Story of Mary: The Elephant


By Iris Hunt

Against All Odds

Mary’s Story

The Elephant We’ll Never Forget

Somewhere roaming the vast wild-lands of Tsavo in Southern Kenya, There’s an Elephant who carries with her part of my heart. I haven’t seen her for many years now, but I think of her often Wondering if there’s any truth about Elephants “never forgetting.” Wondering in particular, if she might remember how it was with us At the perilous start of her life – a chance ill-matched pairing Of a substitute mother and lost waif of a child ? I’ll never know...

The year is 1975 Kenya is still a young republic – just 12 years on from its New Age rite of passage to Uhuru – “freedom” – from British colonial rule. Its first President, Jomo Kenyatta, is a figure of immense stature. He towers over the country, The Mzee – a wise, tough African greybeard – beating the air with an emblematic fly-whisk to make the point of an endlessly repeated rallying cry. Harambee, he harangues the crowds. “All pull together” – Black, Brown and White – towards his objective of a stable, disciplined “home-grown” democracy in the new Kenya.
Only the future would tell how strong this young Nation would prove facing the winds of change that now sweep the continent.
We too are oddly unaware of the magnitude of changes and challenges facing us.
Our friend, movie actor and conservationist Bill Holden, is back in Kenya to join us for a safari. Our mission is to help the fledgling wildlife authorities carry out a realistic survey of the impacts of the slaughter in the once game-rich “Northern Frontier District.”
The President himself is concerned, along with the world of conservationists at large. Demonstrably so, since he seeks our advice and assistance in countering the combined threats of the criminal plunder of a priceless national resource.

Jomo Kenyatta

William Holden and Don Hunt

The Insurgents in the region have a political agenda, laying claim to parts of Kenya’s sovereign territory and aiming to destabilize the thinly-stretched provincial administration. But they are also driven by greed. With the price of ivory still soaring, the rogue bands of Shifta, as they’re called – “bandits” or “brigands” – are increasingly turning their modern, high-powered weapons on the defenseless elephants.
At first they restricted their operations to the far north where they were unlikely to be intercepted as they carried their loot to waiting ivory merchants across the border close to the coast. But with the elephant herds drastically reduced in these areas, the gangs are now more boldly raiding south down the eastern side of Lake Turkana as far as the important wildlife reserves of the Samburu district.
It is this open expanse of dry bush-land around the Mathews mountain range that we’re now transecting for the survey. And, as on many previous safaris, we both see and sense the effects of the insidious war of attrition on the wildlife – Elephants in particular.
It’s clear that there is a significant reduction in their numbers overall. The once great herds of a hundred or more have also broken up into much smaller groups and there is marked change in the behavior of the animals. In the past they would normally be unfazed by the approach of the safari vehicles. But now they are clearly nervous and sometimes aggressively “spooked” as soon as we appear in their line of vision.
We set off from camp at first light and, after a while, go off-track to investigate an ominous circling of vultures. Suddenly we come onto to an appalling, grizzly scene. A full-grown female Elephant lies slaughtered, bloody holes gouged out on either side of her trunk where the tusks have been crudely hacked out of the flesh of her cheeks.

No one speaks. The stillness is interrupted only by whirring buzz of flies over the barely dried, clotting blood. Vultures’ wings, flapping overhead, cast dark flickering ghostlike shadows as the hideous birds descend and fight for front position. They jostle aggressively, waiting for the moment to move in and start tearing on the soft parts of the carcass.
The scene of the murder of this majestic animal is horrific – unspeakably so, as we silently approach to determine exactly how she had been killed. We count 37 bullet holes in the one side of the head and body fully exposed to view.
She never had a chance, obviously gunned down in a hail of fire, and I feel intense shame for my own kind – the human low-life, Shifta no doubt, capable of such an act of primitive savagery. Before anyone speaks, we discover another carcass nearby. A young bull, fallen onto its knees, brought down in its tracks in another summary execution. We then find a third slaughtered Elephant – and another. Four in all.
We are close to a track and see fresh tire marks. They must have come in a vehicle just before dawn. Almost certainly they used spotlights to illuminate the shadowy shapes of the huge bodies moving silently through the low desert bush. With no danger to themselves, they would have moved within range and opened up with their automatic weapons. A callous, easy, atrocious massacre.

Don Hunt with elephant carcass

I am sickened by the sight of it all, emotionally drained and physically inert. But then something makes me walk back to the lifeless body of the female matriarch we saw first. I look again and see that the teats between her front legs are swollen with milk.
But before I can alert the others, there’s a shrill, high pitched scream. The bush parts as a tiny baby Elephant rushes at me in a brave attempt to drive me off the prostrate mother. Her trunk and chest are splattered with blood and there’s a glistening of sweat from erupting glands on the side of her face.
But she’s unsteady on her feet as she charges and nearly falls, which triggers an instinctive defensive reaction from Don and Bill. Instantly the three of us grab the baby, stop the rush, but struggle to maintain a hold on her heavy, threshing body. It’s not easy. The little animal is screaming with rage at what she must perceive as her mother’s killers and there’s a perilous moment as Bill is knocked to the ground. Elephants Maralal but three of our African crew jump in to help and, with Bill immediately back in the fray, we quickly manage to restrain her. Shock drains the calf’s remaining strength and we can feel her legs tremble as she finally becomes calm.It’s all happened in a few moments of adrenalin rush for us. But at what cost to the traumatized infant elephant, we will have to wait to find out. I take the chance to do a quick, superficial check and am relieved to see there’s no obviously injury on her trunk or anywhere else. The alarming blood on her body is evidently her mother’s.There’s no telling, of course, what exactly happened when the assassins struck sometime in the hours before dawn. But it’s likely that they would have first carried out their killing spree, downing the four adults in the family group, then chasing off the little calf as they returned to her mother to hurriedly chop out the tusks. In the interim, in panic and confusion, the infant would have would have rubbed up against the prostrate body, smearing herself with blood oozing from the mothers wounds.Once the gang had departed the scene, she would have returned and tried desperately to “wake” her mother and expended more energy in keeping the ever-menacing vultures at bay. Hence her weakened state at the point of the charge.
Now her trembling calm, almost catatonic, is seriously worrying. I’m well aware that shock can be a sudden killer, as with humans, and I fear the worst for this baby Elephant – motherless orphan as she is now.It doesn’t take long to persuade Don and Bill to call off the safari there and then. I see doubt in their eyes, but they know it has to be done. The prospects are not good, but we must get the tiny calf back to the Ranch as fast as we can if it’s to have any chance of survival.They immediately start work on digging out a ramp so that the baby can be more easily loaded into a backed-up Land-Rover. It’s a tricky job, but eventually she’s safely installed and with her head lying across my lap as we head off for Nanyuki.I’m grateful to the men for giving it a try against the odds. And as if to will a positive outcome, with the light fading out a day I would never forget, I make a vow that, if she lives, my new charge would some day be returned to a natural life in the wild so summarily and cruelly cut short.


  • An Odd Love-Match
  • Trial and Erro
  • A Precedent called ‘Eleanor’
  • QED ! The Formula Works
  • The Best Christmas Ever!
  • Educating Mary
  • Her Excellency


Mary’s Story • The Elephant We’ll Never Forget

By Iris Hunt The story so far: Don and Iris Hunt, on Safari together will Bill Holden, rescue a tiny Elephant whose mother has fallen victim to poachers’ bullets in the remote Samburu area of Northern Kenya. Iris takes the infant Elephant home to the Orphanage and makes a vow to return her to the wild one day – if she survives. “Mary,” as they call her, does recover and becomes a much loved member of the family and a long-stay resident ....


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