Elephant rescue shows good, bad side of human intervention

It’s one of those increasingly rare feel-good news stories: A baby elephant baby is trapped in a waterhole, and game rangers with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the good people of  the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust set it  free it so it can be reunited with its mom.

All ends well. In a part of Africa rife with poaching and human-wildlife conflict this is one story, at least, with a happy ending.

The Daily Mail’s online video has gone viral, and small wonder.

The problem with the constant litany of climate-change warnings and disaster stories is that, after a while, the average person feels numbed.

Numbness can lead to a kind of fatalism: I can’t do anything, so why should I bother? If another mass extinction is inevitable, as some scientists are now saying, why even try to stop it?

Ele orphans follow their minder into Nairobi National Park for the day at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Photo ©Alex Strachan

Ele orphans follow their minder into Nairobi National Park for the day at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Photo ©Alex Strachan

Except that, as the Sheldrick elephant trust and orphanage inside  Nairobi National Park prove every day, small, individual battles can be won along the way.

If you can look past the low-res, grainy image of this video — and if you can overlook the typically trite music (silence would've been better) — there’s much here’s that’s instructive. The elephants are clearly distressed by the helicopter’s rotor blades and clouds of dust kicked up. The mother ele has no way of knowing the rescuers are there to help. The baby is terrified, not least because it’s trapped and can’t get away from the noise.

The rescue is hard on the rescuers, too, because they know the stress they’re creating, even though it’s in a good cause.

The truth is that helicopters are expensive to fly and even more expensive to maintain. The reality, though, is that large stretches of wild Africa are vast, so vast that the only effective way to see what’s going on — and counter poaching — is from the air. It’s sheer luck that the game rangers happened on the trapped baby, and even more lucky, for the elephants, that these human intruders know what they’re doing. The Kenya Wildlife Service has done this before and will probably have to do it again.

A lot can go wrong — but it doesn’t.

At the end of the day, this was one for the victory column.

A cynic might say the baby elephant will fall down an actual well the next time, or get nailed by lions or, worse, witness its mom fall to a poacher.

It's  just as possible it will live to a long, ripe old age, though, and pass along its experience to younger elephants in later years. Elephants have long memories, after all.