Published on the 15th of February, 2019
The Voi Reintegration Unit was the original Unit, built back in the day when David Sheldrick was the founder warden of Tsavo National Park, with his wife Daphne by his side. They raised the first elephant orphans in the world way back in the early fifties, but it wasn’t just the raising of elephant orphans that they were pioneering the raising of, but the raising of black rhino orphans too, with buffalo, zebra, warthogs, mongoose, ostrich, impalas, kudus and myriad of other animal orphans in the mix as well.
The Unit was situated high on the Msinga Hill, with the headquarters constructed below, both commanding stunning expansive views over the southern area of the Park. In those days Voi town was a little frontier town on the outskirts of the Park, consisting of just one small street with a few trader’s shops, and a railway station.
Over the years the Voi Reintegration Unit has continued to be the staging base to usher numerous elephant orphans we have hand-raised into a wild life, a process that takes up to ten to fourteen years to happen. The southern area of the Park is home to big herds of elephants, and over time they have changed the once thick camiphora bush landscape into open grassy plains, which in turn has increased the numbers of buffalo along with all the herbivore species.
Many iconic elephant females have transitioned through Voi throughout the decades, including Eleanor, and more recently Emily. It is always a great thrill for us when our ex-orphans return to greet their human family after long absences, and to catch up with the small dependent orphans still in the fold who they will mentor in the fullness of time imparting vital life skills required to navigate the landscape and the changing seasons.
This year was no different with many of our wild living orphans ably led by Emily returning closer to home in the wet season in December, included in their herd were some of the younger now independent orphans too, Lesanju and Lempaute, Wassesa and Rombo, who are on nanny duty overseeing the wild born babies who are growing up fast, including Emily's children Eve and Emma, and Edie's too, Ella and Eden. Icholta was there with Inca, Sweet Sally with Safi, Thoma with Thor, Ndara with Neptune, Seraa with Solar, surrounded by eager nannies and a very pregnant Mweya too, all looking the picture of health.
Big boys Laikipia and Lolokwe were in tow too on some days as well. They remained in the area for a couple of months joining the Voi dependent herd on many days at mud bath time, and returning to the familiar surroundings of their Voi stockades some days as well. There visits to the stockades were rather stressful for poor Kenia however, our budding matriach of the dependent orphans, who was quick to usher her dependent herd off in a different direction, terrified that some of her herd might be kidnapped by the older entourage!
Watching the orphans hand raised through the Nursery spring board into a wild, free and happy life is the greatest reward we can ever have. Nothing can affirm the success of the project more than observing these remarkable animals navigate the wilds so successfully, with all the fraught situations that they are faced with, yet never forgetting the love and kindness they have known from their human family, choosing to check in from time to time to say hello and share the joy of their wild born family.