(ELEPHANT RESCUE PICTURES) ZAMBIA — A trapped baby elephant and her mother were rescued from a mud pit last week in Zambia. Thankfully, wildlife officials and conservationists made it to the scene in time to save this mother and calf and return them safely to their herd. Read on for the dramatic rescue photos of these lucky elephants. — Global Animal

National Geographic, Rachel Kaufman

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Trapped in Mud

A mother African elephant and her baby lie mired in mud as family members look on in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley on November 1.

The pair were rescued by wildlife officials and conservationists after a two-hour battle against heat, dehydration, and rapidly drying mud.

The Kapani lagoon, where the elephants got strapped, is nearly dry and very sticky at this time of year—making it easy for an animal to become ensnared, said Mindy Roberts, sales director for Norman Carr Safaris, whose Kapani Lodge overlooks the lagoon. 

On this particular occasion the baby became trapped first. “One of her feet could have become stuck, and then as she thrashed around, her whole body got stuck,” Roberts said. 

When the mother elephant came to help the baby, she sank into the mud as well. Other members of the herd quickly retreated when the rescuers arrived.

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Baby in Trouble

A Norman Carr Safari staff member first heard the baby elephant (pictured) screaming, and watched as the mother became stuck, too. Safari officials then called Rachel McRobb at the South Luangwa Conservation Society to ask what to do.

The conservation society typically rescues animals that have been trapped in snares—not mud, McRobb said.

“There’s always a debate about whether, if something is a natural occurrence, you should just leave it,” she said, “but obviously elephants tend to pull everyone’s heartstrings.”

Staff with the conservation society and the Zambian Wildlife Authority arrived at the lagoon within 20 minutes with ropes and a tractor.

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Nearly Free

Rescuers fit a rope underneath the young elephant—estimated to be about two and a half years old—and began pulling, Norman Carr Safari’s Roberts said.

The mother, despite being overheated and dehydrated, still had enough energy to threaten the rescuers with her thrashing trunk.Without a rescue attempt, the prospects for the elephants were grim, South Luangwa Conservation Society’s McRobb noted.

“If hyenas and lions didn’t come and eat them alive, they would have slowly just dehydrated” to death over a period of five or six days, McRobb said. “It’s an awful thing to leave an elephant drying out in the mud.”

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Rescue in Progress

The rescue team unwraps the ropes from the young elephant, whose gender is unknown.

To compound the difficulties, every time the team freed the young elephant, “he’d run directly back to his mum, the poor thing,” McRobb said—requiring the team to start all over again.

It’s a lucky thing the elephants were noticed so quickly, McRobb added. Elephants that have been stuck for longer and then rescued generally don’t fare well in the long-term.

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Running to Safety

On the third try, a herd cousin calls for the young elephant to come to safety, and it runs, still caked in mud, to rejoin the herd.

It probably helped that the rescuers “literally chased him off,” McRobb said. “There were a couple of us actually chasing him to get him to just go back to his herd.”

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Rescuing Mom

Rescuing mom proved to be a little tougher—full-grown female elephants can weigh between 4,800 and 7,130 pounds (2,160 and 3,232 kilograms).

To complicate matters, in an attempt to free herself, Roberts said, the mother elephant wrapped her trunk around the rope tied to the tractor and started pulling. Instead of pulling herself out, “she pulled the tractor, which weighs a couple of tons, toward herself for about a meter [three feet]—that’s how strong they are.”

Photo credit: Abraham Banda, Norman Carr Safaris

Happy Ending

Two hours after she first got stuck, the mother elephant is still strong enough to run back to her herd.

Wildlife rescues like this one are somewhat common, both McRobb and Roberts said.

Roberts recalled a baby elephant that had gotten its leg stuck in the V of a tree. “The mother and aunt wouldn’t leave the calf, so they had to be darted in order to get the calf’s leg out of the tree.” McRobb adds that the morning after this rescue was performed, her conservation group found and rescued another two elephants stuck a little farther up the lagoon.

More National Geographic: news.nationalgeographic.com

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