Bondeni, Kindani, and Kinyei Graduate

Published on the 7th of June, 2023

The ‘Kaluku Trio’ is a very special group of elephants. Although they are still very young, these babies have already travelled far together. Kindani, Kinyei, and Bondeni were rescued from different corners of Kenya, but they found a new future together — first along the sandy riverbanks of Kaluku, then in the red earth of Nairobi. When it came time to plan the next step in their journey back to the wild, it was only fitting that they should embark on it together.

Before we dive into their graduation, it feels apt to step back in time and reflect upon the Kaluku Trio’s beginnings.

Kindani came first. She was rescued in April 2018, after she was found on her own in Meru National Park. Just days old — too young to know fear — she happily followed the KWS rangers who discovered her. At the time, Nairobi was experiencing near-daily storms and the Nursery was sodden and cold, rain soaking every corner of the compound. These were fraught conditions to bring a new rescue of such a vulnerable age. We decided to bring Kindani to our Kaluku Field Headquarters in Tsavo, where it was warm and dry. Today, Kaluku is home to a thriving Neonate Nursery, where we raise our most vulnerable orphaned elephants. At the time, however, we didn’t even have a bedroom for Kindani. While we built longer-term housing, we made do with an antelope stable.

Kindani came first

Our founder, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, passed away just days after Kindani’s arrival, leaving everyone heartbroken. Things were further complicated when the Athi River, which runs through Kaluku, burst its banks. Kindani’s stable and the staff quarters were engulfed by water. Thinking quickly, the Keepers brought her to the Sheldrick family's Kaluku home, which sits on much higher ground. Kindani spent the night safely ensconced in Daphne’s bedroom while water churned outside, turning the house into an island that was fully inaccessible for nine hours. Amidst our utter devastation over the loss of Daphne; it felt like a message from beyond that she provided safe harbour to this little elephant during her hour of need.

Kinyei soon joined Kindani

Three months later, Kinyei entered our midst from the Mara. She was just days old when a safari group saw her, alone and wandering precariously close to a pride of lions. Little Kinyei joined Kindani in the Kaluku establishment and the girls instantly became like sisters, bonded for life by their formative days together.

Little Bondeni rounded out the trio

Bondeni, the ‘little brother’ of the group, arrived in February 2019. He was just a newborn when he wandered into a village bordering the Chyulu Hills. How a calf so young came to be orphaned remains a mystery, but given his sorry state, he must have travelled far: His tiny feet were covered in lacerations from trudging across the nearby lava fields.

The trio became as inseparable as siblings

Kindani, Kinyei, and Bondeni spent their early days together at our Kaluku Field Headquarters in Tsavo. Their days were spent playing on the river’s beaches and napping under the shade of acacia trees. In September 2020, we moved the trio to our Nairobi Nursery, where they would benefit from an expanded social circle and the mentorship of older elephants. They arrived as the babies of the Nursery herd, but as the years progressed, blossomed into the wise seniors.

They enjoyed an idyllic upbringing, first at Kaluku and then at the Nursery

Each member of the Kaluku Trio has a unique personality — Bondeni is hopelessly mischievous, Kindani is quiet and nurturing, Kinyei is independent and quirky — but they have remained absolute best friends. They have always demanded bedrooms side by side, beginning with their baby stables and moving up to ‘big kid’ stockades.

They've been side by side, every step of the way

And so, as it became time to plan for life after the Nursery, it was very clear that they would remain together. We decided to move the trio to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. This would be a return to their roots; like Kaluku, Ithumba is located in the Tsavo ecosystem. It is also where many of their Nursery friends graduated just a few weeks and months prior. Blessed with excellent rains this season, Ithumba is an elephant’s idea of utopia at the moment.

It was a poignant moment as the babies pulled out of the Nursery

After weeks of practice, the big graduation finally arrived on the morning of 25th May 2023. We all approached the day with a hearty measure of cautious optimism: Ever the contrarian, Bondeni had stalwartly refused to step foot into the moving lorry during his practice runs, perhaps remembering his first move from Kaluku.

They had a smooth, uneventful drive to Tsavo

However, the actual move went far more seamlessly than we could have hoped. Kindani and Kinyei stepped into their compartments without complaint. While Bondeni needed lots of coaxing and a final shove, he eventually joined his girlfriends onboard the lorry. The team made great time, arriving at Ithumba at 8:30 in the morning.

For Kinyei, Bondeni, and Kindani, moving to Ithumba meant a return to their Tsavo roots

As the lorry doors opened and three curious trunks poked out, we couldn’t help but reflect that these were Tsavo raised babies returning home. While everything was new, it also must have been strangely familiar to them. Peter, one of their favourite Keepers from the Nursery, joined the Kaluku Trio on the journey and helped them settle into their new home.

Roho (left) was excited to be reunited with his favourite playmate, Bondeni

The trio’s old Nursery friends, Esoit, Lodo, and Olorien, made up the first welcoming committee. They came charging over, celebrating the new arrivals with a frenzy of trumpets and rumbles. They were followed by more familiar faces from the Nursery, including Sagateisa, Naleku, and Roho, before the rest of the dependent herd trickled in. Ithumba is incredibly lush right now, filled with greenery as far as the eye can see. The babies surely felt they had landed in paradise.

It wasn't long before Kindani took the lead

The ex-orphans always seem to know when new graduates are arriving. We marvel at how they appear out of the woodwork, making the pilgrimage ‘home’ to welcome new additions to the orphan herd. Ex-orphans Yatta, Sunyei, Mulika, Kilabasi, Nasalot, and their respective families arrived, full of excitement. No one was more excited than Yatta — in fact her welcoming wallow was so enthusiastic that it scared all the dependent orphans out of the mud bath! Incredibly, even Mutara made an appearance, having not been seen for several months. All told, there were about 60 ex-orphans and their offspring present for the trios first Ithumba midday mud bath.

Kinyei (left) got the lowdown on Ithumba life from Larro

Kindani, Kinyei, and Bondeni took in everything with wide-eyed wonder, but they never seemed overwhelmed. True to form, Kinyei was a bit more independent, while Kindani and Bondeni remained locked at the hip. All three are terribly comfortable around their Keepers, and they immediately bonded with their new Ithumba family.

Bondeni, Kindani, and Kinyei still stick together

It has now been two weeks since the Kaluku Trio graduated to Ithumba, and Head Keeper Benjamin reports that they have settled in wonderfully. Initially, they remained close to each other and to their Keepers, but they are beginning to branch out and interact with the rest of the orphan herd. Esoit, Olorien, Lodo, Suguroi, Naleku, and Larro have been excellent friends, helping build their confidence and encouraging them to move further away from the Keepers. Already, they are old hat at the morning routine, marching out of their shared stockade in the morning and returning for bed without prompting from their Keepers. Bondeni is very happy to resume his friendship with Esoit, while Kinyei is enchanted by the ex-orphans’ wild-born babies. Kindani, ever the mini matriarch, likes to lead her team home in the evenings.

And so begins the trio's next chapter!

It is easy to forget that Kindani, Kinyei, and Bondeni aren’t related by birth. They may have lost their own families, but what they have in each other is just as sacred. Our Kaluku Trio has already travelled so far together — and this is just the beginning. Over the coming months and years, they will learn how to live as wild elephants, until they feel ready to reclaim their place in the wild. It is only fitting that they continue this journey together.

Rescue to Reintegration

Each orphan we rescue is ultimately reintegrated back into the wild — a process that can take upwards of a decade. Find out how our pioneering Orphans' Project works.
Orphans' Project

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