browsing on his fresh cut greens hanging in his night stockade he is always quick to lie on his bed of soft hay and fall soundly asleep, confident in the fact that he is totally safe and surrounded by friends.