There are those who say people shouldn’t interfere with nature, but sometimes it’s difficult to ignore a situation when help is needed. Some’ time ago, when an elephant calf’s life was in danger, Roger Butterfield and his friends couldn’t bear to stand back and let nature take its course.
It was 07hOO on a brisk August morning in the Kaudom Game Reserve, Namibia, and there wasn’t much on our minds other than a hearty breakfast. We’d spent the night before chasing thirsty elephants away from the camp site; they’d been ripping up water pipes that contained a few drops of water left from a redundant solar-powered watering system.
We’d parked our 4x4s at the best vantage point for viewing whatever game came to join us for breakfast, some 200 metres from the water hole.
The day before we’d been at the same water hole at the same time and seen jackals, hyenas, marshal eagles, kudus and a herd of about 30 elephants, all vying for an early morning drink. On this morning, there was nothing and the eerie silence was not interrupted by even the call of a lone guinea fowl or dikkop.
After a while, Peter, who’d been surveying the landscape through his camera, exclaimed, “There’s an elephant in the water. I can just see one eye and the tip of its trunk above
And there, in the silence, was a baby elephant within minutes of taking its last breath. Close to it was another calf, dead. Wynand and Charles made an. instant decision to rescue the calf before it was too late. We didn’t think about any consequences.
What we had thought was water turned out to be a churned up mass of mud that was engulfing the calf. Wynand and Charles waded into the mud armed with straps and a rope. Alan had a winch on his Land Cruiser and he winched the calf to the shore, with Wynand and Charles doing their utmost to keep its trunk above water and mud.
When the calf was at the edge of the water hole, Pauline and Rykie used the only water we had available – in 250 millilitre bottles – to get liquid down its throat and clean the gunge away from its eyes. To get the elephant calf breathing and drinking successfully
took about 20 minutes and during the whole two-hour rescue operation, not a single bird or animal went to the water hole.
After we cut the straps off the little fellow’s legs and helped him to his feet, he held his trunk high and hurried off into the bush. Relieved at having saved his life, we moved back to our Original vantage point to set up a breakfast table.
We’d only just taken the chairs out the vehicles when Wynand said “Nobody move, there’s a huge elephant about 15 metres behind us.” And there it was, standing with its trunk in the air. It took a detour around us and was followed by a younger bull, then a herd of around 45 cows, bulls and calves, all moving to the water hole we’d just been at.
Was ‘our’ youngster with the herd? We don’t know, but I am convinced that while we were saving his life the herd was watching us from a distance. Perhaps they had tried to rescue the youngsters earlier, which is why there was such a mud bath around the two calves.
I often wonder now whether the little fellow made it, and whether he remembers the day he was saved.
With thanks to Getaway Magazine.