In February 2008 an elephant cow at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape of South Africa tragically fell down a ridge and was found dead by rangers two days later. She left behind a dehydrated and frightened 6 month old calf hiding in the brush a short distance from where his mother lay dead.
A week later the calf was seen desperately trying to drink from the other elephant cows in the herd. He was unsuccessful in his attempts even though in nature it is quite common for a cow to adopt an orphaned calf. The calf was clinging to life and the Sanbona rangers decided to capture him immediately. The Sanbona rangers contacted the team at their sister reserve, Shamwari, for support. The calf was rehydrated and immediately transported 700km from Sanbona to Shamwari Game Reserve’s wildlife hospital.
The rangers named him “Themba”, which means “trust” in Xhosa, a locally spoken language in the Shamwari region of South Africa.
February 2010 was to be an exciting journey for Themba. Themba has become famous across the globe as his rescue story appeared on Animal Planet, and he was even more popular for his infamous relationship with Albert, the sheep.
When the Mantis Conservation team rescued Themba two years ago, it required intensive team work amongst the wildlife personnel and volunteers to comfort Themba through his initial months at Shamwari. A rhino boma at the Rehabilitation Center was modified to meet Themba’s needs and requirements from infra red lights, a man-made pond to cool off in hot summer days, a kitchen for his special food requirements to unusual sleeping facilities for his keeper, as Themba needed 24 hour comfort and companionship. And as Themba needed an animal ‘mate’ a merino sheep was sourced and kindly donated by a neighbouring estate. The sheep was named Albert, and as they say the rest was history, as Themba and Albert bonded and were seen together all over the reserve and remained close friends.
As the ultimate objective was to re-introduce Themba back into the wild, with much ongoing guidance from animal expert, Daphne Shelderick in Kenya, the wildlife team started to slowly prepare and separate the bond between Themba and Albert. Themba and Albert were separated in a manner that they could still communicate though a fence. This separation allowed Themba to associate with other wildlife species such as a sub adult wildebeest calf; a positive rehabilitation sign. Themba was also exposed to fresh elephant droppings to familiarise himself to members of his own kind.
Unfortunately tragedy struck, as Themba’s keeper noticed that he was reacting quite strangely and immediately reported the behaviour to resident veterinarian. On examination, Themba showed a sign of severe colic, initial treatment was ineffective, however, his condition improved later. Unfortunately later that night, despite intensive treatments, Themba went into a coma and sadly died on Friday morning, 5th February 2010. This was a huge shock to all and those close to Themba were devastated. The post mortem revealed a massive torsion of the large intestine. This is not a common condition in elephant species and almost impossible to treat surgically due to elephant anatomy and size.
It can be clearly seen that Albert is missing his oldest ‘mate’, even though he has started to associate with other patients in the Shamwari Rehabilitation Centre.
Themba will always be remembered by each and everybody who spent time with him during his stay at Shamwari.