A Milestone Birth: Yebo, Ithumba’s First ‘Great-Grandbaby’

Published on the 14th of November, 2022

Saving one life paves the way for so many others. If one ever needed a reminder of this, one only need look to the story of Yatta.

Yetu, Yatta's first calf, was born in 2012

Over the years, we have been introduced to many Ithumba ‘grandbabies’ — a wild calf born to an orphan we rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild. But this past week, a special branch appeared on the family tree. For the very first time, one of our Ithumba orphans became a grandparent, making us proud honorary great-grandparents.

Over the years, we have watched Yetu (right, suckling Yatta) blossom

Before we delve into this happy addition, we must first go back in time. In the waning months of 1999, a female elephant was poached for her ivory. She left behind a tiny daughter, no more than a month old. Without her mother’s milk and protection, the calf would have met an equally tragic end.

Yetu (second from right) has blossomed into an excellent nanny and big sister

But fate intervened. A group of labourers working nearby heard the calf’s bellows and went to investigate. Finding a young calf standing near the body of a tuskless carcass, they quickly came to grips with the situation. They walked the orphan across the Mtito tributary, loaded her onto the back of an old Land Rover, and drove her across the crocodile-infested Athi River to the nearest airstrip, where she was flown to Nairobi.

After an absence of three months, Yetu arrived at Ithumba with her young baby in tow

That is how Yatta’s story began. After spending her infancy at the Nursery, she graduated to our Voi Reintegration Unit. In 2004, however, the time had come to establish a new Reintegration. We knew that its success would hinge on the inaugural herd, which would set the foundations for all the orphans who would follow in their footsteps. We selected four very special females to serve as the foundational herd: Mulika, Nasalot, Kinna, and Yatta.

Despite being born at the height of the drought, Yebo is a healthy young calf

With her deeply rooted maternal instincts and leadership acumen, Yatta naturally took the mantle of matriarch. Over the past two decades, she has become an invaluable and much-loved friend, tutor, and mother, successfully integrating with wild herds, forming strong bonds with the orphans, and raising her own family.

The celebrations ramped up exponentially when proud grandmother Yatta and co. arrived

Yatta became a mother in January 2012, just two months after her friend Mulika gave birth to Ithumba’s first ‘grandbaby,’ Mwende. As has since become a tradition among our Ithumba ex-orphans, Yatta returned to the stockades within hours of giving birth, bursting with pride and eager to introduce her bundle of joy to the men who raised her. Interestingly, Mulika and Yatta’s girls are half-sisters, both sired by the same bull elephant who reigns over the northern sector of Tsavo East. He is a magnificent tusker we call ‘Dad,’ instantly recognisable because of his ivory that sweeps towards the ground.

The honourary great grandfather, Ithumba Head Keeper Benjamin, was equally proud to meet Yebo

We named her calf Yetu, which means ‘ours’ in Swahili. It turned out to be a fitting name, because Yatta invited us to be part of her daughter’s life from the very beginning. Although she is an entirely wild elephant, Yetu has always felt at home among the unconventional human-elephant family who raised her mother. In the following decade, Yatta has also brought two sons into the world: Yoyo, born 2017, and Yogi, born 2021.

Yetu's little brother, Yogi (right), is very excited about his new nephew

Just like her mother, Yetu has always been an excellent big sister and nanny. Imagine our delight when we realised that she was soon to be a mother herself! Over the past year, her belly began to swell.

Three generations: Yetu, Yatta's firstborn; Yebo, Yetu's firstborn; Yogi, Yatta's thirdborn; and the elephant who started it all, Yatta

Yetu and her herd spent much of the dry season away from Ithumba. It had been more than three months since their last visit. Then, mid-morning on the 11th November, Head Keeper Benjamin saw a line of elephants approaching Ithumba. He immediately recognised Yetu in the lead — with a beautiful baby boy striding by her side! Yetu was flanked by her best friend and half-sister, Mwende, ex-orphan Mulika's firstborn. These girls have grown up together, and now they will raise this little baby together.

Yetu's half-sister, Mwende (left) is head nanny

Although Yetu has only ever known a wild life, she has always embraced the human family who raised her mother. She was as excited as any ex-orphan to introduce her baby to Benjamin and the other Keepers, proudly parading him around Ithumba. A short while later, Yatta and the rest of her ex-orphan herd arrived, and the celebrations reached new heights. There was joyous trumpeting and ear flapping and running about as everyone greeted each other and fussed over the new baby.

Yebo is the first Ithumba great-grandbaby

We have named Yetu’s calf Yebo, which is an affirmation in the Zulu language. This baby is only here today because of a life saved more than 20 years ago. His grandmother paved the way for two generations of elephants — and in the coming decades, Yatta’s family tree will continue to branch out, creating entire dynasties in the process.

Yatta is a living, breathing reminder that today's orphans are future matriarchs, mothers, and grandmothers. Meet the youngest elephants currently in our care — orphans who, in the fullness of time, will follow in Yetu's footsteps and start their own families in the wild.
Meet the Orphans

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