On 20th September 2018, while on a routine fixed-wing patrol with SWT pilot Neville Sheldrick, the Tiva De-Snaring Team leader, Nterto Kapina, spotted the tracks of what appeared to be a lone elephant calf wandering down the Tiva River.
Shallow, semi-permanent pools along the dry riverbed are the only source of water for several kilometres, so there are tracks of literally hundreds of elephants criss-crossing the soft sand. Amazingly, despite this, Kapina was able to identify a small set of tracks that were slightly fresher than the others and moving down the river without a herd. From the air, he was able to follow the tracks for a little over 20km before they disappeared. Unable to spot the calf from the air after an extensive search up and down the river, the team followed up on the ground the following day, picking up from where the tracks were lost the previous day.
They tracked the calf as far as they could, but were unable to locate it. Fortunately, however, the DSWT funded Mobile North De-Snaring Team was on patrol in the same area and two days later found the calf back in the riverbed and still alone. After consultation with the KWS Veterinary Office Dr. Jeremiah Poghon, the SWT/KWS De-Snaring Team rescued the desperate little bull who miraculously managed to avoid becoming a meal for predators.
He is approximately 12 months old, and thankfully he had access to water from the Tiva ponds that still remained in the sand, but was predictably thin and very dehydrated as a result of his ordeal. He was secured by the team and loaded into the back of their land cruiser, before being driven some 25kms to the SWT Ithumba Reintegration Unit where he was placed in one of the elephant stockades that have been purpose built for newly rescued calves. Here the Keepers could calm him down, ensure he got both milk and rehydration fluids while plans were made to have him flown to the Nairobi Nursery, because he is very much a milk dependent calf still in need for special around the clock milk feeds and intensive care. In the meantime he was cooled down with water splashed onto him and fed cut vegetation as well.
The Nursery Keepers eventually arrived in a Cessna Caravan at the Ithumba airstrip at 4.30pm and the little bull was transported the short five kms distance to the airstrip and then immediately loaded into the aircraft. A drip was fixed so that he could benefit from IV fluids for the duration of the flight and with little time wasted he was whisked up to Nairobi.
The baby finally arrived on site at the SWT Nairobi Nursery situated within the Nairobi National Park at 6.30pm and was carried into a freshly prepared stable next to another recent arrival Dololo. After his medication was administered he was raised to his feet and encouraged to drink a bottle of warm milk, and very quickly began suckling the teat ferociously, desperate for more. Special green treats were cut and placed in his stable and a Keeper remained with him throughout the night.
We named this very sweet, good looking little boy Mukkoka, after a location along the Tiva River, a sand river fringed by Doum palms where he so desperately wandered for days before being found. He is a very lucky little bull who owes his life to the exceptional tracking skills of Nterto Kapina who realised from the back seat of a Super Cub aircraft that he was looking at the tracks of a baby elephant walking alone, and it was because of this that continued and exhaustive searching went on for three days by the ground teams until finally he was located. Field and aerial recces have scoured the area in search of the possible carcass of his mother, but to date none have been found so the reason for him being abandoned remains a complete mystery.