In early September, people living near Tsavo East National Park in Kenya came across a bizarre sight — in the middle of a dam was a strange gray lump. It was a baby elephant.
The elephant had fallen in the dam and clearly couldn’t get out on his own. He was lying on his side with his trunk raised above the water’s surface so he could breathe.
It’s possible the elephant’s family had tried to rescue the baby animal, but they may have been unable to save him, according to Rob Brandford, executive director of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), an organization that rescues orphaned elephants, many of whom lost their parents to poaching.
“The conditions surrounding the dam were extremely difficult with slippery mud, and it could be that the herd were simply unable to free the stricken calf in the treacherous mud and gave up, or that their efforts were disturbed and they fled,” Brandford told The Dodo.
“His survival is certainly credit to the fact that he has a trunk and was able to use it like a snorkel, raised above the muddy water so he could continue to breathe,” Brandford said. “Without it, he wouldn’t have stood a chance given he was submerged in the muddy water. We don’t know how long he had been stuck, but he was certainly exhausted from the effort of trying to stay alive.”
The baby, who was later named Dololo, was finally on dry land, but he wasn’t out of trouble — he was still exhausted and sick. The KWS team loaded him onto a Land Cruiser and drove him to their camp. Then they contacted DSWT, which sent vets and keepers in a helicopter to relocate the baby elephant to the intensive care unit at the DSWT nursery.
“Considering how weak and exhausted he was, it was surprising that he was able to stand unaided so soon after his rescue, as many orphans are unable to achieve this,” Brandford said. “It’s [a] testament to his strong character and desire to live.”
“Dololo has settled in very well and quickly with the rest of the orphan herd, who made a real effort to welcome him and let him know that he is now in a place of safety,” Brandford said. “For instance, when Dololo first arrived, his stockade neighbor Emoli seemingly understood his vulnerability and, throughout the night, kept checking on the little one, resting his head across the partition of the stockade next to Dololo.”
Dollo will remain in the care of DSWT for many years. But once he’s grown up, he’ll be released back into the wild, which is where he truly belongs.