Published on the 14th of November, 2017
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, and in many cases these orphans first came into our care as tiny infants, just days old. October 2017 proved to be a truly momentous month for us with Yatta, the matriarch of our Ex Orphan herd at Ithumba, along with two of her adopted ‘sisters’ Sunyei and Nasalot, 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.
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 the 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.
Yatta was rescued at only one month old in September 1999, a victim of poaching as her mother was killed for her tusks in Tsavo East, just below the Yatta plateau. Eight years after moving from Voi to the Ithumba Reintegration Unit in 2004, she gave birth to her first calf, Yetu, in January 2012; a beautiful little girl and a wild addition to the growing Ex Orphan herd in Ithumba, with Mulika having given birth to Mwende a year earlier. Imagine our delight when, on 7th October, Yatta chose to share her second birth with us, returning to her former stockades and her human family, so that we could be a part of celebrating the arrival of her new baby, a healthy little boy who we have named Yoyo.
The evident happiness within the herd, along with our own, did not have a chance to dwindle given that just a week later, on 14th October, Ex Orphan Nasalot had her own first born baby, a half-pint sized bull we named ‘Nusu’, the Swahili word for ‘half’. Nasalot had arrived at the Nairobi Nursery at only a few months old in 2000, another poaching victim but this time from the north of Kenya in Turkanaland. Incidents of poaching in this lawless area were rife and the elephants had mostly turned nocturnal, feeding in hours of darkness so they could hide during the day. 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 she did settle and has grown into the gentle, healthy 17 year old she is today, and now a first-time mum! 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. Head Keeper Benjamin has come to Nasalot’s aid a few times already, extracting him from the water on a number of occasions!
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 100 elephants are now flourishing and living a natural life in the wild.
October was becoming a month of celebration, however it was not over yet, as on the 21st Sunyei also had her first born calf, a healthy girl we called Siku meaning ‘day’ in Swahili. Still pink and wobbly on her feet, the Ithumba keepers realised the little calf was only a few hours old when Sunyei came striding into the compound at dawn to show off her new baby, hence her chosen name.
Sunyei came to us as a tiny infant, and as a young mother at just 14 years old, she found the excitement from all the other elephants, our still dependent orphans and wild ones, rather too daunting for one morning! With her nanny Loijuk accompanying them, she took her baby to the western side of the stockade compound where she allowed the keepers to quietly interact with her baby in a more subdued environment. The extent to which these orphans fully trust and believe in their keepers is a very heart-warming bond to behold. That a fully grown, wild living, elephant has the desire to introduce a new baby the very same morning to the human family that raised her, speaks volumes about their intelligence and their sense of family but also for the love and appreciation that our Ex Orphans have for their keepers, their human family.
We have watched with great pride as Sunyei has blossomed into a very caring and attentive mother, completely enchanted by her tiny calf. It has also been very interesting to watch the Ex Orphan bulls offer Sunyei escort and protection when she chooses to spend time apart from the rest of the Ex Orphan herd, which she has done on occasion, savouring quiet time with her pride and joy. The Ithumba Ex Orphan herd is fast feeling like the Trust’s Nursery with little babies of all sizes underfoot everywhere, the only difference being they require no work from our Keepers, with the exception of the odd extraction of Nusu from the water trough perhaps! It is so wonderful to see them playing with each other, and how involved every Ex Orphan is in their upbringing, highlighting further how in elephant society raising a baby is very much a family affair, with many eager nannies delighted to share the responsibility and share the love.
After four decades of pioneering work raising and protecting the many orphaned elephants that have come into our care, and with our Ex Orphan herds growing day by day, our projects on the ground in Tsavo have taken on even greater significance and have grown exponentially. To date we have five mobile Veterinary units throughout Kenya, and ten fully mobile Anti-Poaching teams assisted by a Canine Unit operated in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Each team patrols every day of the year to safe guard all wildlife in Tsavo. The ground teams are supported by five fixed wing aircraft and two helicopters flying daily patrols, monitoring activities and providing swift and immediate response to incidents of poaching and human wildlife conflict. These projects, alongside others undertaken by the DSWT in close partnership with KWS, work in support of one another and exist to ensure that not only our orphans remain safe, but all of Tsavo’s wild inhabitants are afforded protection and security.
We are so grateful for the support we receive towards our efforts, so that we may continue to rescue, raise and protect animals, and watch with pride as they return to where they rightfully belong, the wild. There could be no greater gift for us, or testament to the success of the Orphans Project, than to share in the joy of such perfectly healthy baby elephants like our three ‘October kids’ Yoyo, Nusu and Siku born to elephants we have raised and nurtured from infancy.