The planet’s biggest land animals are usually pretty good at looking after themselves, but when a baby elephant tumbled into a drinking hole in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park, wildlife rangers had to jump in to give the youngster a bit of help. Photographer Corney Coetzee managed to capture the dramatic scene on camera.
Initially the rest of the herd rallied together in a rescue attempt, wetting the side of the watering hole and trying to crumble the edge of the rock-hard mud embankment to help free the struggling elephant.
“Park rangers came to help, initially planning to bring in a backhoe to break down the mud wall so the baby could climb out of the water,” Coetzee explains. “The adult elephants, however, became agitated at the sight of the large equipment. They pushed the baby further away and guarded it from the banks of the dam.”
Time for Plan B. A group of wildlife officials used a vehicle to scare off the rest of the herd while a couple of brave rangers dashed towards the distressed baby.
“Haste was crucial. Jumping in the water, the rangers used their strength to cradle the baby and push it up towards dry land. More staff joined to assist from the sides and help the small (but nevertheless heavy) elephant.”
It took a considerable amount of effort (even at this young age, elephants are no lightweights!), but eventually the rangers managed to heave the elephant back onto dry land before quickly retreating to their nearby vehicle. But instead of heading back to the rest of its herd, the youngster followed suit, chasing after its rescuers.
By now the mother and baby could no longer see each other and a quick plan had to be devised to reunite the family. A bit more heavy lifting was needed – the team hoisted the rescued elephant into their vehicle and drove it closer to its worried mom.
“When they let the baby off the [truck], it once again tried to run back to its human rescuers,” says Coetzee. “This time, however, the mother could see her child and quickly intervened to stop the wayward babe.”
It was a three-hour ordeal, but thanks to the dedicated work of these rangers the story had a happy ending.
Scroll through the gallery below to see the dramatic rescue from start to finish.