Soothing tones and a calm approach enable an elephant calf rescue in Amboseli

IFAW's Bernard Tulito, trying to pacify and rescue the orphaned baby elephant. Photo by IFAW-B. Tulito On Saturday November 17th around 6.00 in the morning, I was awakened by a distress call from Saibolo, a community member resident of the Kimana Sanctuary in Amboseli. Saibolo had just seen a baby elephant roaming solo along the Isinet riverine vegetation bordering Kimana Sanctuary and farmlands.

Noting this obviously lost baby elephant, Saibolo quickly called me for help, for neither the mother nor family herd was anywhere to be seen. Sensing the urgency of the matter, I swiftly jumped onto my (IFAW) motorbike and sped off in the direction of the distress call.

En route, I mobilised the support of Kimana community game scouts and together we headed off to meet Saibolo.

Saibolo led us to the place he had last seen the calf.

A frantic search ensued resulting in the re-emergence of the distressed calf from the thick elephant grass surrounding Kimana Swamp, probably scared by our noisy search.

It appeared as if the calf expected to meet his mother and or at least his family members but behold, he met us instead.

Immediately, he went on the defensive, raising his trunk and producing the loudest and most scary elephant trumpet he could master in an all-out attempt to scare us off.  

For a moment he succeeded, stopping us dead on our tracks! “My. That was scary!” muttered one of us.” Swiftly recovering from the shock, we regained our courage and off we went after the little fellow.

Never under estimate a baby elephant. Despite his diminutive size and apparently tiny limbs.

He is pretty strong, and quite fast too.

That’s what the Kimana community scouts discovered when several of them attempted to capture him.

Thanks to my training and experience, I approached him in a friendly manner – talking soothingly - and as I expected, the initially frightened calf responded.

We struck a bond that allowed me to draw closer and touch him.

All this to the awe of the community scouts and members of the public, who stood at a safe distance with bated breath watching, not sure what may happen.

I pacified the calf to the extent that he allowed us to herd him to safety where I handed him over to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers who had come on the scene by now.

He was finally, and safely, airlifted in the late afternoon to David Sheldrick Elephant orphanage in Nairobi.

It didn’t end there.

We knew something must have gone very wrong with the mother to let go of her almost one-year old baby.

It was totally unlike elephants, so we commenced  a search for either the mother or a carcass that would justify a lone baby elephant roaming aimlessly in the jungle risking being attacked by lions or hyenas.

It was not until the morning of the following day that Kimana community scouts bumped into a fresh carcass of a female elephant in a small grass opening inside the thick acacia forest of Kimana Sanctuary.

She had no visible wounds but dead all the same with both her tusks intact. The KWS team was contacted  to remove the tusks and take over the case from there.

This was suspected to be the mother of the airlifted calf.

Sadly, this brought to three, the number of elephants which died in Kimana Sanctuary in November.

Earlier on the 9th and 10th November 2012 respectively, two bulls estimated at 38 and 50 years were killed.

As opposed to the female, the bulls had been speared to death by irate community members in retaliation for raids on the community farms under irrigation at Isinet Swamp.

This whole scenario clearly depicts the complexity surrounding the survival of and conservation of Amboseli elephants in the context of the swiftly changing land use patterns.

With each passing day, more and more land of the elephants range is converted for either agriculture or human settlement, not to be accessed by Amboseli elephants.

All the more reason for the International Fund for Animal Welfare and our supporters to secure the critical elephant habitats while we can.

There is still hope that this can be done if we act now.


The future of these elephants is in our hands and together we can make a difference. Help us to do just that.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy