Its 12:30 in the afternoon when the radio call comes in. There is a baby elephant just outside of Seba camp towards the airstrip. It is being attacked by two hyenas. Given normal circumstances a baby elephant is so well protected by the adults of the herd, any predator would never get anywhere near it. However, for this little one there is no protective herd or even elephant in sight, only the safari car.
For a two month old, she puts up a valiant fight against its two aggressors, sending them flying with its ears out and trumpeting loudly but as soon as she tries to put some ground between herself and the hyena, they soon catch up nipping and biting the rear end and legs of the elephant, pulling her down. Upon seeing the car and possibly even attracted by the low rumble of the engine, the elephant seeks refuge in its shade leaving the hyena to circle at a distance.
This now leaves a bit of a dilemma as out here nature must take its course. The car moves away and the baby elephant starts to follow. The hyena are following she tries chase them away. In the confusion and the thick bush she looses the car close to the outskirts of Seba camp. The next thing we hear in camp is a radio call: an elephant has found its way into the generator room of Seba Camp.
Now we must intervene. The cuts to her legs and rear are deep, the baby is obviously traumatized. She is shaking but can walk which leads us to believe that she can’t have been separated from her own herd for more than a couple of days and is not too weak. By keeping the gathering crowd calm and quiet the baby begins to relax and explore her surroundings. We bring in water to begin cooling her but being too young to know how to use her trunk, she is unable to drink. When a mahout arrives in another safari car she runs over to it, seemingly to have associated the car with safety and security she begins to follow it.
Using the car as the surrogate mother we lead her to the far side of camp where the flood waters have created a shallow pan. As soon as she is there she is face first into the water and drinking deep, gurgling mouthfuls. Ten minutes later, once she has had her fill, she is looking a lot calmer but still unsure about this new ‘herd’ that she has joined. More mahouts arrive to assess her age and wounds, administering antiseptic spray where they can. A report is given to Maun office and the Vet, Rob Jackson is called in.
The baby is young, somewhere between 6-12 weeks old. If she doesn’t get some milk soon, together with the trauma she has suffered, she is unlikely to survive. The Abu herd is close by and have two lactating mothers in their midst. We decide to try and introduce her to the herd in the hope that one of them may be able to feed her.
Using the safari car ‘matriarch’, we lead her down to the Abu herd. It’s a tense time now as the baby’s survival rests on her acceptance into the Abu herd. The first mother, Kitumetse, is brought out. Kiti herself could relate to this as she was found in very similar circumstances, alone, injured from a crocodile attack she had been separated from her herd and had been found down in the south of the concession by a neighboring camp. With permission from the DWNP (Department of Wildlife and National Parks) we adopted her and she has been doing very well. So well, in fact she has given birth to her first calf, Lorato, last year.
However, this introduction did not go too well, the prospect of taking on another calf so soon after her first seemed to prove too much for her and she backed away from it trumpeting loudly. The baby elephant is now frantic to join this herd, the herd at least being recognizable compared to its safari car/human herd from an hour previously. We corral the baby to protect it from running into the middle of the Abu herd. An unwelcome introduction could turn tragic.
The second lactating female, Sherini, is brought out. Sherini is a more experienced mother with her latest addition to the herd, Abu, being nearly 3 years old. On seeing the baby there is huge excitement, ears out, trumpeting and rumbling loudly with temporal secretions flowing profusely. She seems to be more tolerant of the baby that is now harassing her for milk but she still seems somewhat reluctant.
After a few minutes of coaxing them together one of the mahouts suggests to bring Cathy, the matriarch of the herd across. Cathy who had been looking on excitedly is brought over. There is another tense moment as the exchange of trumpets and rumbles between Sherini and Cathy becomes intense, the baby between them constantly begging for milk. Then, as if she had got the go ahead from the herd leader to accept her, Sherini lets her feed. She feeds for a full 20 minutes before we lead them back in to the shade of the trees for the remainder of this hot Easter Sunday afternoon. And for her name, Paseka (pronounced pah-SEH-ka) means Easter in Setswana.
It’s the following morning. Rob, the Vet, and Randall Moore arrived the previous evening when the herd had returned to the boma. Paseka had followed Sherini all the way home through the deep river channel under the careful watch of the mahouts and guides. On inspecting the wounds, Rob cleaned them and with a shot of antibiotics and painkillers, allowed them to heal naturally.
Mother and adopted baby had spent the night in the nursing pen to keep Paseka from running into any more trouble, but now she was looking a lot happier. The swelling around her rear had gone down and the wounds were looking a lot better. Sherini was doing an excellent job as mother even though Abu was still a little unsure about being ousted from his centre-of-attention spot by this unexpected arrival!!!!