On this day 22 years ago, we rescued an orphan under the most pitiful circumstances: A calf, barely a week old, had become hopelessly stuck in a waterhole in Meru National Park. She spent hours submerged in mud as the glaring sun baked her little body. One ear became so burnt that, upon her arrival at the Nursery, the top edge crumbled off entirely.
That was 1999. Over the intervening years, Kinna blossomed in our care — first at the Nursery, then at our Ithumba Reintegration Unit — and eventually transitioned to the wild. In March 2017, Kinna became a first-time mum. She included us in this milestone moment, sharing Kama just after giving birth to her.
It is a privilege to raise any orphaned elephant from infancy, but even more so, to later watch them raise their own families. Although Kinna is now leading a fully wild life, she continues to visit her human-elephant family at Ithumba regularly. Over the past 22 months, we have witnessed her second pregnancy unfold, and knew she was expecting her new arrival any day now.
On the morning of 17th October, Kinna, Kama, and the rest of Yatta’s ex orphan herd converged upon Ithumba with a chorus of trumpets. This level of fanfare could only mean one thing: a baby announcement and sure enough, Kinna had a newborn scuttling by her side. She was still petal pink behind the ears and wobbly on her legs, but looking very healthy. We have named her Kaia, a nod to the ancient red earth she will call home.
After introducing Kaia to the Keepers and dependent herd, Kinna and the others ushered her to the nearby bush, where they spent several hours browsing in the shade. Kama, who is nearly four years old, is already excelling as a big sister. Walking step-in-step with her mum, she is making it clear to any other nanny hopefuls that she has dibs on Kaia. Of course, Kinna will benefit from the support of all her grown girlfriends, but it’s lovely to see Kama taking such an active role from the outset. Sities, Mutara, Suguta, Turkwel and Kainuk have quickly become a doting entourage to Kinna, Kama and baby Kaia.
As the sun began to set, Kinna, Kama, and Kaia strolled back towards the stockades. Our Keepers managed to set out a private lucerne feast for Kinna, which she tucked into with great enthusiasm. During these dry times, it is vital that elephant mums remain nourished to fuel their milk supply. While Kinna ate, Kaia suckled for a long time. Once her belly was full, she settled down for a nap, resting her head on a small pile of lucerne.
This is a moment to reflect on how far Kinna has come. 22 years ago to the day, she nearly met an untimely end in a muddy mire. Now, she is successfully navigating the Tsavo landscape — with not one, but two of her own babies by her side. It will be a privilege to witness how Kaia comes into her own as time unfolds.