We Called him DIKA after the Dika Plains near the Eastern Boundary of his Tsavo birthplace. He came into the Nairobi Nursery as a heartbroken baby of just 3 months, who had seen his mother and elephant family gunned down before his eyes, and who, in panicked terror fled through a thorn thicket. Today he is a majestic 18 year old bull a very far cry from the pathetic baby that was brought into our Nairobi Nursery in May 1988, exactly 18 years ago. This is his story:-
When Dika arrived in the Nairobi Nursery, there was not an inch of his body that had not been pierced by 3 inch long Acacia thorns, so that he looked more like a porcupine than an elephant. It took weeks of painstaking attention to rid him of all these poisonous thorns, and heal the sceptic punctures they left all over his body.
For 4 full months this little calf stood dejectedly apart from the other Nursery occupants of the day who at that time were Olmeg and Taru. I was never sure that elephants did in fact cry, but Dika showed us that they do, his warm brown eyes covered by long lashes were never dry and nightmares plagued during the hours of darkness, when he would awake screaming and trembling and have to be comforted by the Keeper who slept beside him during his Nursery period. The psychological wounds inflicted on this bereaved baby were so deep that we truly feared he might simply die of a broken heart and there were days when we wondered whether he was, in fact, psychologically normal.
Then one day, he decided to try and live. He began to play and interact with the other two Nursery infants, and at that moment there was immense celebration in the Nursery, for then we knew we had a chance of winning for he had begun to heal mentally. Thereafter Dika never looked back, and turned into an extremely playful, loving and gentle Nursery favourite, the one who helped the recovery of the next two Nursery orphans, who came in wounded and beaten – their elephant family having been slaughtered as crop raiders, and a third calf killed before their eyes – namely Ndume and Malaika. It was Dika who spent weeks comforting and consoling them, and who gave them the will to turn the page. He had, after all, been there, and with all the compassion of an elephant’s great heart, he sorrowed for them and was the catalyst that persuaded them to forgive. He did the same for Edo from Amboseli, who also wanted to die when he was brought in as an orphaned 6 month old. It was Dika who healed the psychological hurt of these three next new orphans. In the fullness of time he was transferred to Tsavo along with Ndume, Malaika and Edo, all of whom were welcomed into the fold by the then Tsavo Matriarch, the famous elephant named Eleanor. Under her care and leadership he grew up, interacting with the wild herds, as do the orphans of today, and eventually, he, Ndume and Edo left the dependent group of orphans, and began to take the first big steps to independence. But they have always returned periodically, just to keep in touch – and collectively became known as The Big Boys. As the years have passed, however, these return visits have become less frequent, as our Big Boys have a very large homeland to explore, and the Bulls are Elephant Scouts. Then, when Dika was a tall and impressive 14 or 15 year old, after an absence of many moons, he returned to the Orphan Stockades in Voi, wounded, a wire snare cutting deep into the flesh of his one back leg, and another suppurating wound on his temple. He understood that again he needed the help of his human family to save his life.
Quietly, he stood stock still, his injured back leg held out for the Keepers to cut out the steel cable that would ultimately have incapacitated him completely, as do these cruel snares many of his wild friends. They cut the steel cable of the snare, removed it and treated the wound, and then had to stand on tip-toe to reach the abscess on his face, syringe and clean it and pack it with antibiotic powder. Again, he stood motionless, knowing that the Keepers had to hurt him in order to help him. He never flinched during both processes.
Today Dika is a magnificent “majestic” bull of 18, who on the l6th May 2006 was seen by the Keepers deep within the Park on the Aruba road, the “main man” within a female unit comprised of several adult cows, their teenaged offspring, and smaller babies. According to the Keepers, whom he greeted with his usual gentle affection, he looked magnificent, “majestic” and happy - now set to pass on his gentle genes and beautiful temperament to another generation of elephants. How proud are we to have made this possible and how grateful are we to all who have enabled us to do so by their fostership of this amazing bull. He is one of the Trust’s proudest success stories, demonstrating yet again, that once an elephant friend, always a friend to that elephant - for an Elephant Never Forgets.