Elephants stuck in a well

Sun, 2007-05-27 10:41 by bntawuasa · Forum/category:

On the evening of the 19th May 2007, some Maasai from Meshenani called the elephant research office and left a message that there was an elephant stuck in a well at Lake Conch. We couldn't get in touch with the person who left the message since he never left his contacts, and it was very late to launch a search party.

The plan was to try and drive to L. Conch the next morning, and as we were just leaving the house KWS radioed the office to pass the message that already the Community Warden Tuqa Jirmo and his team had headed to the site. We all joined together and headed to L. Conch, we were shocked to find a VA family female -- Velvet and Vinex, her 11yr daughter -- helplessly stuck in a well. As we moved closer, there was something floating in the muddy water; it was even more awful to see that it was a tiny calf who was fighting for its life, continuous raising its trunk up probably to avoid suffocation.

Velvet & calves Velvet & calves

The well was deep and small for the elephants to even move around. We have never seen an incident where three elephants were stuck in the same well, but it came to our mind that the little calf must have slipped inside and, knowing how elephants mothers are bonded to their calves, she couldn’t let her calf die. So she must have gone in too, and while trying to rescue the calf, her daughter couldn’t it stand it and got in as well. This made them spend more than 20 hrs in the well. They were seen by Maasai herdsmen at around 10:30 am, 20th May, when they were walking their cattle to drink to the same well.

There was no way that the three elephants could come out from that well easily. Mr. Tuqa had to send for one of KWS tractor with a shovel, and the poor family had to wait for another 1½ hrs. As soon as the tractor arrived, we had to work out the logistics on how best to rescue the elephants and also without making life difficult for the calf. The shovel was used to dig the ground at an angle making it less steep on one of the well's pits. After some digging Velvet and Vinex managed to come out on their own, but the poor calf was left still floating in the muddy water.

Velvet & calves

Still the mother couldn’t leave and she had to be pushed away using the tractor; it was a tough one. The calf was finally pulled out using a very strong rope.

Velvet & calves

It was a very strong and healthy female calf. We didn't have it in our records and we estimated it to be only six days old. The little calf was dying for milk so she kept on following people and at one trying to suckle from the tractor's big tyres.

Velvet & calves

We tried the first time to take it to the mother.

Velvet & calves

But when it made some lost call rumble, Velvet came running, and we all had to run back into the vehicles with the calf following us! Our next idea was to drive our Landrover and let the calf follow with two guys walking with her close to the vehicle. She made another call and the mother came running and we drove quickly off. They reunited, and Velvet accepted her immediately. It was a happy ending: everybody loves happy endings.

Velvet & calves

Soila Sayialel

Elephants sense when they are being helped

Fri, 2007-06-29 00:30 by Jan

Harvey is right - Velvet was smart. However, I also feel strongly that most elephants are smart enough to sense when they are being helped.

I was on scene last August in Amboseli when an 18 year old bull was deeply mired in a mudhole. We keep calling to him each time he became exhausted and he would starting trying to get himself out again. Finally KWS and volunteers from Ol Tukai showed up with the heavy ropes. THough he was mired so deeply he couldn't have charged anyone, he could easily have struck out with his trunk at those close to him. He didn't. He seemed to know that people were there to help him. When he finally got out he started running, then turned around to look at everyone as though to say "thanks" and then moved off.

Elephants are incredibly smart - far smarter than most people give them credit for. Several of the former Sheldrick orphans now living free in Tsavo aren't seen for months or years, but when they are injured always come back to the Voi stockades because they know the keepers will help them. Dika, a 20 year old bull, came back when he had a snare deeply embedded in his leg. The keepers dug out the snare and also irrigated an infected temporal gland (without any anesthesia) while Dika stood patiently, not making a move to hurt the keepers despite the fact it must have hurt terribly. When all was done, he was off to being wild in the park again.

Fascinating stories

Fri, 2007-06-29 08:19 by Hans

Thanks for the interesting information!

I think that far too few people know how intelligent elephants are, and I hope that this web site can contribute to making this better known. We have to get the word out.

I think there are two lines of progress here. One is scientific research, which is careful, skeptical, precise, and slow. The other is anecdotal evidence. This always has to be taken with a grain of salt, but it also fulfills important purposes, like providing ideas in which direction future research could go. It can focus the human mind.


Rescued Calf

Wed, 2007-06-27 19:19 by clm1950

How is the little calf doing? I have read on the Sheldrick website that little calves that fall into the wells are at-risk of developing pneumonia.

Calf Doing OK

Sat, 2007-06-30 07:10 by bntawuasa

According to the AERP experts, it's true calves can develop pneumonia. On the day of the incident the calf was only four days old, but after her rescue she is doing very well so far. The VA family was last seen on June 29.

new to this site

Wed, 2008-01-16 08:25 by jay jay

hi my name is julie i live just outside of london, last night i watched a documentry on the amboseli elephants which was totally interesting funny and also very sad to watch how us humans can rip their whole world apart,i have been interested in elephants for as long as i can remember so would love to stay in touch with people on this site ,people seem to chat with you can you tell me a little about yourself thankyou
julie x

You can send a message to one person

Wed, 2008-01-16 10:57 by Hans

Hi Julie,

you can also send a message, actually an email, to one particular person. This avoids cluttering up this web site with one-on-one conversations.

Click on the nickname of that person, then click on the Contact tab at the top.

In case the Contact tab is not there, then you're out of luck, because the person has not allowed it and does not want to receive personal email messages.

Other ways to chat are to write something into the chat forum or to use the real-time chat. For the latter you'd have to make an appointment for a certain time by personal message/email, to be sure to meet the person(s) in the chat room at that time. In winter 12 noon in London is 3 pm in Kenya.

How come Velvet didn't attack?

Mon, 2007-05-28 15:31 by Hans

As a naive reader I would expect that, when a bunch of people gathers around a little elephant calf that's in a deadly helpless situation, his mother would attack the people.

Did Velvet differentiate between people and, say, lions? Did her behavior prove that she understood that the people wanted to help?

That's certainly an absolutely new situation for a wild elephant and therefore the ultimate intelligence test. I mean, elephants cannot possibly have an instinct for what to do when people with a tractor gather around their drowning babies.

Or did you simply scare her away, and she gave up her baby to the people and the tractor?

I would give a kingdom for Velvet's thoughts.


She's smart...

Mon, 2007-05-28 17:52 by hcroze

If I recall correctly, Soila said that Velvet was obviously agitated and it was necessary to keep her at bay with vehicles (that right, Soila?). But a distressed mother worried about her kid (think: one's wife at the hospital wanting to know what's going on with a sick child), albeit potentially very pugnacious, is still a being under control. I think you're right, Hans, and this is another good example of something special going on in the elephant brain, evidence of a discriminatory and simple reasoning ability associated with a theory of mind. The team has another great story about a female who was speared (Wanjuhi, was it?), who clearly knew that she had been attacked by (probably young male) Maasai (viz. Lucy Bates' work with smell discrimination), yet approached (female, elephant researcher) Maasai for (what looked like) help. Breaks your heart.

Apropos... re-stacking books after a major renovation just found this in one of my mother's old diaries: "The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men." (Leonardo)

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