On a day that was all about my incredible mother’s memory, given that June 4th was her birthday, it seemed fitting indeed to be relocating three of our Nursery babies to our original Reintegration Unit at Voi, in Tsavo East National Park.
Voi was, after all, our home for 25 years and where Daphne's, David's and my own journey with elephants began. The day was made all the more special given that for two of the orphaned babies being moved, Emoli and Sagala, it was actually a return home. They both were drought victims, rescued and retrieved from the brink of death back in 2017. They are now a picture of health and old enough to take that next step in a journey that can take up to to fourteen years before they will be ready to lead fully independent lives. The other orphan to fly the Nursery nest was Tagwa, our Nursery mini-matriarch. Thankfully remaining behind in Nairobi are a number of very competent mini-matriarchs in the form of Tamiyoi and Enkesha so our Nursery herd still remains with leadership.
As is always the case, the loading procedures took place in the very early hours of the morning and, given that our orphans had been learning the ropes about entering the truck for a number of weeks prior to the move date, they were undaunted. We like to give them a mild tranquilliser for the journey, just something to take the edge off any undue stress so that they travel comfortably, and the tranquilliser is given half an hour before loading begins at 3.00am. Once they were each inside their individual compartments of the customised elephant moving truck, the doors were closed. Inside the truck was plenty of milk, water, greens and lucerne cubes for the journey and a travelling seat for the Keepers so that they remain close at hand to tend to the elephants and provide that important calming presence. By 3.30am the convoy rolled out of the Nairobi National Park gates turning onto the tarmac road to make their way to their destination - some 340 kms away. Fortunately there was hardly anybody travelling at that time, and the Nairobi-Mombasa road was largely free of traffic, which made for easy travelling in the early hours.
In the meantime, the team at our Voi Reintegration Unit were preparing things for the arrival of the new elephants. The Voi Keepers had been involved in the original rescues of both Emoli and Sagala, so everyone was extremely excited to be welcoming them back home. Mbegu and her herd of Ndotto, Godoma, Murit, Ngilai and Lasayen were kept close at hand so that they could form the welcoming party, with the older dependent orphans walked further afield but still within the environs of the Voi stockades so that they too could be introduced, but only once the time was right. Having done these moves numerous times before, the whole activity has been fine-tuned to ensure a calm, seamless process and good preparation is always key to making the moves a success.
Despite stopping along the way to cut some fresh grewia greens for the babies in the truck, the travellers made fast progress arriving on site at 9.30am. Thankfully they were greeted by a gentle, mildly overcast day, with perfect temperatures, not too cold, and not too hot. The truck with its customised compartments in the back, pulled up to the off-loading ramp and the doors lowered. The babies were then fed their milk bottles within their individual compartments before disembarking, with Mbegu and company held back until the time was right for them to approach in an orderly fashion. Of course, in the case of Tagwa, she was a baby in Mbegu’s care while Mbegu was still in the Nursery so remembered her well, Sagala and Emoli did too. The new arrivals had coped with their journey extremely well, and all disembarked looking fresh and alert, each taking in the new surrounding in their stride. Lucerne pellets were on hand for all, which shifted the focus of the older dependent orphans who concentrated on the much loved pellets while the three new arrivals were coaxed to the water trough to take their fill before they headed deeper into the Park for the day.
It was at this point the rest of the dependent orphans were led over in groups to the stockades - all very aware and eager to meet the new arrivals. It was Emoli who quickly became the centre of attention with every female seemingly having a soft spot for him. Poor little Tarhi who has been the cosseted baby in the midst of the Voi dependent orphans, was suddenly eclipsed by a smaller new arrival and, this time a sweet little boy, which none of the Voi females, of which there are very many, could resist! Sagala and Tagwa took it all in their stride, and they too were attracting attention, while hovering around their Nairobi Keepers who in their green dust coats were easy to spot.
After their fill of water it was mud and dust bath time so, while Embu and Aruba had an enthusiastic mud bath, our Nairobi babies opted for the dust bath instead. After about 40 minutes, and with the orientation complete, the herd headed off into the Park, headed by our Keepers with a long line of dependent babies following them! The total dependent orphans now at our Voi Reintegration unit is now 30!
After a slow morning the orphans were eager to get further field to browse and enjoy their day and our new arrivals were soon swept up in the enthusiasm as they raced out towards their favourite waterhole area. Recent rains have meant that the grass is plentiful and the area still relatively green. Later in the year as the Park dries up, it is more about browsing so this is the time for them all to fill their tummies on the novelty of green grass. Once the group reached the north side of Msinga hill one could clearly see in the distance Emoli’s hill where he was rescued! As the crow flies, his rescue location is about 12 kms from where the orphans were feeding.
Sagala appeared extremely content enjoying the food and company of the others, and appeared settled from the outset. After a while she no longer clung to the Keepers nor the Nairobi babies, instead she happily mingled in amongst the Voi orphans. This was not surprising to us given that she was two years old when rescued from Tsavo so it is all familiar for her. Tagwa was hanging close to Emoli and her Keepers and they were both the centre of attention with the other older orphans, Ndii, Naipoki Ishaq-B and Kihari inspected them closely. Godoma along with Mbegu were vying for their attention and naughty Ngilai, along with Ndotto and Murit also appeared very interested in the new arrivals. Tagwa is from Mount Kenya, rescued as a tiny calf, and she finds herself now in the company of Kenia and Nelion, both from the Mount Kenya region as well. Tagwa was however rescued young and has been at the Nursery for a number of years so probably has little recollection of that now.
Around midday the orphan herd were joined by a magnificent huge bull who ambled across in front of them to the mud bath and later they were joined by a wild female herd with their babies. This most gorgeous scene unfolded in the foreground of a spectacular view, miles and miles of Tsavo Park and beyond, as our 30 babies were joined by the wild herd with their babies, later chaperoned by this majestic bull. If anyone needed reminding of just what an extraordinary legacy Daphne left behind, this most surely was it - with all those second chances afforded to so many - this was well and truly a fitting scene on Daphne’s birthday.
The three new arrivals had a peaceful rest of the day feeding, resting under the shade of giant Melia trees, while warthogs dashed underfoot, Hartebeest and impala grazed close by, before they ambled towards home in the late afternoon. That evening had them all sleeping together with Mbegu, Godoma, Ndotto, Murit, Ngilai and Lasayen and while they appeared extremely happy, they were clearly exhausted after a very long and exciting first day at Voi. Our three graduates appearing comfortable in their new surroundings, and very much at home.