For many weeks now two of the Nairobi Nurserys oldest elephant orphans have been in training for their journey onto the next stage of their reintegration back into the wild. These two elephants, Kilabasi and Kanjoro, are the first orphans in 2013 to be translocated from the Nairobi Nursery to the Ithumba reintegration unit in northern Tsavo East to begin their new year, learning the ways of the bush and gradually finding their feet within the wild elephant herds of Tsavo. Kanjoro, who was just under two years old when he was rescued in 2010 having been found alone in a dry riverbed in northern Kenya, didnt enjoy practicing getting in and out of the truck, which the Keepers have been enticing them to do every day in the lead up to the big move. Kilabasi on the other hand was very confident and showed little concern about the elephant-mover truck. Kilabasi, like Kanjoro, came into the Nairobi Nursery as a much older orphan at the age of nineteen months having been discovered abandoned near the Tanzanian border. January 22nd was the date set for their journey down to Tsavo. The Trust has been waiting for a long time before sending more orphans down to Ithumba and this has been due to the drought of last year and the late rains in Tsavo, but since some recent rain showers have graced the northern areas of Tsavo the surrounding environment has now sprung into life, with lush and beautiful vegetation and flora in abundance.
As always many of the other Nairobi Nursery orphans knew something was up on that night when the Keepers were all wide awake at 3am, scurrying around the stockades preparing for the move. At 3.30am Edwin, the Nurserys head-keeper, gave both elephants Stresnil in the comfort of their night stockades, which is a gentle medicine to calm their nerves during the journey, taking effect quickly and effectively and taking the nervous edge off what could be a dramatic journery into the unknown for them.
As Kilabasi was far more relaxed with the truck she was first to be led out of her stockade, following her Keeper lovingly through the compound, tempted by his soothing voice and a couple of bottles of freshly mixed milk. She showed no hesitation and was soon safely enclosed within one of the trucks compartments. Kanjoro was of course more difficult to persuade. The Keepers first tried to usher him into the biggest of the three compartments next to Kilabasi but he point black refused to go in, making quite a fuss, so the Keepers then tried to lure him into the other free compartment on the opposite side of Kilabasi, which he seemed to prefer much more, and he slowly and hesitantly crept in, following his milk bottle, before the compartment door was quickly and securely locked behind him. It was also decided that Hassan, one of the Nurserys long-term and dedicated Keepers, should go down to Ithumba with these two to join the Ithumba Keepers, and remain down there to give the two orphans continuity of a familiar face to help in their rehabilitation process. Taking off in convoy with Angela's husband Robert Carr-Hartley who always accompanies the orphans on this important transition to ensure everything runs smoothly, the elephant-mover truck took to the road at 4am, whilst under the cool cover of darkness, when the busy roads of Nairobi are asleep and the sun is yet to rise. Leaving Nairobi the Truck soon hit the long and winding Mombasa highway and made good progress all the way to Hunters Lodge, arriving at 7am, where they made a short stop so Robert and the Keepers could collect some fresh gruyere and cut greens for the orphans as well as mix them some more fresh milk. Kilabasi and Kanjoro were extremely pleased with their yummy treats and were coping well with the journey.
Back on the road the truck soon came to the turnoff at Kibwezi Town, which follows a long dirt track all the way to the northern section of Tsavo East and the Ithumba reintegration unit. Apart from having to manoeuvre around a tricky situation with a turned-over charcoal truck blocking the entire of the road, the elephant-mover carried on un-phased, to its destination, arriving at 10.30am in very good time at Ithumba. It was fortunate that Kilabasi and Kanjoro didnt have the massive welcome party of ex orphans waiting for them on arrival, as the ex-orphans and their wild friends sometime do, but this was probably a good things as Kanjoro was certainly too nervous to deal with a horde of strange big elephants as well. Instead the Ithumba Keepers held back the milk-dependant juniors, who were all eagerly anticipating the newcomers, until the Nairobi Keepers had safely unlatched the truck compartment doors and let the two new orphans out.
Kilabasi headed straight for her milk, paying little attention to her new surroundings, whilst Kanjoro took to his heals in fright, dashing from the truck and in the opposite direction to his milk, but he soon came to a sudden halt and came charging back to the safety of his familiar Keepers and his comforting milk bottle. After finishing their milk the Ithumba Keepers let the Ithumba orphan group greet their two new babies. Makireti was first to dash over to the youngsters, obviously recognising them immediately from her time with them at the Nairobi Nursery, followed by Murka. As always the elephants greeted one another with lots of truck kisses and loving rumblings and very soon it became evident to the two recent arrivals that they were united among many old friends.
Spending the rest of their exciting day browsing in the bush not too far from the compound, the Ithumba orphans, now two more in number, were led into their communal night stockades for the evening. Kilabasi settled down well, whilst Kanjoro remained quite nervous about the whole situation. Neither of the new orphans had come across electric-fences before, so it will take time for them to get used to their new surroundings, but delicious feed and dairy cubes helped to calm them down, whilst Makireti kept a close eye on them, giving them the love and support they needed.
By the next day they were already looking like they belonged and they were clearly loving the delicious new browse. Ithumba offers a much more suitable habitat for growing elephants and this coupled with the important interaction they will now be exposed to with the older ex-orphans and their wild friends, this move is another positive step towards their ultimate rehabilitation. Being a bull Kanjoro will soon settle down and engage in sparring games with the other orphaned bulls at Ithumba similar in age and size to him.
This move is the beginning of a new phase but they will remain dependent on milk and their Keepers for many more years to come, as just like our own children, flying the nest takes time when you are an elephant whose life duplicates our own. They will be joined shortly by three more of their nursery friends, Shukuru, Mutara and Tano.