This year, having arrived at Ithumba on New Year’s Eve, we were not disappointed by the spectacle that unfolded. Visiting the Ithumba Stockades in the evening, there was “Bongo”, surely the happiest 3 ½ year old elephant alive, who after spending time harassed as a “problem orphan” on the foothills of Mt. Kenya, threatened with death at the hands of the local community, had thereafter been incarcerated in his stockade at the Nursery taming down from a wild boy bent on killing any human that came within reach of his one long tusk. It was heartwarming to see this gentle, obedient, and happy Ithumba Keeper Dependent orphan who loves his Keepers and his milk as well as a host of tasty low country greens brought on by recent rain showers. Now he as the lamb the Nursery Keepers thought they would never see, and an integral part of the Ithumba Junior herd, with Kanjoro as his very best friend! There was Laragai and Narok, along with Bongo the most recent arrivals, looking relaxed, happy and very well amidst their new friends.
And, while we were catching up with the Keeper Dependent group, we were told that Wendi, whom we had reared from the day she was born, and who had been relentlessly pursued as a reluctant bride by a host of Big Ithumba Bulls in April 2013, was again in an interesting condition for the Big Wild Boys. Our first reaction was “Oh, poor Wendi!” knowing how reluctant she had been last time round and what a difficult time she had experienced trying to “lose” them! But then, in came all the Ex Orphans, in amongst them Wendi with two suitors in tow – one whom she was clearly in love, for she was coquettish around him, until he was forced to keep his distance because his girlfriend wanted to come and greet us, her extended human family. It was wonderful to see her so relaxed in the company of the one who would obviously father her first-born – a handsome fellow with long curved tusks, with a runner-up “ever hopeful” also keeping a close eye on Wendi, but he decided to chase after Kinna instead. She, like Wendi in 2013, was a reluctant lover and took to her heels! There was Yatta and her little Yetu, Mulika and little Mwende, both wild-born babies now plump two and a bit years olds, and Mulika’s poisoned arrow wounds that had needed surgery on two occasions, now completely healed. Benjamin was looking over his charges lovingly as he does each and every day, immersed in the love and appreciation of a herd of 54 orphaned elephants happy a most living lives amidst wild elephant friends. As each Ex Orphan was pointed out to us by Benjamin, (since those of us who no longer see them daily cannot now recognize them all), images of each and every one as they were when they came to us came back to us - broken both in body and emotion, emaciated, grieving and lost souls who simply faced death stoically, all now visibly well and so happy – a cohesive wild herd, accompanied by wild elephant friends of both sexes, healed, grown and so very, very well and happy. Such scenes brings tears to one’s eyes, but on this occasion, not of sorrow, but of joy, and pride as well seeing the result of years of sweat and toil, having given so many orphaned elephant babies another chance of life and above all a quality of life in wild terms. For those of us who know elephants well, nothing can match that gift and we are proud to have been able to give it, thanks to the wonderful support we have enjoyed from a caring global public..
Suguta’s group numbering some 12 other orphans amongst whom is Kilaguni, Sabachi and Kandecha as well as Chaimu, Murka, Olare, Kalama, Chemi Chemi and Miracle Murka, who came with spear blade embedded in her skull, now healed, happy and whole again, with just a very slight indentation in her forehead as evidence of the previous suffering she had endured at the hands of poachers, now enjoyed spending more independent time apart from the amd other younger Keeper Dependent Orphans, but were still returning to the Stockades, often on their own, filing in religiously each evening, and sometimes escorted by one or several of the older Ex Orphans.
Sure enough, they turned up a little later, brought home by Madiba (so named in honour of Mandela) and his Ex Orphan male friend, Kenze. We remembered Suguta as she was when she came to us a tiny wizened orphan whom we never expected to even live, and she was now on the cusp of taking her rightful place back amongst the wild community. We also recalled Madiba who was flown by Private Plane from South Africa, way back in September 2003, a little hairy elephant baby who could have been the offspring of a woolly mammoth, and who didn’t seem to know he was an elephant, for he had spent his early infancy with a tiny rhino calf. In the beginning he had eyes only for our orphaned rhinos, ignoring the other Nursery elephants completely, which puzzled them no end. Now as a handsome 10 year old in his 11th year with stout tusks and a confident manner, he and Kenze had obviously been tasked by Yatta to escort new initiates to her now wild family herd back home until they were sufficiently confident to make the final break from human dependency.
The next day we enjoyed watching Bongo’s antics, as soon as the Keeper Dependent Juniors left their Night Stockade at dawn. Demonstrating to all that he was quite used to climbing mountains, he clambered high up the huge rocky outcrop that overlooks the Stockades, looking down on all the others, before running to catch up with them as they made their way out into the bush to browse. And at the noon mudbath, he was first in the wallow, rolling around in the mud with gay abandon and making sure that water had been first been thrown over every inch of his body to cool it down, since the warmth of Tsavo was still somewhat alien to a Mount Kenya elephant used to icy mornings and bountiful rain.
Indeed, a New Year spent at Ithumba amongst the Trust’s success stories, is a tonic to set one up for the year ahead, and something of which we never tire. We returned to Nairobi on the 3rd, refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to face another challenging year, and top set about trying to heal yet another poaching victim flown in the previous day with a cable snare that had cut to the bone.
Would that those who buy ivory in the Far East could witness the suffering of this baby, and of those that have no hope of a second chance of life due to their avariciousness and greed for their teeth. We are hopeful that, just perhaps, with the help of the International Community, the tide might turn in time to save the beleaguered elephants and rhinos, and that China and the Far East will be persuaded to help Save Africa’s Majestic Giants for humanity as a whole, by carving not Elephants’ teeth, but white bones and stone, instead. How shameful it will be if the demise of Elephants and Rhinos is all for a trinket and, in the case of the rhinos, a foolish and out-dated myth that has no place in this, the 21st Century.