Even when one has worked intimately with elephants for 50 years, as I have, one never ceases to be surprised by the intelligence, the compassion and the caring of these wonderful animals. When one has breached the barrier that segregates the hated human species from other members of the Animal Kingdom, by rescuing, nurturing and caring for their orphaned young, and has become the "family" that replaced their lost natural one, and in so doing has gained the confidence, respect and love of an elephant, one is, indeed, privileged, rewarded time and again by incidents such as one that took place today, and which we would like now to share with all the foster family of our elephant orphans, who have been so crucial in helping us to help them. Little "Irima", a two year old baby bull elephant, was found wandering alone in an emaciated condition near the Voi Safari Lodge recently, pointing to the fact that he must have lost his mother, and been deprived of milk for some time. He could not have survived, had he not been found in time, and being two years old, was handed into the custody of our elephant Matriarch "Emily" and all the Elephant Keepers, who between them take care of 32 growing elephant children who have passed through their initial fully milk dependent year in our Nairobi Nursery. Currently these elephant children are "growing up" in Tsavo East National Park, with daily exposure to the wild community amongst whom they will eventually take their rightful place - a place that is their birth-right, and the ultimate goal of us, who have saved and reared them. Had "Irima" not been rescued, he would most certainly have ended up making a meal for a predator or died of starvation, and would not be alive today to be part of this touching tale. He was welcomed into the orphan family, as all newcomers are, and welcomed with an out-pouring of elephant love and compassion, and taken into the care of the human family who replace the orphans' lost elephant one.
After several days held in the Night Enclosures to calm him down, when little 2 year old "Morani" was especially considerate and caring of the newcomer, standing close by his side, and even trying to remain behind to keep him company when all the others left the Night Stockades in the morning. Morani was, himself, only fairly recently orphaned. He witnessed the killing of his elephant mother, and himself suffered bullet wounds as she died in the Ilingwezi Conservancy abutting Lewa Downs Ranch. The pity and empathy he felt for the newcomer was almost palpable.
After just a day, "Irima" was happily taking milk from a bottle, overcoming his inherent fear of humans as he took the cue from the other orphans, whose love of the Keepers is very apparent. He responded to his new two-legged family, as they all do with input from the other elephants, and within 5 days was allowed out with them during the hours of daylight when they walk the bush with their Keepers and encounter wild herds during the course of their travels. "Emily" is their self appointed Matriarch, "Aitong" as her very conscientious Second in Command, and all the other young cows self appointed "Sub-Nannies", who respond to distress cries, sort out any disagreements, help and protect the younger calves, and instil discipline and better elephant behaviour amongst exuberant and often unruly and competitive little boy elephant orphans. "Edo" is a 14 year old, very impressive, "Big Boy"; an Amboseli orphan who came to us at the age of 6 months, his mother having died of garbage poisoning. He is now independent of both his human and orphaned "family" and, as is customary for bull elephants, prefers to consort with other bulls of his age as well as high ranking members of the wild herds. As such he is now a fully integrated member of the wild elephant community but because an elephant never forgets, will always retain a fondness for "family" whether human or elephant. Amongst our other "Big Boys" are Olmeg, Taru, Dika and Ndume, as well as Imenti, who would have been one had he not had to be moved alone to the North. We have not seen much of our Big Boys this year, save, of course, Imenti. In fact they have all been absent with the wild herds for well over a year now. At the beginning of November, Edo turned up, and as usual his appearance was greeted with tremendous excitement and joy by all, including his erstwhile human family - the Keepers, for he had been away so long. On this day he spent time with all the orphans, and met up again with them at their Night Stockades later in the evening when he persuaded Emily to abandon her charges in order to spend time with him during the night. (She later re-joined the orphans in their Night Stockade, the keepers opening the Gates for her to be able to enter after dark.) Seeing the Big Boys again is like seeing one's children after a prolonged absence. We, the orphans, and the Keepers were all thrilled to know that Edo was safe and well. A few days ago, a phone call from Voi alerted us to the fact that the newcomer, "Irima", had joined a wild herd, and that the wild Matriarchs would not allow Emily and "Aitong" to retrieve him. We hoped that perhaps he had found other members of his elephant family, and with the rains now due in Tsavo to bring out a flush of green vegetation, that he might just be able to make it without milk supplementary feeding. It would be touch and go, but he had a chance and we hoped that his story would have a happy ending. We also knew that he now knew where he could find help should he need it, Irima had been absent for a whole week, when today, the 18th November, an amazing incident occurred. "Edo", accompanied by one of our other Big Boys, namely "Ndume" (who has also not been seen for over a year) suddenly appeared, escorting little "Irima" back to Emily and the Keepers! Excitedly, our Head Keeper, Joseph Sauni, phoned Nairobi to relay this astonishing news - news which begs some questions! Did Emily send an "Ele call" to Edo to ask him to retrieve Irima for her? We know that elephants can communicate over distance, and furthermore communicate sophisticated messages. Did Edo then send an E message to his friend "Ndume", and together they set about searching for Irima in amongst the wild elephant herds in order to be able to return him to the care of Emily and the Keepers? Or did Irima just happen to come across Edo out in the bush (whom he had met just once) and tell him that he needed milk and wanted to be taken back? We will never know. All we do know is this - that Edo and Ndume, whom we have not seen for many moons, suddenly appeared today, and brought with them little "Irima", escorting him home to return him to the care of Emily and the human family. This reminds us of another similar incident - when another orphan Matriarch named "Eleanor" stole the calf of "Mary" and wanted it all to herself, refusing to allow Mary access.
A day later two of our young bulls, orphans "Olmeg" and "Taru" along with a wild friend whom we named "Thomas", escorted Mary's baby back to its rightful mother, after which Mary left Eleanor's group and joined a wild herd on a permanent basis. David always said - "the more one knows about animals, the more one realises how much more we have to learn". This is particularly true of elephants. The above incident involving "Irima" and two of our "Big Boys", whom we have not seen all year, is a touching tale, that illustrates so graphically the intelligence and understanding of these magnificent creatures. In truth they possess in abundance all the noble characteristics of their human counterparts and few of the bad!