The rescue of Orphan Mpenzi, was unique in that she was found on her own aged approximately 8 months below the Park Headquarters, by the Keepers and other orphans. A victim of poaching, she was thin but otherwise not in very bad condition. They absorbed her into their unit under the Matriarch-ship of Eleanor, and because her condition was fair, she was spared having to be brought up to the Nairobi Nursery.
Instead, she grew up, along with the others within Eleanor’s unit, until Eleanor left to join the wild herds in order to have her first calf well away from human company. Obviously suspicious that her human friends might take the calf from her, Eleanor never knew the Nairobi Nursery, and couldn’t understand where all the new orphans continually turning up in Voi, came from. (Orphaned elephants who have lost their natural family, are prone to attempting to snatch the young of others in order to re-build their unit). Before leaving, Eleanor diligently handed over the orphans in her custody to a wild friend, the Matriarch we have since named “Catherine”. Among these were orphans Lissa, (born in 1986), several young bulls of her age (now known as the Trust’s “Big Boys”) and Mpenzi (born in l992) who had always been very attached to Lissa, whom she looked upon as a “big sister”.
When Lissa was 14 year old, she gave birth to her first calf just behind the Voi Stockades, an event that was witnessed by our Keepers. Mpenzi was with her and beside herself with excitement in amongst a herd of other wild elephant attendants. Thereafter Mpenzi acted as “Nannie” to Lissa’s first (named Lara), as well as to Lissa’s second (named Lali) and the third (named Lugard) – all wild-born calves.
Then in 2006, when Mpenzi was herself 14 years of age, she left Lissa’s family to have her own first calf alone, probably again fearing that it too might be hijacked from her by another elephants, or even her human friends, since she, too had no understanding of the Nursery. Her baby was born just below the Voi Safari Lodge on the 23rd August and lacking the protection of other elephants, instantly became the target of the resident pride of lions. Visitors at the nearby Lodge were distressed to have to witness a tragedy unfolding before them, as the lions persisted in trying to wrest the baby from the protection of its mother. Whenever Mpenzi tried to chase off one, others moved in from elsewhere, so clearly this was a battle she was never going to win. Soon her calf, hopelessly defenseless, was at risk and there was little that she could do about it.
A hurried message sent to the Park Headquarters by distressed visitors staying at the Voi Safari Lodge, alerted our Voi Elephant Keepers to make haste to try and save the calf since the young mother was unable to do so. However, when the Keepers arrived at the scene, some 20 minutes later, they were horrified to find that the young mother in question was, in fact, orphan Mpenzi, whom they had reared from the age of eight months, and who was normally part of Lissa’s group. By that time, the calf was dead, lying in a broken bundle at Mpenzi’s feet, as she continued to do what she could to try and protect its tiny body from the lions, her temporal glands streaming from distress.
Instantly she recognized the Keepers as her human family, and intensified the spirited struggle to drive off the lions, this time assisted by the Keepers in their vehicle. But, by then darkness was closing in, and the lions were becoming emboldened, more determined than ever to enjoy their meal. Eventually, Mpenzi understood that the time had come to leave for her own safety, and as she sadly began to wander off, looking extremely forlorn with streaming temporal glands, the Keepers escorted her to ensure that she herself did not come under attack. Her anguish was plain for all to see and from time to time she cried out – a loud heart-rending bellow of despair having lost her precious new baby to the lions just one day after she had successfully brought it into the world.
The next day the Keepers tracked her, and found her still on her own, still visibly shaken and still extremely distressed. However, they knew that Lissa’s family was in the area and that Mpenzi would gravitate back to them, and this she did, a day later. hoped that Lissa’s third calf Lugard would benefit from the extra milk Mpenzi had to give, and in so doing spare her the agony of engorged breasts. This obviously happened, for some months later the entire group turned up at the Voi Stockades for a visit, and looking relaxed and calm with them was Mpenzi, while Lissa’s three calves.
Thereafter, for the next two years Mpenzi spent time with Lissa’s family, again experiencing the joy acting as Nannie to Lissa’s third calf, born in January 2007, the one named “Lugard”. She and Lissa’s family also regularly fraternized with the later batch of ex orphans, those who left the Stockades under the Leadership of Emily to join the wild system. The next batch was led by orphan Natumi, and they regularly mingle with Emily’s group, and also with Lissa’s family and Mpenzi. However, all the ex orphans keep in touch with one another, looking upon themselves as one large extended family.. Also in regular contact with all the orphans are the big boys and particularly Uaso, the young bull born in May 1996, who is now 12 years of age and as such not quite old enough to be one of the “Big Boys” but being a bull is a free spirit, mixing with wild elephants at will, but also in touch with his orphaned peers.
On the 19th November Julius from the Voi Unit went in search of Emily and her group, but in the process came across Orphan Lissa (now 22 years of age) with her three wild-born babies, the teenaged bull called Uaso, and Mpenzi (now aged 16 years) who had a week old newborn baby at her feet, Clearly this baby was her pride and joy, of whom she, and the others, were all being exceedingly protective. And so, this time round, Mpenzi, understanding the dangers of giving birth without the protection of others, has learnt a valuable lesson the hard way.
Mpenzi’s human family celebrated the happy news and we decided to name this new baby, who is a girl, “Asante”, the Swahili word for “thanks”, because we all give thanks that Mpenzi has been blessed with another baby two years three months after she lost her firstborn to the lions. Now that tragic episode can be relegated to the pages of the past, and a lesson learnt the hard way will never again be repeated by that young mother.