New life came to Tsavo yesterday — and with it, a momentous milestone for the Trust. Ithumbah introduced us to her hours-old baby, who also happens to be the 50th calf born to an orphan we rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild that has been shared with us!
This birth is as much an achievement for Ithumbah as it is for Kenya’s entire elephant population. As of today, 50 elephants walk this earth because of a life saved many years ago.
Ithumbah’s entree into motherhood is especially poignant for our Ithumba team, who have raised her from the very beginning. Her journey dates back to a morning in September 2010, when Head Keeper Benjamin was delivering rocks to Ithumba Dam. Much as it is today, Tsavo was in the grips of a brutal dry season. Inspecting the dam’s receding water level, Benjamin saw a young calf bogged down in the black cotton clay. She had obviously gotten stuck overnight, leaving her family with no choice but to abandon her to the darkness. It was a miracle that predators hadn’t taken her overnight.
Hoping that the calf might later reunite with her mother and herd, we decided to bypass the Nursery and raise her at Ithumba. In honour of her origins and her unique upbringing, we named her Ithumbah.
The miracle reunion was not to be, but Ithumbah found a new family at Ithumba. Rescued as a two-year-old, she quickly became the darling of the orphan herd. Loijuk, who was mini matriarch at the time, immediately took her under her wing. As Ithumbah grew up and began to explore her independence, she was mentored by the likes of Yatta, Kinna, and Galana. Once she reclaimed her place in the wild, she floated among these ex-orphan herds, becoming a much-loved nanny to her older friends’ babies.
We knew that motherhood was on the horizon for Ithumbah. Over the course of nearly two years, our Keepers observed her belly becoming notably rounder with each subsequent visit. However, we didn’t realise the happy moment was quite so imminent! Ithumbah and her friends stopped by the stockades on Monday night, where they enjoyed supplemental lucerne and caught up with their human-elephant family. Ithumbah looked very pregnant, but nothing in her behaviour indicated that she would become a mother in a few short hours.
The following day, 12th July 2022, Deputy Head Keeper Emmanuel was walking back from the midday mud bath. Suddenly, Ithumbah appeared out of the bush and strode over to him — and by her side was a newborn baby girl! Emmanuel led the pair back to the stockades, where he rewarded Ithumbah with a well-earned treat of dairy cubes and lucerne pellets while he checked on her baby’s condition. We are happy to share that baby Iman, as we have named her, is a picture of health. Emmanuel reports that she is lively and strong, with bright eyes and a spunky spirit.
Keeping with tradition, Ithumbah made it her first priority to introduce Iman to the people who raised her. This has become common practice among our ex-orphan mums, but it is an honour we never take for granted, no matter how many times it happens. Once you have won the heart of an elephant, that love lasts a lifetime. We are grateful that orphans like Ithumbah, who are now fully wild elephants, still consider us part of their ever-expanding family. And now, we will have the privilege of watching her daughter grow up in the wild alongside her own mother, just as nature intended.