When wildlife rangers in Zimbabwe found a young elephant desperately struggling to free itself from a muddy pit on the shores of Lake Kariba this week, they launched a frantic rescue attempt to try to save the animal. 


The rangers were joined by a team from the Kariba Animal Welfare Fund Trust (KAWFT), and staff from a nearby safari lodge also stepped in to help with rescue efforts. The team speculates the young male elephant had been trapped for around four days before he was spotted, sinking deep into the thick mud as he struggled to escape and using his trunk like a snorkel to keep from drowning.

Photos of the dramatic rescue, posted to Facebook by Gache Gache Lodge guest Melissa Mackenzie, were widely shared online. 

When rescue attempts using a tractor failed, members of the team waded into the mud to tie ropes around the elephant so he could be pulled out, risking blows from the distressed animal's trunk in the process.  

Sadly, despite finally climbing free, the elephant emerged exhausted and seriously weakened after so many days without water in the hot African sun. “After an extremely long [overnight] wait for this boy to get up, bearing in mind that an adult or sub-adult elephant cannot be left down for too long, the decision was made by [wildlife officials] to euthanise him,” Gache Gache Lodge's Ray Townsend said in a statement on Facebook.

Officials admitted that the decision to put the young bull down had been a tough one, but its poor condition would have made a full recovery very unlikely, they said.

This is not the first time that the team from KAWFT has dealt with an ordeal like this one. In December 2013, an adult female elephant became similarly stuck in a mudhole in a northern part of the country, and despite repeated efforts to rehydrate her, the animal was also euthanised.

“This is never an easy task ... but amazing people always come to the fore,” KAWFT said.

"Although not a happy ending, it was still nice to see a group of people give up their time and come together to give an animal a second chance at life. They couldn't have tried harder," said Mackenzie of this week's rescue attempt.

Top header image: Oliver B., Flickr