See the lengths that rescuers go to in order to save an orphaned baby elephant left alone in the Kenyan wild.
Rescuers tangle with a young male elephant. [Photo by Pete Muller, National Geographic]
How do you rescue an elephant, be it young or old? Certainly you can't just, well, pick it up. Elephants, particularly African elephants, are the largest land animal in the world. Unfortunately, they are also vulnerable to extinction. Thus, taking the time and resources to save one African elephant is definitely worth it. However, it's also definitely easier said than done.
Thus, when officials spotted a lone calf wandering by itself in Kenya's Masai Mara National Park, they quickly mobilized to rescue it. However, an elephant, even a small one, is still an elephant. The calf, weighing at about 1,000 pounds, certainly wasn't going to be easy to rescue. Thus, park officials planned as much as they can to get to the little—well, relatively little, anyway—calf and bring it to safety.
The elephant put up a fight, even after getting shot with a sedative. [Photo by Pete Muller, National Geographic]
Elephants are very social animals. They travel around in herds, wherein male calves stay with their mother until they are ready to set off on their own. The young calf in question is male, though it seems to have been too young to separate from its mother. Usually, calves are dependent on their mother until the age of about three to four. It's unknown what happened to the calf's mother.
That's quite a tight fit. [Photo by Pete Muller, National Geographic]
So how do you save an orphaned baby elephant? Through a long and painstaking process is the answer. The first step in the plan to rescue the young bull was to administer a sufficient dose of sedative by using a dart gun. The veterinary team had to be careful with the dose and make sure that they didn't use too much.
That seems simple enough, but the next part is where it truly gets messy. Once the sedative was administered, a team of veterinarians and rangers had to help the elephant go down safely. This, too, was easier said than done. The elephant wasn't aware of the team's good intentions; all he knew was that these people were trying to restrain him. It protested quite violently as the team tried to get a hold of its legs and tail.
Rescuers load the elephant on to a waiting Cessna, which will bring him to a Nairobi orphanage. [Photo by Pete Muller, National Geographic]
Eventually, after what surely seemed like years to the rescue team, they were able to load the elephant onto the back of a pickup truck. He was down, but he was not unconscious. Instead, the young bull was groggy, but definitely still active. He kicked out as he lay in the truck bed, while his rescuers sat in uncomfortable spots around him.
National Geographic photographer Pete Muller witnessed all the action go down, relating that he didn't expect the rescue to be quite so action-packed. In another rescue project, in which 500 elephants had to be transported to safety, the elephants lost consciousness some time after getting shot with a sedative. Perhaps, in the case of the little-but-not-so-litle guy in this instance, the vets thought it best not to administer too much of the sedative.
The orphaned baby elephant was then sent off to an orphanage in Nairobi, where he won't have to traverse the wild on his own.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!