For Kiko and all us at the Nairobi Nursery, Tuesday, 17th March, was no ordinary day. As the sun rose above the horizon, we were busy preparing for a momentous task: the translocation of our precious Kiko, an orphaned reticulated giraffe who we raised from infancy at our Nairobi Nursery.
Kiko arrived into our care from Meru National Park in 2015 - just days old after he lost his mother, we suspect at the hands of poachers - tiny and bewildered at first, he quickly settled into life at the Nursery and became an intrinsic part of our elephant orphan herd. He has throughout his time at the Nursery kept everyone on their toes with his distinctly Kiko way of life — that is, doing whatever he wanted and daring anyone to stand in his way!
As time marched on and Kiko continued to blossom upwards, it was clear he was outgrowing Nursery life and we began plans for Kiko’s translocation, but a brush with lions early last year forced a delay. To provide him with more spacious sleeping arrangements, we had moved him into a night-time stockade with very high wooden sides. This was a good arrangement, until near disaster struck in the early hours of 23rd January 2019: a lioness somehow scaled the stockade’s 16-foot posts and attacked our beloved giraffe. Kiko held his own admirably and, fortuitously, a Keeper heard the fracas and was able to stop the assault. Kiko’s injuries were not life-threatening, but he did require an operation to stitch up the gashes inflicted by the lion, along with plenty of time to recuperate from the ordeal. Kiko has been fully recovered for some time, but an exceptionally long rainy season further delayed his translocation.
At long last, however, the time came around for him to move north to Sirikoi, a spectacular wilderness on the border of Lewa Conservancy. The journey was some 270 kilometers long by road, taking Kiko north, though the city of Nairobi and beyond, with the many obstacles that could potentially present themselves. Needless to say, there were plenty of sleepless nights spent anticipating what lay ahead on this journey. We assembled an all-star team to accompany the move, including the Kenya Wildlife Service Capture Unit, our Laikipia Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by KWS vet Dr. Mijele, Kiko’s Keeper, an SWT mechanic, in the event of any vehicle drama along the way, and Angela Sheldrick, and her sons Taru, and Roan. We built a special translocation crate, which was meticulously prepared for its precious cargo, including soft foam lining to its edges and lots of delicious food placed appropriately. Moving a nearly full-grown giraffe presents a unique set of obstacles, such as the various sets of wires crossing the road on the route we’d have to take, but we were well-prepared for these and our workshop team created custom ‘plastic forks’ with extra-long arms that could be used to push up the wires and prevent them posing a problem for Kiko’s towering form.
Loading began promptly at 6.30am on 17th March, with Kiko tempted out of his stockade and onto the back of the truck with a big bottle of milk. His Keeper stood in front on a protruding ledge, offering the bottle while the doors of the crated truck were closed. Kiko looked surprisingly relaxed as he peered out at all the commotion unfolding below him!
With our precious cargo loaded, the convoy was ready to embark north to Sirikoi. Kiko certainly attracted a good deal of attention as he passed through Nairobi, leaving pedestrians gawking and passing vehicles lingering along the road. In typical Kiko fashion, he seemed rather unfazed by the proceedings. The crate was large enough that he was able to turn around and choose which way he wanted to face, and as the journey got underway, looking backwards seemed to be his preferred vantage point. Thankfully, there were no glitches along the way except for a short break after the vehicle overheated while battling the high altitudes during the ascent towards Timau town. This unscheduled stop allowed Kiko to get some attention from the team, but he hardly needed the reassurance and looked in remarkably good form.
As the 270km, eight-hour, journey to Sirikoi drew to a close, the landscape changed. You could see Kiko's interest visibly heightened as we drove onto the Lewa Conservancy through plains of whistling thorns and yellow fever trees, teaming with buffalos, impalas, zebras, rhinos, and even herds of reticulated giraffes. He seemed to sense that this place was feeling much more like home.
Once we pulled into Sirikoi, and the crate doors were unbolted Kiko breezed down the customised ramp and ambled off together with his Keeper to inspect his surroundings. He didn’t want milk or water, but instead made a beeline for the yellow fever trees and tucked right into those, along with the delicious creepers growing at their bases. Everyone was a bit shocked at how blasé he was about the whole thing.
In advance of Kiko’s move, we had constructed a stockade at Sirikoi that mirrored his at the Nursery. He clearly recognized this familiar building and followed his Keeper into his new stockade without hesitation. You could sense how comfortable he was in there, surrounded by the delicious cut browse of acacia, lucerne cubes, and water, just as he was used to enjoying at the Nursery.
Then came the most exciting part of the move. Sirikoi was a perfect next destination for Kiko for a number of reasons, not least of which is the presence of another orphaned reticulated giraffe. Nditu is a beautiful eight-year-old girl, and she has been hand-raised at Sirikoi since her own infancy. She was kept away while Kiko first arrived, but at last the time had come for their grand introduction. When she was led into the compound and saw another giraffe standing there, she immediately shied away, evidently horrified to find a roommate in her stockade! She was rather put out at first, but it wasn’t long before she settled down.
In addition to Nditu, Kiko now shares his quarters area with a much smaller roommate: Since the stockades were built, Nditu has shared her bedroom with a fluffy white rabbit named Bun Bun, who joins her in the stockade each night. As Kiko settled in for his first night at Sirikoi, Bun Bun and another rabbit friend hopped into the stockade as usual. Kiko took it all in his stride, happy to share his stockade with Nditu next door and the pair of bunnies hopping around between the two. It was sweet to watch how seamlessly this unusual friendship unfolded, but not surprising: Kiko has grown up exposed to so many different animal babies over the years, and is unperturbed by most new faces.
The next day, Kiko woke up rather grumpy. However, he soon settled in and spent the day browsing in Nditu’s company. Nditu has taken a maternal interest in him, choosing to remain close and keeping him company, when she could quite easily leave him behind to continue with her usual daily routine. It is so heart-warming to see how quickly their bond is forming, even in just the few days that Kiko has been at Sirikoi. He is finally hanging out with his own kind and appears to be loving every minute of it.
We will continue to bring our supporters updates about Kiko. As although he is no longer at the Nursery, he still very much remains our responsibility. After all, Kiko is still young and dependent on his Keepers for all the care they provide, and it will be some time before he is ready to lead a fully wild life. When that time comes, however, he could not be in a better place. Sirikoi abuts the Lewa Conservancy, a key protected habitat where wildlife thrives. This includes large numbers of reticulated giraffes, and in the coming years, it is our hope that Kiko and Nditu will choose to join their ranks. In the meantime, he will be enjoying life in his beautiful new home, and undoubtedly keep all those who know him highly entertained (and occasionally exasperated!) with his distinctly Kiko ways.