Conservationists in Zimbabwe said Wednesday round-the-clock efforts to save a baby elephant, separated from his mother on a busy highway, have failed. The six-week-old calf who has been hand fed for three weeks has died, apparently from pneumonia.
Conservation expert Gordon Putterill said that elephants are notoriously difficult to hand rear, unlike other wild animals. The baby calf was named Kunda, or Triumph in the local Shona language, for his determination to survive after he was found alone on the highway, he said.
Kunda's mother may have been injured by a truck after the herd fled from a busy trucking highway in northwestern Zimbabwe, uncharacteristically leaving him behind, trackers said. The herd's tracks led deep into the thick bush several miles (kilometers) away from where the baby calf was found.
With shoulders that measured just 2 feet 9 inches (80 centimeters) across, Putterill said Kunda touched the hearts of all those who tried to save him.
Kunda gained more than 40 pounds (20 kilograms) while in human care to reach about 200 pounds (100 kilograms) in weight, Putterill said. But then he got diarrhea despite receiving specialized soy milk, palm and coconut oil derivatives and nutrients prescribed by top veterinarians in eastern and southern Africa. The veterinarians, however, had warned that it was rare for young elephants to survive without a mother.
"The poor little guy looked so frail," said Putterill, a veteran game ranger based at the Mwanga Lodge conservancy about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Harare.
The stomach condition sapped Kunda's strength but he recovered. Soon after, though, his temperature soared and he began breathing noisily as pneumonia set it in.
Kunda was fed and given medication intravenously but his "vital signs" deteriorated and he died peacefully in his sleep, Putterill said.
Kunda had very little control of his small trunk but, like human babies, "sampled new things with his mouth," Putterill said.
"Had his mother been feeding him, he would have been boosted by her antibodies," he said.
Kunda snored at night, played in water, squealed when he was frustrated, didn't want to be alone in his new environment and liked people around him. The calf had a character all his own that deeply affected his human helpers.
"Kunda became an ambassador for elephant conservation. One must not give up on trying to help orphaned and vulnerable wildlife despite the heartbreaks," he said.