He is back home – in the Tsavo East National Park where he was born, an orphan stabilized both psychologically and physically in the Nairobi Nursery over the past year and now whole again and ready to embark on the next important phase of life’s journey that will ultimately re-established him and his peers again amongst the wild elephant community of Tsavo. “Kandecha” graduated from the Nursery to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Centre in Northern Tsavo on the 13th May, 2011, along with two other Nursery elephants, Olare and Kibo. His transition to a wild status will be made smoothe for him through the nurturing contact he will enjoy from 28 other Ex Nursery orphans who have already accomplished that journey, but who still keep in close touch with others they regard as part of their extended orphaned family and are just about to make it. It is one of those great Elephant Mysteries that somehow, and we’ll never know how, the Ex Orphans are able to predict ahead of time the arrival of every batch of new Ex Nursery babies and are at hand to welcome and embrace them. It was no different this time round on the 13th May 2011.
Upon arrival no little elephant could possibly be happier than Kandecha, finding himself again absorbed into a very loving large elephant family comprised of much larger elephants, more in numbers than he would have had within his own natal family. Instantly, he was surrounded and reassured by low loving rumbles, showered with trunk to mouth elephant “kisses” and the gentle touch of probing trunks. He was immediately one of them and he knew that they loved him.
As the Star of that IMAX film, Born to Be Wild, through the medium of the Big Screen, “Kandecha” will become a household name throughout the world. His rescue was a miracle that just happened to be captured by the IMAX film unit who were in Tsavo at the time when this year old baby was first spotted amongst a group of 25 huge Bull Elephants, one a magnificent specimen carrying ivory tusks that swept right down to the ground - one of only very few such giants who have managed to escape the avaricious greed of the Ivory Traders.
His elephant mother had probably not been quite so lucky, for he was obviously an orphan and appeared miniscule and forlorn amidst the majesty of such mighty giants. The Big Bulls had obviously picked him up as an orphan and by doing so spared him the grizzly end of being torn asunder by predators. They were protective and loving towards him, but were unable to give him what he needed most at that tender age in order to live, and that was milk.
Following a day long abortive search for any sign of his mother or female family, it became urgent that he be rescued before milk deprivation emaciated him beyond the point of no return. Already he was becoming weakened. Hence late during the afternoon of the l7th June 2010 his dramatic rescue was accomplished, filmed by the IMAX crew with their huge camera positioned on the back of an open Landrover. The Bulls were taken by surprise and the rescue team managed to separate the calf from his Protectors, rapidly overpower him, bind his legs, lay him down on the Rescue Tarpaulin, load him into the vehicle and transport him to the Voi Elephant Stockades for the night.
There he spent the night and most of the next morning sandwiched between orphans Kenia and Kimana, who were detailed to remain with him in order to extend comfort and reassurance. They fully understood his predicament since they, too, were orphans and had been through the same terrifying process themselves. But, they had overcome their fear of humans and now loved their human family. Only they could comfort little Kandecha until the arrival of the chartered Caravan aircraft which would airlift him to the safety and intensive care of the Nairobi Orphaned Elephant Nursery the next morning where he would receive round-the-clock milk feeds and the intensive care a baby elephant needs. There dedicated Keepers would replace the natural elephant family he had lost and steer him through infancy and adolescence until he no longer needed them.
After a shaky first 24 hours at the Nursery where he collapsed and was resuscitated by a life saving drip of dextrose and saline fluid, Kandecha settled quickly into the routine of the Nairobi Nursery, taking his cue from others who were already established. He was a survivor with a strong will to live and he soon befriended the other little Nursery boys, challenging them to Pushing Tests of Strength, the main preoccupation of little elephant boys. Like their human counterparts, the bulls relish a rough and tumble to sort out the men from the boys! During his Nursery year there were mysterious comings and goings of elephants at the Nursery, but he trusted his human family and simply accepted that perhaps what happened was for the best. Eventually, in the fullness of time, his turn came, the moment he stepped into the huge vehicle parked at the Nursery Loading Bay.
Kandecha remembers his wild life clearly so that was a very special day, and one he will never forget. In addition to his adopted human family of Keepers, whom he had grown to trust and love, some of whom were with him on the 6 hour journey to Tsavo, he acquired a bigger family of much bigger elephants, all of whom had been orphans like himself. Among them was the Leader of the Ex Orphan Unit – an elephant called Yatta, who had been orphaned much younger when just 1 month old. Now she was grown and leading a natural and normal quality of life as a wild elephant, along with others that had followed in her wake. She and her herd would never forget the individual humans who had been their surrogate human family and she had even managed to explain this strange relationship with “the enemy” to her wild friends, some of whom had joined her group. She carried in her womb her own baby fathered by a wild Bull.
Kandecha also found himself reunited with Nursery Pushing Partners, Kilaguni and Sabachi, who had vanished earlier from the Nursery, as part of the comings and goings. There as well were girls he knew, the Ex Nursery Matriarch called Suguta whom he had revered, and her female supportive friends Melia and Tumaren. With them was another who was a stranger to him – little Ithumbah, very much at home having by-passed the Nursery and been reared by the Keepers who rescued her from the mud of a nearby drying waterhole.
The story of Kandecha is as heartwarming as it is uplifting in sharp contrast to that of many others who have not been so lucky and who have died in lonely isolation never having been found in time. Theirs are the silent tragedies deserving of tears. However, the story of Kandecha will surely demonstrate graphically just how human elephants are – that they are just like us in many ways and a lot better than us in others. His story, sensitively narrated by Morgan Freeman on the Big Screen illustrates this fact visually so that one comes out feeling that were we humans more like the elephants in terms of caring, the world would be a better place!