Herculean Rescue: Firefighters Save Ailing Elephant Unable to Stand

When an African elephant named Umna fell ill and could not rise due to a life-threatening condition known as colic, firefighters were called to carry out a mammoth rescue at the Howletts Wild Animal Park, located near Canterbury, Kent.

Umna’s 2-ton weight posed a massive challenge for the park keepers who tried to get the 13-year-old elephant back on her feet.

Initial attempts to lift her using ropes were unsuccessful, as was a second try with a forklift truck.

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The park staff, facing an escalating emergency, turned to Kent Fire and Rescue Service, known for its proficiency in animal rescue and heavy lifting operations.

Lift: Umna needed help from the local services to be lifted to her feet after collapsing at Howletts Wild Animal Park
Lift: Umna needed help from the local services to be lifted to her feet after collapsing at Howletts Wild Animal Park.

Firefighters, who typically handle farm animal rescues, were dispatched from Faversham at 9:30 am. Urban search and rescue teams and a crew from Whitstable later joined them.

Ian West, Faversham’s watch manager at the scene, shared that they combined their expertise in heavy rescues with the park keepers’ knowledge of elephants to devise a plan.

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They positioned strops around Umna’s front body. They used a Tirfor winch to lift her legs into a ‘begging’ position, eventually enabling her to manage her weight.

Up on her feet: Umna is suffering from colic and the zoo keepers wanted to keep her moving, so brought in the local firemen
Up on her feet: Umna is suffering from colic, and the zoo keepers wanted to keep her moving, so they brought in the local firemen.

West expressed his amazement at the successful outcome, calling it a memorable, likely once-in-a-career event.

Neil Spooner, the animal director at Howletts, acknowledged the crucial assistance of animal transport expert Roy Smith, who coincidentally was at the park for a meeting.

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He said the collaboration between the firefighters, the elephant keepers, and Smith saved Umna’s life, expressing his profound gratitude for their efforts.

Help: Firefighters initially tried to shift the 13-year-old by placing ropes around her body to lift her, but the two-tonne animal proved just too heavy - and a second attempt was made using a forklift truck
Help: Firefighters initially tried to shift the 13-year-old by placing ropes around her body to lift her, but the two-tonne animal proved just too heavy – and a second attempt was made using a forklift truck.
Baby: Umna is shown here in 1997 as a baby elephant with mother Tamara
Baby: Umna is shown here in 1997 as a baby elephant with her mother, Tamara.
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