On the 29th of May three big boys from the Nairobi Nursery began their journey to one of three of the Trust’s rehabilitation units, Ithumba. This time on the move was our famous Nursery fixture Kithaka, with his two best friends Barsilinga and Lemoyian. They were making their first safari, embarking on their rehabilitation process based from Northern Tsavo East’s Ithumba Unit. This move is just the beginning of a long journey, one which will take around eight to ten years before they are actually ready to fly the nest and become independent elephants. In the meantime they will remain Keeper dependent for a good long time still, but from here on be exposed to wild ex orphans and their wild friends.
As is usual practice when a move from the Nursery takes place, the three travelling were woken up at 3.30am and given a tranquilising injection. After around twenty minutes they were then trustingly led by their Keepers, with a milk bottle in hand, into the elephant moving truck. Having practised for weeks this went calmly with both Lemoyian and Barsilinga entering first without incident, with Kithaka on the other hand keeping his hind legs beyond the door as he stretched for his milk bottle, enabling him to deploy reversing tactics the moment the Keepers tried to close the compartment door behind him. Despite twelve men pushing with all their strength against his bottom, he reversed out in no time and sped away clearly suspicious. The lure of another milk bottle proved too much and he entered the lorry compartment for a second time and finally the door was closed. His friends on either side of him seemed completely unperturbed and began to feed on the vegetation that was carefully hung in each compartment ensuring they had ample browse to last them throughout journey. The convoy left by 4.00am and were out of the Nairobi environs in no time missing the morning traffic.
As the journey progressed things went smoothly, although Kithaka was definitely the most disturbed of the three, clambering on the compartment bars from time to time. He travelled with some of his favourite Keepers alongside him for the journey and they, along with his best elephant friends, were able to reassure him because Lemoyian and Barsilinga were definitely more relaxed. As daylight broke low cloud cover kept the day cool which was helpful. The recent rains had transformed the landscape into a paradise, with wild flowers adorning the roadside. A brief stop happened half way to restock some favourite greens for the remainder of the journey. The convoy made excellent time arriving at 10.30 am at the Ithumba stockades.
As the truck doors opened our three little Nursery babies, still red from the Nursery earth and easy to identify, clambered out looking extremely bewildered by their new environment. They took their milk from the Nairobi keepers who accompanied them, and were introduced to the many Ithumba Keepers, some of whom they remembered, and some new faces too, all of whom were thrilled to welcome the notorious naughty boys into their orphan fold. Lemoyian appeared to settle fastest, despite being the smallest, and Barsilinga was calm under the circumstances too. Kithaka on the other hand was clearly freaked out, travelling aimlessly around with his ears outstretched trying to make sense of his day, and where he now found himself.
After a short time the dependent Ithumba orphans, some of whom the new arrivals shared time with in the Nursery, were led in groups of three and four to feed and meet the babies. There was great excitement and their presence definitely helped settled the new comers. It was not long before they gradually headed into the bush beyond the stockades. The abundant and varied vegetation found at Ithumba was appreciated from the outset and they began feeding all together, surrounded by old and new friends, relishing the new tastes.
The rest of the day the new arrivals stayed fairly close to the stockades browsing with the dependent orphan group and then returned to their night stockades just before the heavens opened and a storm blew through. This was a big change from what they were use to back at the Nursery which were stockades, here they share bigger electrically fenced enclosures. They were placed in the company of Narok and Shukuru for the night to guide and reassure them and this definitely helped enormously.
The next morning they were greeted by many of the ex orphans who returned to the stockades as if sensing the arrival of new comers. The ex orphans were in the company of a wild bull who watched events unfold as the new babies were greeted warmly by the older ex orphans. Ex orphans Sidai and Lenana were so overcome with excitement that they spent the rest of the day trailing the new babies, determined not to let them out of their sight. Despite the three, Lemoyian, Barsilinga and Kithaka staying close to each other at all times, Sidai and Lenana would escort them everywhere following their every move. The presence of these big elephants was a new sight for these babies who came into our Nursery care in infancy, but instinct kicked in and it was obvious to all that they were relishing every minute of the nurturing and mothering they were receiving This was some adjustment having been used to being the big boys at the Nursery, they now found themselves babies in the fold.
Lemoyian was the first to settle, and appears to simply love his new surroundings and from the outset looked totally at home, with Barsilinga looking comfortable and laid back too. Highly strung Kithaka has taken longest to settle, but after three short days all of them appear to understand the routines and were enjoying new found friends in a magnificent wild setting. The Nursery babies are still very hooked on their Keepers, choosing to trail them much of the time, with the dependent babies trailing them, and then the ex orphans trailing the dependent orphans forming this long elephant train fascinated by Ithumba’s new arrivals.