On the 14th September 2007, at 8.00am, a group of Maasai boys discovered an elephant calf, of approximately seven months old, trapped in a well dug for their livestock on the Kenyan border with Tanzania, in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The location was not far from Amboseli National Park and close to the Sinya mines where Meerschaum is mined. There were no longer any elephants in the area, her family obviously having abandoned her having tried desperately to rescue her no doubt, but mindful too of the fact that the herd was vulnerable in an area frequented by humans. The well was not particularly deep yet the steep solid sides, with little space for maneuvering, made any hope of her getting out on her own impossible. Her head was propped against the rough side of the hole and her trunk had been chewed by Hyenas overnight or possibly in the early hours of the morning as she lay trapped yet exposed. One of the three Maasai boys who discovered her walked to the Kenyan Wildlife Service Kitirua Gate in order to send a message to the Headquarters of Amboseli National Park, while the other kids remained at the well site with the calf and their livestock. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants team received the message late morning and immediately went to the scene arriving there by midday. Due to how narrow the hole was and how steep the sides were they had difficulty in extracting the calf themselves, and had to wait for the Kenyan Wildlife Service to arrive with more hands to help.
In the meantime both Cynthia Moss, and The Kenyan Wildlife Service had alerted The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust about the plight of this poor unfortunate calf and we began with the usual preparations for a rescue. Due to the time restrictions and the fact that the rescue plane would have to take off from the Amboseli National Park airstrip no later than 6.15pm, it fast became evident that given the distances involved in this rescue coupled with the difficulty the rescue team was having in extracting her, time was running out. We made the decision to fly the Keepers to Amboseli to be dropped off in order for them to overnight with Sinya, as she was named, to give her the all important antibiotic injection, and both the milk and rehydration she would need overnight. On arrival at Amboseli our three Keepers were met by Cynthia and immediately set off for the site in order to lend a hand with the rescue proceedings. The time now was 17.30pm. In the meantime, the Kenyan Wildlife Service team had arrived and together they had managed to pull the calf out. She had scrapes on her body where she had struggled against the walls of the well, but the more serious injuries were on her trunk caused by Hyenas. The team of Keepers and Cynthia met up with the KWS rangers at Kitirua Gate where the keepers were able take over and make the calf more comfortable.
They then drove to the Amboseli main airstrip and the Keepers and calf were housed in a building under reconstruction at the airstrip so that they could be on hand for the rescue plane due in early the following morning. There were no windows or doors which clearly was going to prove challenging throughout the night for the Keepers, but thankfully Sinya was feeding well and immediately bonded with the Keepers desperate for more fluids and happy to have a finger to suck.
Having been fed supper and armed with a powerful torch and hurricane lamp the three men and the calf endured a long and sometimes harrowing night. The Keepers with a calf that screamed out in anguish and hunger from time to time were mindful of how vulnerable they were from not only predators but wild elephants coming to investigate the cries. They barricaded the large entrance with a small table and a drum of diesel in an effort to keep the African night at bay but were painfully aware of what an unsatisfactory barricade it actually was. The haunting cry of Hyena echoed through the building shell, coupled with a whistling wind which picked up overnight, but fortunately for them, although they did not sleep a wink, Sinya had no intention of running off into the night, all too aware of what a threat the Hyenas could be to her and more than happy to take comfort at the side of the Keepers.
As the dawn broke over Amboseli and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Cynthia Moss and the rest of the Amboseli Elephant Research Team returned to the airstrip to see how everybody had fared overnight. There she found three tired men having had no sleep at all, but Sinya sound asleep. Before the rescue plane arrived the Keepers took their young charge for a walk down the airstrip and she followed them willingly, ravenous for more milk. It was not long before the plane arrived with Robert Carr-Hartley, another Keeper armed with freshly mixed milk, and some breakfast for Stephen, Amos and Josphat, who by this stage were exhausted. Sinya was loaded into the aircraft with the help of KWS personnel and the Amboseli Elephant Research Unit and flown directly to Wilson Airport in Nairobi and once there then had to endure another short journey in the back of the pick up to The David Sheldrick Wildlifes Nairobi Nursery situated in Nairobi National Park.
On arrival at the Nursery it was evident that she had suffered not only the obvious wounds from the Hyena mauling she had endured while trapped helpless in the well, but also massive bruising and chaffing on her legs, chin and back from struggling for so long and hard in an effort to free herself. She was by now exhausted, clad in a warm blanket, she rested her head close to Amos and slept soundly until the next feed time. Her wounds were treated and a broad spectrum antibiotic administered again.
She was originally placed in the stable next to Shimba, but the following day when she met up with the three little orphans already resident at the nursery, Lempaute, Shimba and Lesanju, she became instantly hooked on Lesanju. (We had removed the stable partitions the previous day to accommodate Lempaute and Lesanju in one large stable as they had been moved from their original stable to accommodate the newcomer) Mellow Shimba didnt seem bothered either way, and Lempaute was clearly jealous as Lesanju became fixated by the newcomer. She is such a responsible little elephant Lesanju, and she shares a special bond too with Sinya, as both suffered the same fate, albeit hundreds of miles apart and from two different elephant populations in Kenya, but both fell down man made wells, and both were rescued by caring Maasai and Samburu tribesmen respectively. Sinyas first full day in the nursery began with her being placed in the big stable together with all the little orphans as it was a rainy cold morning. This provided a perfect place for them all the get to know each other, and for us to get to know her. Although mischievous little Lempaute was more interested in playing with whoever would oblige, and occasionally shoved Sinya when she thought nobody was looking. Soon the rain subsided and the rest of the day was spent outside, the little group of babies staying together for the day.
That night Sinya refused to stay in the stable next door to Shimba and was incredibly restless even becoming aggressive towards the Keepers for the first time. At first we thought it may be because of the pain from her recently dressed wounds, but it soon became evident that it was Lesanju she was after. Eventually Sinya was moved into the big stable and once she found herself back with the other two little girls, Lesanju and Lempaute, she instantly calmed down and fell asleep close to them peacefully, three elephant lumps in the hay, and three Keepers. This left Shimba alone with his Keeper with no next door neighbor but he appeared to be completely oblivious to this development, and probably was relieved to have a more peaceful night as a result. With the company of the other elephants close by Sinya each day and night her physiological wounds will heal, it will of course take time, but thanks to those that rescued her and with the love of her dedicated Keepers and the other orphans in the Nursery the memories of her terrible ordeal will fade and she has another chance of life.