Lost baby elephant wanders into STE’s camp


Save The Elephants

Date Published

The team at Save the Elephants’ research centre in northern Kenya got the surprise of their life when a lost baby elephant walked into the middle of their camp recently. The team are used to monitoring and occasionally rescuing wild elephants in the field but this was the first time an elephant had ever approached them for help!

The 300kg baby’s unannounced visit came just thirty minutes after a nearby tourist facility, Samburu Lodge, reported seeing a small calf alone on the river bank.  STE immediately dispatched a team to investigate.

While the team were still in the field, a female calf aged roughly three months old, unexpectedly wandered into the middle of our compound.  She’d made her way along the Ewaso Ny’iro river, more than two kilometres from when she’d last been seen, and walked straight up to the kitchen after following someone from the camp next door. Everyone’s first instinct was to run for safety in case the mother was following close behind, but after assessing the situation soon realised the baby was alone, and lost.

Worried she could be attacked by lions prowling around the reserve we decided to help the calf, who was already becoming dehydrated. A baby she might be but it took the combined strength of four staff members to guide her to safety.  Our greatest hope was that she could be reunited with her mother and so while one group hastily built her a pen, another went out to search for her family. Sadly, after several fruitless hours of searching the team could find no lactating mothers without calves, and returned to camp.

An STE staff member watches over baby Samburu in a makeshift pen while waiting for the rescue team from Reteti to arrive. We did all we could to find the baby’s mother, but she was no where to be found and we were worried that the baby was becoming dehydrated. Normally we would have let nature take its course but as the baby wandered into our camp, we felt obliged to try to save her life.

We know from 25 years of studying the movements of wild elephants that a mother elephant would never abandon a baby as strong and healthy as this one. Our best guess is that the calf must have got swept down the river while crossing further upstream with her family.

We had a tough call to make as none of us wanted to give up hope of reuniting her with her mother, but the clock was ticking.  For the calf to survive without her mother’s milk, her best chance lay with the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the remote Matthews range in Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy Trust, Northern Kenya. The first community-owned elephant sanctuary, Reteti cares for orphaned and injured baby elephants who need 24 hour oversight. Trained keepers there are a support-system for the elephants, working in shifts and hand-feeding the elephants, so we knew the baby would be in excellent care.

Reteti veterinary technician Joseph Lolngojine (left) and a Namanyuk wildlife conservancy ranger, also from Reteti, prepare the baby elephant (lying on a mattress at their feet) for the long journey to Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in remote Northern Kenya.

And we were delighted when the vet from Reteti arrived with his team. The elephant was expertly and gently subdued, and a sedative to calm her down was given through the enormous veins in her ears. Reteti’s careful records clearly show that those elephants who are helped through the trauma of transit are more likely to survive than those who are not sedated. The team then loaded the sleeping baby on to a special mattress in the back of their vehicle, checking her glucose levels at the same time which were reported to be fine.

The team from Reteti inject a sedative into the veins of the baby elephant’s ear to relax her. She was then transported to her new home at the Reteti Sanctuary.

Within minutes, the baby was on her way to Reteti to start a new chapter of her life where she would meet other elephants. These include the young calf, Shaba, whom we helped to rescue with the Kenya Wildlife Service after her mother was killed in 2016, and Ewaso, rescued last year by our team, KWS and staff from Elephant Bedroom camp after she nearly drowned in the Ewaso river. 

Reteti sanctuary, which has named the new baby ‘Samburu’, reports happily that she has ‘settled in and is strong’. None of us will ever forget the strength and courage of the little lone elephant who walked into our camp on the banks of the Ewaso river.

Reteti sanctuary, which has named the new baby ‘Samburu’, reports happily that she has ‘settled in and is strong’.


Photos by Save The Elephants