On the evening of May 3, 2021, we were hit with devastating news: a female elephant had been spotted in dire condition on Chyulu Hills. Her right hind leg was badly injured, rendering her incapable of walking. It was suspected that she had fallen on the rocky terrain, causing the injury. As if the situation couldn’t get any worse, this helpless elephant was also a mother of two calves – one dependent on milk and the other around seven years old. The sight of her shuffling along in a seated position, struggling to move even slightly, broke our hearts. We knew we had to act fast to rescue her.
Upon arrival at the location, the SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Veterinary Unit was met with a dire situation. A female elephant and her calves were stranded in an area without water and unable to make the lengthy trek downhill. Two adult bulls remained with the family as guardians. Despite exploring all options, KWS concluded that euthanasia was the only humane choice. With heavy hearts, a rescue was coordinated, and experienced Nursery Keepers boarded a Cessna Caravan bound for Ol Donyo airstrip. The SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Veterinary Unit was already on-site, monitoring the family and bulls. To ensure safety during the rescue, the helicopter coaxed the bulls away into the forest, allowing the Keepers to complete the mission on the ground. Thankfully, the rescue went without a hitch, despite being a potentially complicated operation.
The subsequent stage of the rescue operation proved to be more challenging than anticipated. As the calf weighed a considerable amount, only one Keeper was able to accompany it on the helicopter. This caused a predicament upon arrival at Ol Donyo airstrip where the plane was waiting. Typically, six individuals are required to transport a baby elephant; however, we only had three personnel present – the Keeper from the helicopter, our pilot, and the Cessna’s pilot. It took an immense effort to lift the calf carefully out of the aircraft and onto a stretcher. Time was of the essence as our pilot had to fly back up the hill to assist with the veterinary procedure once the task was completed. Once Dr Kariuki successfully darted the female elephant from the air, the rest of the Keepers boarded the helicopter and were transported down to the airstrip. Unfortunately, euthanasia was the only option for the mother as she was in such severe pain that she could no longer stand or travel to water. Although it was heartbreaking, it provided some solace to know that she was no longer suffering. Not a single person in the group remained tearless as she closed her eyes for the final time.
Although we were unable to save the magnificent elephant, we were able to provide a bright future for the young calf she gave birth to. The older calf was left in the care of the bulls and we were confident that he would be welcomed into the herd that had been spotted with them the day before. Although it was difficult for us to separate the siblings, we knew it was the best decision for their individual well-being. This all took place in the vicinity of Esoitpuss, a colossal, azure rock where vultures perched. In the local Maa dialect, “esoit” means rock and “puss” denotes blue. We decided to name the rescued infant Esoit, permanently linking him to the location of his birth.
Esoit has proven to be a fitting name for this young elephant in more ways than one. Despite facing traumatic circumstances, he has been a source of strength and resilience. Upon arriving at the Nursery, Esoit quickly adapted to his new life without any trouble. While every elephant is unique and captivating, Esoit’s cherubic appearance and charming personality have won him many admirers, both human and elephant. Interestingly, Esoit has a calcified and inflexible right hind knee, which suggests he sustained an injury at a very young age. Despite this setback, it does not hinder him from keeping up with the other orphans and he continues to move around with ease.
It is worth noting that Roho has become a huge admirer of Esoit. The two young elephants are neighbors, and this proximity has strengthened their bond, as has been observed on several occasions. They spend their days playing together in the forest, engaging in activities such as rolling in the mud or fighting over tree branches. At night, they maintain constant communication by intertwining their trunks through their stockade partitions or sharing each other’s greens. Even Naboishu, who is usually known for his rough play, treats Esoit with gentleness and tenderness. Although nothing can ever replace Esoit’s mother, he will still be raised with the love and support of a family. He is already an essential member of our Nursery herd, and we are honored to raise this extraordinary calf. When he is ready, we will help him regain his place in the wild.
Esoit frolicking amidst the trees in the woods.