Seven years ago, an orphaned giraffe was found on the border of Meru National Park. He was tiny — a week old, at most — and stood no taller than the rangers who rescued him. The fate of his mother remains unknown, but given the location, he is likely a victim of human-wildlife conflict. On the rescue flight that ferried him down to Nairobi, he sat swaddled in a ball of blankets with just his neck and head poking out, his big, brown eyes quietly taking everything in.
Around the time that Kiko was rescued, we also welcomed an influx of infant elephant orphans into our fold. He seemed unfazed to be the only giraffe and happily grew up alongside a pint-sized elephant posse that included Ambo, Tamiyoi, and Jotto. As the years drew on, Kiko grew up in every which way: in height, in presence, and certainly in personality! He indisputably ruled the roost at the Nursery, wavering between affectionate and obstinate, doing exactly what he wanted — and usually, the opposite of what anyone else wanted. Some days, he woke up in a mood to remain close to his human family and was reluctant to step outside the compound; other days, his beleaguered Keepers had to try all their tricks to tempt him back from the forest.
While his antics sometimes exasperated his elephant friends, Kiko seemed to prefer their company above all else. Whenever he came across wild giraffes in Nairobi National Park, he became very shy and would only approach them if accompanied by the orphaned elephants.
While the Nursery was a wonderful place to grow up, Nairobi National Park could never be a forever home for Kiko. The park has a large population of wild Masai giraffes, but it does not have any reticulated giraffes, which is Kiko’s subspecies. He needed a place where he could become acquainted with his own kind and ultimately be reintegrated back into the wild. So, in March 2020, we put a plan in motion to translocate Kiko to Sirikoi, ideally situated adjacent to the expansive Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which is home to a thriving population of reticulated giraffes. Sirikoi also had a resident orphaned giraffe of its own, Nditu.
Over the past two years, Kiko has really come into his own. Wild giraffes are constantly filtering through Sirikoi, and this natural exposure has had an incredible impact on him. Kiko started tentatively, shadowing herds from afar. These reconnaissance missions slowly evolved into fleeting interactions, and before we knew it, Kiko was spending entire afternoons out with wild acquaintances.
Far from the shy boy who would once bolt away his species, Kiko now actively seeks out other giraffes. The feeling is mutual; everyone seems eager to befriend him! He has even formed a little tribe with a few regular visitors. Every morning, Kiko meets up with a female giraffe and two youngsters. They then proceed to spend most of the day together, browsing on tall acacia branches and exploring the Lewa landscape together. He has also bonded with a number of male giraffes, indicating he will be readily accepted by the wild population.
Reintegration is a personal journey for each orphan. Kiko has always gone about life on his own terms. While he is growing in independence, he still relies on his Keepers and comes back to his stockade at night. However, he spends his days living among wild giraffes, virtually indistinguishable from the company he keeps. Loved and supported at Sirikoi, our special boy is making great strides towards a wild life.