The time had come for three more of our Nursery orphans to make their move to Tsavo, to join best friends Arruba, Mashariki and Rorogoi who made the journey two weeks before. This is the next phase for these orphans, where they will able to fraternize with older ex-orphans and be exposed to the wild herds of Tsavo and in their own time, they will gain the confidence to spend time with them and eventually live an independent life. This is a journey that takes years, rather like with one’s own children, and we can expect them to still remain dependent on us between eight to ten years before flying the nest, and even then they keep in touch with their human family.
It was before schedule around 3.45am when the lorry left the Nairobi Nursery. The loading of all three orphans had gone very well. We were expecting trouble from Elkerama in particular who was always reserved about entering the lorry and often proved difficult for the keepers. But following a bottle of milk he entered the lorry without any trouble at all, pursued closely by Suswa and then Embu. It took just ten minutes to have all three elephants safely inside the elephant moving truck and the convoy was off ahead of schedule. Leaving early ensures that the lorry can bypass altogether the early morning traffic, avoiding any delays on the road for the elephants to arrive swiftly and safely.
There was a slight yet persistent drizzle when we were loading the orphans in Nairobi, and this lasted for the whole duration of the drive until Mtito Andei when the skies suddenly cleared, leaving the grey behind us, and it started to warm up significantly. There was not much traffic on the roads at all and it was plain sailing all the way to Voi. Then, just less than 1km from the Voi Gate, the lorry got stuck in a patch of loose soil that had been washed across the road during the heavy rain over night. This was bad news indeed as it was beginning to get hot and the elephants had had their last bottle of milk and were becoming restless sensing that sometime was wrong. Fortunately, being so close to the Voi stockades, the tractor was immediately dispatched to pull the lorry out, and not much time was wasted at all, and just a few minutes later the lorry pulled into the stockades and reversed to the unloading bay. The doors were opened and it was Elkerama who tentatively first looked out of the lorry and took the initial brave steps. He was welcomed by Panda from the Voi milk dependent group who was waiting by the doors to greet him, and the other 16 members of the dependent group behind her. Next was Suswa and finally Embu - all of whom were quickly enveloped by the older Voi orphans - soon it was hard to tell apart our babies from the rest of the group as they merged into one herd and walked down to the stockade water hole. Everyone was excitedly getting acquainted with everyone else, before the whole group moved off to browse at the bottom of Msinga Hill.
It was not long before old friends had found each other and were reunited. Arruba, Suswa and Rorogoi all browsed together to one side, with Mashariki not far off. Elkerama settled in well almost immediately, and was off on his own socialising with new friends. The reunion was not just between elephants but our Keepers too who were also reunited with old friends, Tundani particularly was making a huge fuss embracing his Nursery Keepers, running his trunk over their faces in recognition and happiness. Embu was apparently very tired from the journey, and as the other new arrivals dusted and immersed themselves in the fresh, cool soil of a gully eroded by the rain over night (a total of a massive 80mm) she stood asleep under a tree in the shade, evidently totally relaxed in her new home.
It was clear from the outset that these orphans were ready for this next phase, having outgrown the kindergarten and they appeared absolutely delighted to be immersed in older elephant company. They have been warmly welcomed and have settled seamlessly. The expansive wilderness and different vegetation was new and exciting for them as they devoured delicious browse and savoured new tastes. Huge rain this month has ensured that food is abundant and every waterhole filled to the brim. It is carnival time in Tsavo for elephants at the moment, and our babies have begun their new phase successfully. They have met the partially dependent big girls, Lesanju, Lempaute, Sinya and Wasessa and of course enjoyed the mothering that came with that experience and they have also met Emily’s ex-orphan herd who return to the stockades regularly.