Family means everything to elephants, some of the most intelligent and emotional animals on the planet.
That’s why, when an elephant’s life is in d.a.n.g.e.r, it can be devastating for the herd, not to mention a blow to efforts trying to save the endangered animal. Elephant populations in Africa have plummeted because of ivory poaching, and elephants in both Africa and Asia suffer from decreasing habitats and increasingly frequent conflict with people.
So when visitors driving across Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park spotted something in the mud, they slowed and saw a tiny trunk moving. It was a baby elephant who was obviously exhausted and in desperate need of help.
Rescuers from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), an organization that has long worked in the region to save elephants in need, rushed to the scene. They noticed a herd of elephants in the distance and hurried to free the baby to help his chances of finding his family again.
Rescuers also noticed tracks in the mud where a mother elephant had obviously tried tirelessly to pull her baby from the mud. It’s believed he could have been struggling there for 12 hours.
“The calf’s mother had clearly tried desperately to save her calf and had nearly given up all hope,” Rob Brandford, executive director of the DSWT in the UK, told The Dodo.
As people surrounded the baby, something surprising happened.
From the herd in the distance, a large elephant separated and came closer. She flailed her trunk and was obviously in distress. She began to mock charge toward the men who surrounded the baby. This elephant, rescuers realized, was obviously the baby’s mother.
As rescuers fastened straps around the struggling calf, something changed in the mother elephant. She appeared to realize that these people posed no threat but were actually trying to help.
She stood by, as the men struggled, knee-deep in mud, to save her baby’s life.
Rescuers were successful, and almost as soon as he could, the little calf rushed to his mother’s side.
“This little calf was lucky,” Brandford said. “Over the years, we’ve seen many instances of calves unable to climb out of deep ditches created by animals around pipelines or community wells, often simply holes dug into the ground. Whilst a herd will do all it can to save the calf if they can’t free the baby, eventually, they face the difficult choice of staying and endangering the herd, or leaving the baby behind.”
As the baby and his mom reunited, they were soon joined by the rest of the herd. So many elephants were spared from the grief that day.
“With elephant families being torn apart by poaching, habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict, keeping herds together is our primary mission,” Brandford said. “Reuniting a calf with his mother is the ultimate happy ending.”