“It is amazing how much one little elephant can cope with in such a short amount of time” Rachael Murton (Elephant Orphanage Project)
Rescued a year ago this April, at only 8 months old, Suni represents everything that is amazing about an elephant and at the same time why we must do something right now to stop the cruel and senseless act of poaching.
At just 8 months old, Suni was found dragging herself along, after somehow surviving an axe attack. No family to protect her and with wounds to her chin and a deep laceration to her back (affecting her spine and leaving her right hind leg paralyzed), it was a miracle she was alive!
However when the Game Rangers International (GRI) rescue team arrived, what they had in front of them was an elephant that was full of fighting spirit, keen to feed and the courage to trust those who wanted to help. From the Livingstone area of Zambia, she was transported to the very new Lilayi rehabilitation facility in Lusaka and the long and anxious road to recovery was about to begin.
Twenty-four hour a day TLC began… physiotherapy on her leg, wound treatment and much needed emotional support. Rachael and her team of keepers worked around the clock and when I arrived 3 months on after her rescue, an elephant greeted me that had a spring in her step and a swagger in her trunk. Yet her wounds were struggling to heel. The persistent infection in her spine would not go away and her leg was in a bad shape. Although battles had been won, Suni still had many hurdles to jump and her increasing size was putting more and more pressure on her leg!
During my visit Suni was receiving specialised care every 3 hours and on my departure I saw her enjoying the rare treat of a play time in water (due to the importance of keeping her wounds clean) with her new buddy Zambezi, but with a concerned Rachael looking on. She knew only far too well that a huge improvement was needed for Suni to have a bright future!
In early November the vets were again called in and surgery was performed on her wounds, with bone fragments removed. This would be make or break and thankfully healthy tissue began to grow back and improvements were made in her leg. However full sensation had still yet to have been restored due to the severity of the nerve damage!
This led to one final problem, how would she be able to walk without damaging her leg. At the time of my visit and looking back today as I prepare for my cycle ride across Zambia to raise vital funds for this amazing project, I don’t know how she managed to bound around the bush the way she did… pure courage.
Every brace that was applied to support her leg fell apart, often within minutes. However in flew Mark and Dan from Norway and USA and with help Nigel Goodman created an elephant boot! Their first visit was a frantic week of designing; manufacturing and fitting a unique leg support made of aluminium, PVC and leather, with various strappings and looking like an elephant snow board! The excitement and emotion from all involved when Suni finally walked normally for the first time in her brand new Elephant Boot was huge. Rachael’s text with photo that day to me that week led to a cheer in my classroom. With the Boot fitted Suni’s leg was supported and her pressure wounds could now be in the fresh air for the first time in months allowing the skin to harden again and start to heel.
The improvements were rapid and for a few weeks there was no stopping Suni, as she charged about the bush with her elephant friends, but her increased activity and vigour was too much for her boot, and wear and tear took its toll and she snapped it across the sole, leaving her bootless over Christmas… However thanks to the generosity of Suni’s supporters, the boot team returned with an even better boot that continues to see Suni bound around Lilayi like every young elephant should, full of verve and energy, a year on from her attack. She still needs constant care but thanks to her efforts and that of the all the people involved in her rehabilitation she has a chance.
In fourteen weeks time I will be in the presence of this courageous little elephant again and for me highlights why I am doing this cycle ride. Every day people across Africa are fighting for wildlife, each taking on the challenge of ending poaching. In Suni’s case they have saved a life, with the teams work in park protection they guard precious habitat and with education and community outreach they search for a secure and sustainable future.
If you would like to know more about the work of Game Rangers International, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation or my cycle ride please explore the following Internet links: www.davidshepherd.org / www.cyclezambia.co.uk / @CycleZambia
All photos © David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation