As the rains blessed Ithumba, three orphaned elephants took the next step in their journey back to the wild. On 26th April, Esoit, Olorien, and Lodo bid the Nursery farewell and graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit in the northern sector of Tsavo East National Park.
For each elephant, the move to Tsavo brought with it broadened horizons: Esoit was rescued under heartbreaking circumstances, after his mother suffered a lethal injury. Despite the tragedy he experienced, he is an unfalteringly cheerful chap. A real extrovert, Esoit loves making new friends, and we knew he would benefit from an expanded social circle.
Olorien was rescued after Maasai herdsmen reported a young calf who had latched onto their cattle. We’ll never know exactly how she came to be orphaned, but she remained shy and cautious for quite some time. When Naleku graduated, she stepped up as the mini matriarch of the Nursery herd, but at just three years old, she still needs a lot of nurturing herself.
Lodo is one of our many orphans rescued from last year’s drought. Although he came to us on the older side, he has always been a ‘gentle uncle’ (which is the Nursery Keepers’ nickname for unusually calm older bulls). However, he was outgrowing the Nursery and was clearly ready to be the baby of a herd.
Before embarking on a graduation, we spend several weeks acclimating the orphans to the moving lorry, so they become used to the process of loading and unloading in preparation for the big day. All three elephants proved to be excellent pupils, so it was little surprise that the actual morning of the move went like clockwork. Olorien and Lodo needed a bit of coaxing (it is amazing how the orphans can always intuit when it isn’t a dress rehearsal), but Esoit walked onboard cool as could be.
The drive to Tsavo passed without incident — for the graduates, at least! Ithumba has been hit by a series of generous storms. While the rain is direly needed, it leaves the Tsavo dirt roads vulnerable to washouts. Earlier that morning, another truck was headed to Ithumba on a range cube delivery when it became stuck in a particularly waterlogged stretch of dirt road, not far from the park entrance gate. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, because it spared the graduates from a similar incident: We quickly sent our grader over to extract the truck and sort out a small detour. By the time the moving lorry pulled through, they had a beautifully graded stretch of road to carry them around the mire.
Around 9 o’clock, the graduates pulled up to the Ithumba stockades. Esoit was let out of his compartment first, but Lodo was so excited that he squeezed his way out in tandem. Ever the lady, Olorien patiently waited for her turn. All three enjoyed their first Tsavo milk bottle as they took in the sights and sounds of their new home.
Then, it was time for the first wave of the Tsavo welcoming committee. The Ithumba Keepers shepherded Naleku, Sagateisa, Suguroi, Roho, and Neshashi over to greet their old Nursery friends. These familiar faces immediately set the tone, putting the graduates at ease and drumming up a real air of enthusiasm. From there, we brought the rest of the Ithumba herd over in small groups. Olorien, Esoit, and Lodo were enveloped in a chorus of trumpets and trunk hugs.
One particular orphan went above and beyond to make the newcomers feel welcomed: Nine-year-old Kauro kept lying down on the ground, inviting Olorien, Esoit, and Lodo to play with him. You could almost see the wonder in their eyes, delighted and more than a little awed to have the attention of such an impressive bull!
Ithumba is very lush at the moment, and the graduates wasted no time in tucking into the bounty of vegetation. There are also lovely piles of mud and dust around every corner, and before long, Olorien, Esoit, and Lodo had on their ‘new Tsavo clothes’ — in other words, they were covered head to toe in the red earth that is so emblematic of Tsavo. They embraced their new home with such enthusiasm that they even lunged into the now-full-to-the-brim mud bath for a swim with the others.
After a wonderful first day, the trio were shown into ‘Class One,’ which is the group stockade reserved for the youngest orphans. Their old Nursery friends Suguroi, Sagateisa, and Naleku are in the bedroom next door, while all of Tsavo is at their feet. This is but the next step in Olorien, Esoit, and Lodo’s reintegration journey. For the next several years, they will call Ithumba home, until they are ready to join Tsavo’s wild elephant population. This move brought them one momentous step closer to that destiny.
As ever, we would like to thank our foster parents for helping us guide orphaned elephants like Esoit, Olorien, and Lodo towards this destiny. Because of your support, we are able to give them the future they deserve — a completely wild life, in one of the most spectacular habitats in Kenya.