An Elephant Move with the Break of the Rains – Kihari, Naipoki and Ishaq-B graduate to the Voi Rehabilitation Unit

The rains have been waited for patiently by all of those at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Nairobi Nursery

The rains have been waited for patiently by all of those at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Nairobi Nursery. With a total of 40 orphaned elephants being cared for at the Nursery, it really was time to translocate three of the older orphans to Tsavo and luckily in the last week the long rains have finally arrived, if a little late.

For many days on the lead up to the translocation, three of the Nursery’s older females Ishaq-B, Naipoki and Kihari, have been getting ready for their big move. It is important for the elephants to get used to, and feel relaxed with the elephant-mover truck, so each day their keepers have been coaxing them gently into the three compartments of the vehicle with delicious milk and treats. The girls were always well behaved, showing little sign of reluctance, following their keepers obediently. When the elephants get to a certain age they outgrow the Nursery and need to be exposed to the more ideal elephant habitat of Tsavo and begin to mix with the older orphans and their wild counterparts. The slow assimilation into the wild herds takes time, and Kihari, Naipoki and Ishaq-B will remain Keeper dependent for many years to come still so this is by no means a goodbye, but purely a new phase for them, and one they are more than ready for. 

With reports from the field team in Tsavo that the rains had finally arrived the move day was designated for Sunday 10th November 2013. It is important to try and translocate the Nairobi orphans to Tsavo once the rains have arrived as the rains ease the harshness of the environment, offering better browsing and cooler weather, which is more like what the orphans are used to in Nairobi National Park, allowing them to be eased gently into their new home.

As great friends, the three girls Ishaq-B, Naipoki and Kihari, who are much loved by many foster parents around the world, were chosen to travel together. Ishaq-B was rescued in 2010 from the Ijara District along the Tana River at just one year old. She had been discovered abandoned and was monitored for many days in the hope that her mother would return for her, yet sadly the decision was finally made to rescue her and her rescue had one of the most gruelling rescues ever battling terrible conditions to bring her to the safety of the Nairobi Nursery. 

Naipoki was rescued in 2010 from Namunyak Conservancy in northern Kenya. At only three months old Naipoki had a terrible ordeal having been rescued twice after two incidents of falling in a well and being unable to be reunited with her herd, whilst also having her trunk mauled by predators. Kihari was rescued when she was around one year old from Mount Kenya.  Kihari had wandered into community lands alone in 2011 having been separated somehow from her herd. These three gentle and loving females have all grown up together as part of the Nairobi herd, which is why they are beginning their new life together in Tsavo East National Park at the DSWT Voi Rehabilitation Unit.

And so it was very early on the 10th of November at the Nairobi Nursery, under a dark cloudy sky full of rain, the Keepers and Robert and Angela rose early and began preparations for the girl's move to Tsavo. Ishaq-B, Naipoki and Kihari were all given Stresnil, which calms them during the journey, before one at a time they were led to the elephant-mover truck. Ishaq-B was enticed first to the truck with a couple of bottles of milk, before Naipoki was next who drank more than three bottles of milk. Then Kihari was finally brought to the truck and all three were quickly closed in the vehicle and ready to get going. The Keepers Sammy and Adan were chosen to accompany the orphans down to Tsavo and look after them in the back of the truck during the journey. As the elephant-mover truck set off into the darkness all of the Keepers at the Nursery waved their farewells before returning to the stockades where the remaining orphans were waiting for them. 

The journey early on a Sunday morning south towards Tsavo East National Park was quick and quiet, the truck having left at 4.30am before the traffic could build up in Nairobi. Crossing the Athi Plains and heading yet further south through rain storms and under grey skies, the orphans showed little sign of stress or anxiety. The elephant-mover truck stopped for a break at 7am after a couple of hours, the Keepers climbing out of the truck to cut their travellers some fresh greens and give them a much needed bottle of milk, before heading on their way again.

Finally reaching the bustling town of Voi, the truck turned off the busy Mombasa-Nairobi highway and headed to the KWS's Tsavo East National Park Voi Gate. At 10.30am after 6 hours of travelling, Naipoki, Kihari and Ishaq B finally arrived at their new home at the Voi Rehabilitation Unit, the Voi Keepers waiting patiently for their arrival.

Naipoki was the first to be released from her compartment, followed by Kihari and Ishaq B, all of them slowly stepping out of the truck, their legs feeling a little wobbly after the long journey, before they all suddenly spotted their milk and dashed forward. The Voi orphans were held back in groups, allowing them all to take their milk quietly. Panda, Mbirikani and Mudanda were the first group to come forwards, Panda approaching the new arrivals first. Naipoki stayed extra close to her Nairobi Keepers, eyeing up her surroundings and looking for more milk, before Ndii and Kenia’s group came next including Taveta, Tassia, Rombo and Dabassa. Dabassa took an immediate interest in the new girls, following them around and smothering them with his trunk and following them eagerly to the small mudbath in the compound. 

Lesanju’s group was next to be led down to meet the new arrivals, Wasesa taking so much interest in the girls she completely forgot to have a drink of water. It very much appeared like the orphans who were most recent to leave the Nairobi Nursery including Layoni and Dabassa seemed to recognise their old Nursery friends, playing with them gently and following them around excitedly.

After most of the greetings were done the Keepers called the orphans to follow them as they left the compound and headed to browse on Msinga Hill. The new arrivals still stuck close to the Nairobi Keepers but relaxed quickly and began to enjoy the company of the others. Now with 19 orphans at the Voi Unit, Joseph the Head Keeper and the rest of the staff must continue to care for these elephants until the time comes when they are ready to join a wild herd and return to the life they should have had before they were rescued, but like with our own human children this is a process, but these three have taken their first big step.