Three trucks parked against the Loading Ramps of the Nairobi Nursery, and three elephants being fed their milk inside them over the past week heralded another imminent move to one of our two Rehabilitation Centres in Tsavo East National Park. For Dida, Ndii and Kimana, it was time to embark on the long gradual journey back where they belonged – amongst their wild peers in a Park that could offer an elephant the space and freedom it needs for a quality of life. It is important to note this is just another phase in the whole process, and they will still remain dependent on their Keepers for a number of years yet before the feel confident enough to venture further afield. This process happens at their pace, and can take as long as 11 years.
It was another very early start on the morning of 11th May, 2010 for preparations to load the three elephants began at 4 a.m.. First to be loaded was little Kimana, followed by Dida, both of whom obliged by going in without any hesitation, but Ndii obviously remembered being trapped in the manhole on the Mzima – Mombasa water pipeline. She was extremely suspicious and would have none of it, but a rope round her front legs and manpower behind meant that she had little option but oblige.
By this time, and with all the activity going on at an unusual hour, all the Nursery elephants sensed that something was up, and began to bellow their alarm. However, after fond farewells exchanged between the Keepers that would be accompanying the three elephants on their journey to the Voi Stockades, and those who would be remaining behind, the three trucks began to move in convoy from our premises at 4.45 a.m., followed by Robert Carr-Hartley and his father, Roy, both very proficient in moving our orphans having had years of experience doing this.
It was not all plain sailing on the journey down, however, for two of the trucks suffered from contaminated diesel, and had to have their fuel systems bled. Thankfully Robert and his Dad were proficient at fixing such problems as well, and by 11 a.m. the trucks were reversed against the unloading bay at the Voi Elephant Stockades, with ten ex Nursery orphans all eagerly awaiting with their Keepers.
As always, as soon as the three Nursery elephants were out of their trucks, they were embraced by the Voi orphans, all of whom of course remembered sharing time with them in the Nursery. Especially joyful was Kenia , delighted to be reunited so soon with three that she had loved in the Nursery, but as the current main Voi Matriarch Lesanju was also very solicitous of the new arrivals, laying a trunk lovingly across their backs to reassure them and welcome them into the fold and their new home. All the new arrivals looked hollow and somewhat shaken after their long journey and certainly felt the heat of Tsavo. Kimana put himself right into the Stockade water trough to cool down, while the others were hosed down.
It is understandably stressful for the Nursery babies when they are suddenly spirited away from their previous safe haven to find themselves in a completely new environment, and especially for those orphaned in very early infancy. Little Kimana was only 3 weeks old when he was orphaned, Dida 1 month old and Ndii 7 months old. Surprisingly, it was Ndii who seemed to take the most strain, looking dazed and clinging to the Keepers, perhaps recalling the time when she was newly orphaned and spent a brief time at the Voi Stockades prior to being airlifted to the Nursery in Nairobi. However, all three looked gaunt and drop- bellied upon arrival, but by the next morning we received news from Head Keeper Joseph Sauni that all had recovered and settled down completely and were happily romping around in a mudbath along with all the others. All the established females were lavishing them with care and love under the Leadership of Lesanju ably assisted by Wasessa, Sinya and Kenia with mischievous Lempaute more of a bystander, keeping a watchful eye on the antics of the Voi Unit’s little boys - Siria, Shimba, Mzima, Taveta and Tassia. One ex Nursery orphan, Shira, was missing from the group, having attached herself to a wild herd soon after arrival and to date failed to return. Her departure leaves 13 youngsters currently keeper dependent based at the Voi Stockades.
Dida and Ndii are Tsavo elephants, victims of the Mzima Springs pipeline, both falling into manholes along the pipeline. Their mothers are more than likely still alive, both were orphaned too young to ever recognize their real mothers again, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that with the passage of time they one day may meet their real families again.