Rapsu is one of the 15 orphan baby elephants rescued by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), whose names adorn our Elephant London Dry Gin miniature bottles.
Mark Jenkins, Warden of Meru National Park, Kenya, spotted the young elephant, all alone and far from any other herds. Mark was sure he found an orphan, and it was too young to survive without milk. He immediately called the DSWT team. In the meantime, the Meru Park Rangers set forth to capture the calf, who turned out to be a bull of around two years old, with tusks just visible through the lip. He was still very strong, although terribly thin, with prominent cheek bones indicating a starvation case without his mother’s milk probably for over two weeks.
The place where he was found within Meru National Park is known as “Rapsu”, and this word in the Orma language means “a place with a lot of rocks”. It is an area normally popular with the Meru elephants during the wet season of April/May, each year, but on this occasion, the orphan now named “Rapsu” (to identify his origin) was the only one in the area, indicating that some terrible incident must have taken place, depriving him of his mother and driving the elephant herds away.
Capturing this calf was a challenge, and even more of a challenge was transporting him un-sedated in the Caravan Aircraft that flew up by the DSWT for the rescue. However, the Trust’s rescue team is very experienced, and once Rapsu’s legs were bound together and he was loaded onto the rescue tarpaulin, he was heaved into the plane by about 10 men and there was little resistance he could make. Upon arrival, at 5 p.m. at the orphanage, he was given the prophylactic antibiotic injection before being untied, when, in order to avoid being crushed, everyone had to make a hurried exit as he got to his feet. Desperately thirsty, he took water from a bucket placed outside the Stockade, but the sight of a human, even one holding a bottle of milk, provoked an angry reaction.
However, during the night he drank milk from a bucket, and by the next day would accept it from the bottle, having seen all the other Nursery inmates drink theirs in this way. Administering the second of the three antibiotic injections needed also proved quite a challenge. A blanket had to be thrown across his head, whilst some l0 men rushed in to restrain him in a corner so that the vet could deal with him. It took him a week to settle down but then he turned as docile as all the other orphans.
He is now a good-looking bull, with the longest eyelashes in the nursery, and soft dark brown eyes.
Photo copyright and text: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust