On 14th February 2015, an innocent victim of poaching was brought to our attention, a young elephant calf of around one year old required treatment for a horrendous snare wound, a wound that cut through the joint leaving the baby extremely compromised. His mother remained by his side, and had to be anaesthetised too, in order for his injury to be treated. The decision was made there and then to give him the benefit of doubt and leave him to try to heal in a wild situation, remaining by his mother’s side.
Our anti-poaching teams' monitored their movements throughout this time checking on his progress, but as the weeks passed it became apparent that his condition was deteriorating. His mother was forced to drop out from their herd, unable to walk any distance in search of food, and the two of them cut a lonely sight as she remained by the side of her ailing calf, who was becoming increasingly more immobile with each new day.
A second treatment was scheduled three weeks later and it was evident that if this baby was going to have any chance of survival he needed to be rescued, to undergo intensive treatment for his now heavily infected injury. Of course this was an extremely tough decision, a decision that only the professional opinion of KWS veterinary officer, Dr. Poghon, could make.
While everyone had prayed for a positive outcome when the cable snare was first cut away from his leg in early Feb, it was obvious that now, nearly a month on, the wound was so severe that without daily medical attention it could not possibly heal in field conditions. If not rescued he would succumb to his injuries, or be torn apart by predators. His mother was struggling too, her condition was deteriorating as a result of being forced to remain close to water with little food available, inhibited because of her stricken calf.
On the 9th March after Dr. Poghon had cleaned the wound extensively and assessed the situation during the second treatment Angela was called and a rescue mobilized. The hour was late but the rescue team departed Wilson airport after 5.00pm realizing that because of the baby’s compromised situation any delays could prove detrimental. After a 70 minute flight the aircraft arrived at the Taita Hills lodge airstrip on the Taita Hills Sanctuary, close to Tsavo National Park. The calf by this time was in the back of the SWT Anti-Poaching Team land cruiser, still drowsy from the anaesthetic and sedated to reduce stress and pain. As light faded he was quickly loaded onto the plane and placed on a drip for the duration of the flight.
Further drama unfolded as Wilson airport closed because of the late hour and the rescue plane was diverted to land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 8.00pm. For the team eagerly waiting for the new arrival in Nairobi this spelt disaster as we contemplated the logistics involved in extracting a baby elephant from Kenya's International Airport.
Thankfully the authorities were amazingly accommodating and understanding, with everybody working closely together to release the calf without any delays in order to get him to safety as quickly as possible. We could not have wished for a smoother situation and were extremely grateful for the compassion shown.
On arrival at the Nursery he was placed in a stockade next to another orphan called Sirimon, and given a bottle of milk which he was reluctant to take at first. Fresh greens were placed in his stockade and a keeper was on duty with him throughout the night. By next morning he was already passionate about his milk bottle, and sucking the keeper’s fingers.
He is an extremely loving little calf, and despite what humans have inflicted on him, all but severing his leg and robbing him of his mother in an effort to save his life, it was as if he understood the situation and made things easier for us.
The first morning his wound was cleaned again and dressed, and he remained relatively calm throughout the procedure, enduring unspeakable pain for sure. He loves the company of the other orphans, and their presence has certainly helped settle him down, We estimate his age to be around 12 months old and we have given him a name from his home range Mwashoti. This is a Taita name for an area where the grewia bushes grow with their red berries close to where this little calf was rescued.
After three weeks, the decision was made to let him head out with the little ones during the day. Keeping him mentally robust is considered every bit as important for healing than taking care of the physical.
This was the right decision, and he appeared so much happier, feeding well and loving the company of the other orphans, with an especially soft spot for little Ngilai. Together they have both healed and grown stronger. Our little babies are very aware of Mwashoti’s injury and often feel and touch it tenderly, sometimes even carefully blowing soft red earth onto it in an effort to contribute towards his healing.
We have been slow to place Mwashoti on the fostering program, as it was hard to believe that he could be retrieved, his wound was so severe. However due to the love and care he has enjoyed, and his own strong will to heal and live, Mwashoti is doing better than our wildest expectations.
The power of green clay has once again proven its worth keeping bone infection at bay throughout this time and enabling his leg to heal. We are proud to share with you Mwashoti’s miraculous story. He is a very special elephant, and it is indeed a privilege to be able to save his precious innocent life. His plight a graphic reminder of the suffering inflicted on these magnificent animals as long as the ivory trade thrives.
We can report Mwashoti's mother rejoined her herd.