Sunyei's Story

Elephant rescues are always fraught for time is of the essence, and every minute of every hour can mean the difference between life and death. Communications are difficult when a tiny elephant is found miles from anywhere – this orphan having fallen into a hole in a Sand River not far from a remote Northern Kenyan town called Ol Donyo Nyiro in Laikipia District.Monday 9th June and a signal arrives from the Kenya Wildlife Service alerting us to the fact that a tiny elephant had been rescued by Samburu tribesmen the previous day having been found stuck in a deep hole in a sand lugga. Currently it was being held at the Police Post in Ol Donyo Nyiro town.

Sunyei's Story

Already a day had past and the time in Nairobi was 1 p.m. It is important to establish (l) the exact location of this remote town and Police Post within the vastness of Laikipia District, (2) whether the calf is, in fact, still alive, before incurring the expense of mobilizing an Aircraft (3) that transport be sourced to bring the calf to the nearest airfield, having found out exactly where the nearest Airstrip is and (4) assuming that the calf is still living, that it be given rehydration salts a.s.a.p. to counter death through dehydration and stress.

Trying to contact the remote Police Post via a crackly and broken radio signal was obviously proving a near impossibility, and the minutes were ticking by with no further news. So, thank heavens for mobile phones and Tom Silvester, the extremely elephant-friendly Manager of Loisaba Ranch who knew exactly where Ol Donyo Nyiro town was and who told us that the nearest airfield was his own at Loisaba. Very kindly he offered his help and leaping into his vehicle, headed for the Police Post in question, a journey that would take at least 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back, driving on rutted dirt roads. We requested that he phone us with news of the elephant as soon as he got there.
Meanwhile, back in Nairobi, rehydration fluids and milk was being prepared for the flight in the usual compartmentalized Beer Crate. Out came the usual rescue kit – the circular tarpaulin with handles attached all round, a blanket to keep the baby warm, a mattress on which to lay the calf in the plane, all the while praying that the calf was, indeed, small enough to forego sedation for the flight.

Finally news came from Tom Silvester. The calf was, indeed, still alive and quite strong, but obviously newborn, the umbilicus still attached. Now the plane could be given the green light to take off heading for Loisaba Airfield an hour away with very little time at their disposal in order to be back in Nairobi with its precious cargo in daylight!

At the remote Police Post Tom Silvester was encountering the usual bureaucratic red tape because the authorities needed official clearance from Nairobi to release the calf. Radio relays to K.W.S. managed to solve this problem. The tribesmen who had rescued the calf, were reluctant to see it go, because already it was “their” elephant, following them trustingly and nuzzling them with its baby trunk. Tom assured them that it would be in safe hands, and soon he was on his way, heading back to Loisaba Airfield. There he had just a 15 minute wait before the plane was circling overhead, which had taken off from Nairobi the moment we had positive news.

Meanwhile, Tom Silvester told us that the calf was a female, and not a bull, as we had previously been told. (A very common mistake). He suggested the name “Ntome”, the Samburu word an elephant calf. We mulled over this name, discussing it with our Samburu Keepers, because we already had “Ndume” from the Imenti Forest and “Natumi” from Nanyuki, as well as “Thoma” from Thomson’s Falls, names that were very like “Ntome”. We asked for the Samburu word for “Sand River” and were given “Sunyei” so we decided that the new baby should be called Sunyei.

It was 6.45 p.m. in the evening before little “Sunyei” arrived in the Nairobi Nursery.

She was given the usual antibiotic precautionary injection, hungrily downed 3 pints of milk and 3 pints of re-hydration, taking another 9 pints at intervals throughout the night, and in between, sleeping quietly, too young to be subjected to the usual trauma that is part and parcel of losing a mother and family. Having well-intentionally been given cow’s milk by her Samburu rescuers, we anticipated difficulties with the stomach, but apart from that, Sunyei was not in bad shape, although quite lean, coming as she did from an elephant population constantly at risk and constantly on the move in an extremely arid part of the world.

Sunyei was a favourite in the Nairobi Nursery. She moved in July 2005 to the Ithumba Unit with her friends Galana, Madiba and Ndomot. Sunyei still roams with Galana in Yatta's ex-orphan herd at Ithumba, and in that glorious month of October in 2017 when 3 of our ex-orphans had babies, Sunyei was one who gave birth to her first wild-born calf, Siku, a beautiful little girl. We are so happy to see this ex-orphan herd happy and living a full and complete life in the wild.

Adopt Sunyei for yourself or as a gift.

Adopt Sunyei for yourself or as a gift.

Current Age

21 years old



Rescued date

9 June 2003

Rescue Location

Samburu, Loisaba Ranch

Date of Birth (approximate)

1 June 2003

Reason Orphaned

Man-made cause for separation

Age at Rescue

1 week old (approx)

Current Location

Living Wild

Sunyei'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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Sunyei's Calves

Meet Sunyei's wild born offspring.



Born in the first rays of day break, ‘Siku’ is the Swahili word for ‘day’ - a fitting name given she was born at day break. Siku was still wobbly and pink behind the ears when we first met her, as her mother Sunyei proudly presented her perfect and first baby to her beloved human family hours after giving birth. Read more



On 16th November 2021, Sunyei appeared at the Ithumba mud bath with a newborn daughter by her side. We named her Saba, which means “seven” in Swahili. It’s a most fitting name, as she is the seventh calf born to our Ithumba ex orphans thus far in 2021.

She is growing up alongside her big sister, Siku, who is four years her senior. Read more

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Sunyei's latest photos

Galana, Sunyei and Lulu

Sunyei and Saba arriving at the mud bath

Sunyei, Saba and Suguroi

Sunyei arrives early morning

Siku Saba and Sunyei

Sunyei and Saba

Sunyei, Siku and Saba

Siju, Saba and Sunyei