Sick elephant couldn’t stand, he had to be winched upright

Firefighters faced a challenge of jumbo proportions when they assisted an elephant that had become trapped on its side.

The African elephant Umna collapsed after suffering a stomach ache at Howletts Wildlife Park, near Canterbury, Kent.

Since colic is a life-threatening condition for elephants, park keepers have gone to great lengths to find a way to get Umna up on her feet and to move again.

Initially, they tried to teleport the 13-year-old by placing ropes around her body to lift her up, but the two-tonnes animal proved too heavy.

After a second unsuccessful attempt at using the forklift, staff called Kent Fire and Rescue Service, who have expertise in animal rescue and heavy lifting equipment.

Specially trained firefighters from Faversham, who are often called to rescue farm animals, were dispatched to the scene at 9.30 am.

They were then joined by members of the urban search and rescue team along with a crew from Whitstable.

Faversham watch manager Ian West, who attended the incident, said: ‘Our team is more used to rescuing cattle and horses.

‘So we explained to the park wardens how we wanted to proceed with the rescue, based on our expertise.

‘They shared their knowledge of the animal, and together we came up with a plan to get the elephant to stand on her feet.

“We stroked the front part of Umna’s body and then used the Tirfor winch to lift her legs into a ‘begging’ position.

‘As soon as she was able to control her weight, we released the movements and she walked freely.

‘We were totally worried, we tried to rescue Umna, chuffed at the result. Hopefully, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime incident, but it will surely stay in my memory forever. ‘

Neil Spooner, animal director at Howletts, said they were also helped by animal transport expert Roy Smith, who happened to be at the site for a meeting about moving elephants between parks.

He added: ‘The joint efforts of Kent Fire and Rescue, the elephant keepers, and Roy certainly saved this elephant’s life, and we are extremely grateful.’


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