Over the years, it has become a familiar sight – huge trucks parked against the Loading Bays at the Trust’s Orphaned Elephant Nursery in Nairobi, days before the intended departure date, with those orphans due to be moved to the Rehabilitation Units in Tsavo, being coaxed to cooperate by a Keeper armed with a bottle of milk standing inside the vehicles. There is always an air of anxiety as Departure Day draws close. Because “an elephant never forgets” we know that those who have previous experience of a truck journey during rescues, will be reluctant to repeat what remains as a sinister early memory. There is anxiety about how they will travel, whether they will try and break out as did Napasha, an event captured on film for Elephant Diaries I. However, most concern centres around how they (and the trucks that carry them) will fare on the grueling long journey to their new home at Ithumba in Northern Tsavo, knowing that elephants are not only prone to claustrophobia when closely confined, but also that the deviations on the Mombasa road are horrendous at the moment. Then there is always the emotional pain of parting when the moment arrives, and the trucks draw away. Having nurtured them day and night for the past two years, they are precious to us as our elephant “children”, and as such deeply loved by all who have had a hand in their care. And whilst we know it is never a final goodbye, for they will be with us for at least the next 8 years until they reach the age of l0, and sometimes even older, there is the knowledge that all animals, irrespective of where they live, and those that carry ivory, are at risk in today’s cruel world. However, nothing can match the irreplaceable gift of freedom, especially for an elephant, and so any remorse is tempered by a sense of pride and satisfaction knowing that the most precarious part of their life’s long road has been safely accomplished – i.e. their very fragile early infancy in the Nairobi Nursery where they have to be healed both physically and psychologically and where the Angel of Death is never far removed.
Zurura was a tiny 6 week old baby when he came to us having been hauled from a ruby mine, his life spared because the Miners were led to the pit by his yelling, and actually found a ruby in it once they had pulled him out. Kamboyo, was 8 or 9 months old when his elephant mother and family were lost to him. He was found by our Mtito De-Snaring team, emaciated, sun-damaged and all alone, not far from the roadside town of Mtito Andei. We knew that he would be a difficult customer to persuade to cooperate when the time came, reluctant to repeat a truck journey he remembered enduring when he was rescued and transported to the nearest airfield in Tsavo West prior to being airlifted to Nairobi.
But, it was time they went. Both young bulls were now just over 2 years old, healthy, strong, and with little respect for the current young Nursery Matriarch, Lenana, who is younger than they. Now the company of older bulls was important, someone with whom to spar and test their strength against, and up at Ithumba, there are plenty of those! They needed the older females such as the Matriarch, Yatta, and her Assistants, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna to keep them in line, and punish any bullying of the younger members of the group, for bullying in elephant society is not tolerated. It is the older females who instill good manners and discipline amongst the boys.
Newcomers can always be assured of the warmest of welcomes by all the others upon arrival at the other end, so at least there was no need for anxiety over that. Sian, Loijuk and Kenze went ahead fairly recently, so they would know the two newcomers instantly, even though others would remember them only as tiny calves. We also knew that the girls left in the Nairobi Nursery, namely Lualeni, Makena and Chyulu would probably be glad to be rid of the two rambunctious boys, who were always trying to “mount” onto them just to show that they were “top dog”!
Dawn of the 7th November 2007 duly arrived, and at 5 a.m. Zurura went into his truck without any difficulty. However, Kamboyo now sporting 4 inch tusks that could inflict a lot of damage, would have to be man-handled over the threshold, pushed from the back by all available manpower, and pulled from the front by ropes attached to a leg. We need not have worried, because his behaviour was testimony to the extremely gentle nature of elephants. At no time did he show any sign of anger or aggression and apart from just “digging in his heels” once he knew the inevitable, he quietly gave in, took his milk, and stood quietly beside the “pulling Keeper” beside him as he removed the noose around his foot.
By 5.30 both trucks pulled away and began their long journey, everyone waving goodbye as the first rays of dawn lit the sky. It was a relief that all had gone well so far, but Robert Carr-Hartley and his father, Roy, who would be accompanying the trucks, took with them a loaded syringe of “Stressnil” just in case.
It was a hellish journey. One vehicle broke a gearbox bolt, which had to be replaced en route, necessitating a hold-up. (Thank heavens for practical menfolk!) Then the other got stuck near Kasala not far from their destination where a shower of rain had turned the newly graded road into a mud hole. But, eventually, after a 9 hour road journey, the two elephants from the Nursery arrived at the Un-Loading Ramps at the Ithumba Stockades, where they calmly walked out looking remarkably relaxed, enjoyed a bottle of milk and then wandered around the compound. Soon, the younger Ithumba orphans arrived in a rush, and sure enough, Sian and Loijuk knew Kamboyo and Zurura instantly. Whilst they were greeting their Nursery friends, the others rushed to the open trucks just to make sure no-one else was inside. Then came the older group with Yatta, the Matriarch, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna in the lead followed by all the others. Immediately, Mulika decided that she wanted them as her own, enveloping the newcomers with her trunk, caressing them by laying her trunk against their backs and gently puling their heads towards her. As always, it was a very touching scene and the warmest of welcomes for Kamboyo and Zurura, who took it all in their stride. That night they happily went into their new Night Stockade along with Sian and Loijuk to keep them company, it first having been inspected by all the others who obviously anticipated this exciting event. Surprisingly they seemed to know all about the electrified “hot wire” surrounding the Stockade, for they were careful not to approach, or touch it. Obviously, in silent elephant telepathy, the others must have cautioned them about it!
The arrival of Kamboyo and Zurura at Ithumba brings the total of young elephants there in the process of rehabilitation to 27. Left in the Nursery are 8 youngsters, Lenana, Makena and Chyulu being the next who will be upgraded to Ithumba probably in May 2008, after the next rains. This will leave Lesanju in charge at the nursery of the other four babies, namely Sinya, Shimba, Lempaute and baby Dida.