Over the past month, we have been busily planning our next round of Nursery graduations. A week before the first move, however, tragedy struck Umani Springs when our lionhearted Luggard passed away. He had been shot multiple times as a baby, and while his spirit was strong, the injuries had taken their toll over the years. Ultimately, we believe his body had carried him as far as it could go.
Although Luggard’s body had been laid to rest, his memory hovered over Umani Springs. All the orphans were left absolutely heartbroken, especially Murera. We were painfully reminded of this each morning, when they would queue around his stockade to pay their respects. Each would wait their turn to walk inside and circle around, before leaving the compound. It was a heartbreaking ritual for the Keepers to witness, especially as they too grieved the loss of Luggard. As Umani Springs continued to mourn, we felt we needed to bring light back into the lives of everyone there — human and elephant alike. Our graduation plans were fairly fluid. Because of poor rains, Voi had already been ruled out as a destination. Generally, we reserve Umani Springs for the vulnerable orphans who need it most, but healthy elephants live there, too. It dawned on Angela Sheldrick that a posse of healthy elephants in the mix would be just the balm that Umani Springs needed during this very raw time.
Best friends Kiombo and Maktao were a natural choice to graduate together, but we wanted a little girl to join them. Oftentimes, the girls act as the glue, supporting their fellow graduates through this new time. Kiasa was the obvious choice, given her long-spanning friendship with Maktao: They had been rescued within months of each other and grown up together at the Nursery. The Keepers felt it was a very good decision, as Umani Springs is a coveted destination for any elephant.
The usual acclimation to the moving lorry had taken place for a month in advance, so all the elephants were very familiar with the routine. We got a very early start on Monday 24th May, so as to beat traffic and take advantage of open roads to the Kibwezi Forest. Kiasa and Kiombo loaded onto the truck easily, while Maktao barged out of his compartment and wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about getting back in. However, once everyone was securely in the translocation lorry, they remained incredibly calm throughout the journey. The only blip occurred when, during transit, Kiombo accidentally knocked his left tusk against the compartment, breaking it. Fortunately, Kiombo was completely unfazed by the incident — he will just have a rather distinctive appearance until it grows back!
By 6:30am, they arrived at the gates of Umani. Meanwhile, a welcoming committee was assembling. The older girls were very aware that something was happening — even the nightclubbers showed up and lingered around expectantly. Lima Lima could hardly contain herself, sitting down and throwing her head around exuberantly, then would rise to her feet just to impatiently pace up and down with head held high and ears spread wide. The moment they heard the lorry, the anticipation ramped up even more. The Keepers moved the herd off deeper into the bushes to give the newcomers some space.
The three of them emerged from the lorry wide-eyed, trunks reaching out to investigate their new home. Interestingly, the first who broke ranks to welcome them was Shukuru. By that point, the Keepers couldn’t hold the others back and everyone swarmed in. Kiasa, Maktao, and Kiombo took it all in stride, appearing to act quite blasé about the frenzy that greeted them.
The girls were over the moon to have three new babies in the mix, with the notable exception of Enkesha. She seemed quite put out to no longer be the center of attention. For much of the morning, she sulked off to the side and was even spotted giving the trio some surreptitious jabs.
Murera clearly had to process the whole event. In Luggard, she recognised an elephant who shared her journey, being similarly compromised due to the injuries inflicted upon them as babies. Kiasa, Kiombo, and Maktao are healthy elephants, and while they will never fully replace the void left by Luggard, they have given her a serious job to do — and that makes all the difference. Elephants need a purpose, and with these youngsters in the fold, Murera now has that. Everyone is jockeying for the coveted role of nannying them.
The babies spent the morning browsing and basking in the mild temperatures. It was as if the routine had already been communicated: The trio knew exactly what to do and when to do it, from milk feed to mud bath to dust bath. Every step of the way, they were diligently chaperoned by their new friends. Even Mwashoti, who can be quite rough these days, was on his best behaviour.
As the sun began to sink, the dependent herd headed home for the evening. We decided to put Kiasa, Maktao, and Kiombo in three adjacent stockades on the far side of the compound. While Luggard’s stockade was more central, we wanted to keep it open so that it didn’t appear to the others that the newcomers were usurping his space and memory so soon after his passing.
Our Nursery trio spent their first night in Umani Springs in a state of wide-eyed wonder. The nocturnal sounds of the Kibwezi Forest are very different from the Nursery’s soundtrack, so that took a bit of getting used to. However, their ever-present Keepers — not to mention a chorus of comforting rumbles from their new friends — assured them that everything was as it should be.
Kiasa, Maktao, and Kiombo are already relishing their new position. At the Nursery, they were the big elephants, which came with its own privileges. At Umani Springs, however, they are the babies — and treated as such. Already, we have noticed a striking difference in the mood here. Everyone is busy and has a purpose again. Our little trio have really hit the jackpot. They will go wild in a gentle environment, with plenty of exposure to wild elephants and the best of Kenya’s wilderness . Their new home puts some of Kenya’s greatest ecosystems at their feet: The Kibwezi Forest and Chyulu Hills connect to Amboseli and Tsavo, which means that Kiasa and Maktao could find themselves back in the places of their birth.
It was a week of new beginnings, for our graduates and most poignantly for the existing Umani Springs orphans. They entered the week heartbroken but, thanks to the arrival of Kiasa, Maktao, and Kiombo, everyone is beginning to feel whole again.