Published on the 1st of November, 2017
All the orphan elephants in our care are rescued as milk dependent babies; we are with them 24 hours a day to provide for their needs, our keepers even sleeping with babies at our Nursery, as we act as their surrogate family. Our Ex Orphans are elephants that have risen up the ranks of maturity and dependency to live a life in the wild once more, and the month of October in 2017 was a month of pure celebration for our Ithumba Unit.
Nothing highlights the success of our Orphans’ Project quite like the birth of wild born babies to orphans raised by the Trust and now living wild. First Yatta, the matriarch of our Ex Orphan herd at Ithumba, gave birth to her second calf on the 7th October, followed by two of her adopted ‘sisters’ Nasalot on the 14th and Sunyei on the 21st, all giving birth to healthy calves, bringing the total count of our wild born babies to 28. Of these 28, eight have been born close to the Ithumba stockades and we are delighted to witness the Ex Orphan herds beginning to expand so naturally, and not only through the addition of orphans joining their ranks as they out-grow our reintegration units. The Ex Orphan herds are slowly but surely morphing into a composition befitting a wild herd, including sisters, aunts, teenage calves and young babies.
Ex Orphan Nasalot’s first baby arrived on 14th October, a half-pint sized bull we named ‘Nusu’, the Swahili word for ‘half’. Nasalot was only just 3 months old when she arrived at the Nairobi Nursery in 2000. A victim of poaching from the lawless area of north Turkana where the existing elephant population had mostly turned nocturnal to survive, feeding in hours of darkness so they could hide during the day. A clearly traumatized little calf, it took a long time for Nasalot to settle into the Nursery, wanting to sleep during the day and being extremely restless at night, pacing her stable and mourning for her lost family. Eventually, with her strong genes behind her, she turned a corner and grew into one of the most caring females in the Nursery, pouring her grief into the dedication of helping calves younger than her. In 2004 she was earmarked for the move to the new Ithumba Unit with her best friend Mulika, along with Yatta and Kinna, from the Voi Unit. They thrived here with the six other translocated Nursery babies and in time their herd grew as the dependent orphans moved up the ranks and ventured onto becoming independent. In 2011 Mulika, Nasalot’s best friend, gave birth to the first wild born baby in the herd, Mwende, followed by Yatta in 2012 who gave birth to a healthy baby girl Yetu; now the herd was beginning to expand naturally as well.
Nasalot has her work cut out for her as baby Nusu is a mischievous handful who cannot resist climbing into the drinking troughs and then dunking his head under the water, which Nasalot finds unnerving. Assisted by her chosen ‘nannies’ from the herd, those that help protect the newborn calf in its most vulnerable time of life, Chyulu, Lenana and Olare, Nasalot has proved an exceptional mother to Nusu. She has shown us once again that our orphans can be successfully raised by humans, given the right parameters, and go on to live a flourishing and natural life in the wild, and be extremely competent mothers despite losing their own families at such a young age. Because of the pioneering work of the Trust over 40 years, well over 150 elephants are now flourishing and living a natural life in the wild.