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news from the bush

When we lived in Kenya, we frequently took our visitors to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Baby elephants that become separated from their mothers because of an accident (falling down a well, for example) or who are orphaned as a result of poaching (a phenomenon that has sadly become all too common) stand little chance of surviving in the wild. The Sheldrick Trust rescues baby elephants from all over Kenya, cares for them in Nairobi, and then releases them into the Tsavo wilderness when they are old enough.

blanketed baby elephant

Since our first visit to the elephant orphanage, we have “adopted” a baby elephant every year as a birthday gift for someone – S’s sister, our friends’ five-year-old son – with the donation helping defray expenses such as formula (baby elephants drink a lot of milk). In return, the adoptive parent receives monthly newsletter updates about their elephant, as well as dispatches from the field every time the orphanage rescues a baby elephant.

This year we decided that Munchkin was old enough to have an adopted elephant of his own, especially since for many months running his favorite toy has been a blue stuffed elephant. We just received the first field update, which comes a few days after World Elephant Day and which proved much more graphically detailed than we had thought was possible. We share it here with you in its entirety, both because we found it entertaining and to encourage you to support this worthwhile organization.

Baby Jotto

Dear M,

The 21st of March began as a particularly fraught day for us, beginning with the news that two orphaned elephants were in need of rescue at different ends of the country; one having fallen down a well in the Namunyak Conservancy in Northern Kenya, and the other possibly a victim of poaching in Tsavo East National Park found near a huge lone rock named “Sobo”, close to the Eastern boundary of the Park.   Were this not enough, we then received the tragic news that one of our Elephant Keepers based at the Voi Rehabilitation Unit had suddenly collapsed and died very suddenly and unexpectedly whilst out in the bush with the orphans, which was heart-breaking for all the DSWT team.

The male calf found in Namunyak was suspected to have fallen down a well on the 19th of March. He was found by herdsmen who had taken their cattle for water at the well on the morning of the 20th of March. They reported the calf to Namunyak Conservancy staff who later sent their scouts to extract the baby. He was rescued at around 10am and the team remained with the calf at the scene, whilst rangers attempted to locate the mother for the rest of the day.

When the attempt to reunite the orphan with his mother and herd failed the DSWT were contacted to mobilize a rescue. By the time the rescue plane landed at the Namunyak airfield, the calf had not yet arrived,  so the plane and Keepers waited for his arrival which did not take long. Once fed he was then loaded onto the plane with his legs tied to ensure he was secure for airtravel, the bull calf was then given intravenous life support to avoid plummeting glucose levels, which usually happens under such stressful circumstances and can prove life-threatening.

March is always the hottest time of the year in Kenya, particularly at lower altitudes, and this year due to the equinox combined with unpredictable weather patterns due to global warming, ambient temperatures countrywide were a lot warmer than anyone can remember, with advice to people at sea level to remain indoors and take regular cold showers in order to avoid heat stroke.   For this reason, we named this little well victim “Jotto” (in Swahili spelled ‘Njoto’ and pronounced ‘Injoto’ – the word that describes such hot conditions).

On arrival at the Nairobi Nursery, he was cooled down with water and a mud bath, and fed rehydration mineral water along with milk formula, which he drank enthusiastically since he was obviously extremely thirsty.   Of great concern was the fact that his digestive system was in disarray since he was passing liquid mud, combined with the fact that he had no teeth so we were mindful we still had the dreaded teething process to go through, something that is very often accompanied by fevers and serious diarrhea, which orphaned elephants are prone to with their natural elephant stomach flora compromised due to the change of milk.

We have been cautious about placing Jotto on the fostering program, considering that he had much to overcome.   From the outset this feisty little bull settled well, become completely hooked on his Keepers and despite some ups and downs has generally thrived within the baby herd.  Given his curious and boisterous nature and with the arrival of Ambo, another robust bull who recently came into our care,  little Jotto and Ambo were upgraded to the larger Nursery orphan group where both are extremely content and spoilt rotten by many doting mini Mums.

Most Sincerely,

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E.


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