After a baby elephant got stuck in a well, rescuers from the Amboseli Elephant Research Project arrived on the scene to help it. However, before they could even attempt dragging the calf to safety, they first had to deal with its panicking mother.
The Amboseli National Park is located in southern Kenya. Seated in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, the 97,000-acre reserve is teeming with wildlife. Not only do 400 species of bird call the park home, it is also one of the best places on Earth to watch elephants.
Given the plight of elephants in the past 200 years – largely due to poaching – the herd in Amboseli are lucky to be thriving. In Kenya alone, elephant populations dropped by 85 percent between the years 1973 and 1989. However, the elephants at Amboseli have enjoyed a relatively undisturbed existence.
Because of this – and the fact the elephants there roam freely – in 1972 the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) set up camp in the park. It was founder Cynthia Moss’ ambition to study the animals to learn everything about their behavior and social structures.
More than 40 years later, the AERP has documented the lifespans of close to 3,000 elephants and continues to gather data. Through its work, the project is committed to finding solutions to the problems that the species faces and keeping it safe for generations to come.
More often than not, working towards these goals means sharing the results of AERP studies with the wider conservation community so that it can better serve the elephant population. However, during one incident in 2012, some staff from the project took their mission to save the African elephant quite literally.
It all began when the AERP learned of an unfolding situation concerning one of the female elephants from their study. The animal’s name was Zombe, and she was the mom of an eight-month-old calf that had somehow fallen down a well and gotten stuck.
Due to the slippy mud on the edge of the hole, the little calf couldn’t find a purchase. And to make matters worse, Zombe was unable to help her baby, which understandingly caused her a great deal of anxiety. But luckily for them both, members of the AERP were on their way.
The staff got to the scene early in the morning, just before Zombe would have been forced to leave by the arrival of herders at the well. However, by the time AERP members arrived, she was already clearly distressed. As a result, they had to attend to her before seeing to her baby.
In video footage from the rescue effort, AERP staff pull up to the scene to find Zombe trumpeting at her baby’s side. She’s too close to the well for rescuers to intervene. As a result, they drive their trucks slowly towards her to push her away from the hole.
Zombe originally refuses to leave her calf, so one of the women driving a truck begins shrieking loudly, and that sends her running in the opposite direction. Once the mother is at a safe distance, the AERP members turn their attention to her baby in the well.
Although the calf was only eight months old, it was still too heavy for the rescuers to lift unaided. As a result, they attached a rope to the bumper of one of the trucks and proceeded to tie the other end around the terrified baby elephant.
However, attaching the calf to the pulley proves to be a difficult affair. Preoccupied by her mother’s calls, the little elephant attempts to escape the well in the direction of the trumpeting, rather than coming towards rescuers who are standing on the shallowest side.
Explaining the team’s woes, the driver of the awaiting truck says, “What they’re trying to do is get the rope under the tail, as best. The trouble is the water’s so deep in the bottom that it floats on the surface, so we can’t get the rope low enough.”
Eventually though, the AERP team are able to loop the rope around the baby. Once they do so, the woman driving the truck is able to heave the exhausted-looking calf out of the well. Once back on dry land, the young elephant jumps to her feet and runs off in search of her mom.
To ensure her safe return home, the AERP follow the calf on her journey. And after running for what seems to be miles the baby finally catches sight of Zombe. Next the mom starts sprinting towards her in return, calling out to her child as she does so.
When the pair finally meet in the middle, the mom wraps a concerned trunk around her calf’s body. It seems she is checking that all is well. The emotional reunion continues as the baby crawls under her mother’s stomach, perhaps looking for milk.
As the heartwarming footage comes to a close, the little elephant can be seen sticking close to her mom’s side. She presumably stayed there for some time to prevent any further accidents from happening. But her rescuers were just happy to have helped her regardless.
And their noble efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the six million viewers their rescue footage got on YouTube. Writing in the comment section, one viewer said, “These are the kind of people we need more of… Thank you.”
Meanwhile, another person commented, “I often despair at how many innocent, thinking, feeling mammals we cage, torture, nibble on and throw away, but this is a lovely moment. Amazing things can happen when you care about the world.”