In the early hours of 8th January, Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu said farewell to the Nairobi Nursery and graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit in Tsavo East National Park.
This has been a much-anticipated move. Graduations have to be timed just right, and in this instance, we had to wait for a number of factors to align. An orphan's personal readiness is of the utmost importance, but we are also at the mercy of Mother Nature. We had originally hoped for Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu to graduate in 2021, but Tsavo’s extended dry season complicated matters. At last, the rains arrived in December, transforming Ithumba into a green oasis. However, they also made the roads impassable for a truck carrying the precious cargo of three elephants. Conditions had dried up sufficiently by early January — which meant that it was finally time for our trio to make the move.
Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu were more than ready. They had plenty of practice sessions with the moving truck, and everyone was safely on board by 3:30am in the morning. Two of their trusted Keepers, Aduba and Peter, accompanied them to Tsavo. We predicted that Naboishu would be anxious on the drive, but with Larro to his right and Mukkoka to his left, he remained totally at ease. The other two were initially quite unsettled, but the Keepers’ comforting presence, coupled with the rocking motion of the truck, soon lulled them into peace.
At 9:00am, the truck pulled up to Ithumba and our three bewildered babies emerged, trunks outstretched to inspect the new paradise in which they found themselves. As they followed their Nursery Keepers down to the water trough, a small welcoming committee came dashing over. We usually bring the orphans’ old Nursery friends over first, to help ease their way into their new home. It was heartwarming to see Nabulu, Musiara, Satao, Maramoja, and Malima run to their friends, embracing the three graduates with trunk hugs and warm rumbles. Soon thereafter, the other members of the Ithumba herd converged for introductions. Our orphans are always welcoming to new arrivals, remembering their own journeys well.
From there, the day unfolded seamlessly. Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu had obviously been briefed by their friends, because they seemed totally comfortable with the whole routine. After exploring the bush a bit, they made their way down to the mud bath. They charged towards their milk bottles with the others, as if they had done it a hundred times before. At this point, Nabulu became very protective, lingering by their sides at all times.
Freshly enlivened by the rains, Tsavo must seem like heaven to these babies. Naboishu was in browsing bliss, shovelling mouthfuls of greens into his mouth as fast as he could pluck them from the ground! The Ithumba mud bath is now more like a swimming pool, but the newcomers dove in without hesitation. Malkia and Malima quickly shepherded them back to shallower waters, before escorting them to the dust pile.
Despite the eagerness with which they embraced their new home, Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu definitely appreciated having their Nursery Keepers nearby. Every so often, they drifted towards them for reassurance. However, Nabulu and the three M girls — Maramoja, Malkia, and Malima — were excellent chaperones and really put them at ease.
As the afternoon unfolded, Mukkoka was in his element. For him, this graduation marks a homecoming: He was rescued from this northern area of Tsavo East in 2018, close to the Tiva River, after our aerial team miraculously spotted the tracks of a lone calf walking along the riverbank. Mukkoka must have memories of Tsavo, because he certainly felt right at home from the outset.
Larro, on the other hand, had a lot to adjust to. She was rescued in January 2019, after she wandered onto community lands in the Masai Mara. Over the past three years, this fragile calf has blossomed into a nurturing leader. She woke up this morning as the Nursery’s mini matriarch; now, she is the youngest female at Ithumba. However, Larro has already embraced her older friends and we know she will learn a lot from them.
Naboishu, meanwhile, took everything in stride. Like Larro, he was rescued from the Mara, after losing his mother to natural causes. He had quite a mischievous reputation at the Nursery, but today, he was very well-mannered. Only time will tell if Ithumba’s bounty of lovely greenery will continue to distract him into good behaviour!
By 5:00pm, it was time for everyone to return home for the evening. We put Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu in “Class One,” the stockade reserved for Ithumba’s youngest orphans. Their new roommates, Nabulu and Musiara, showed them the way. Again, this reminded us of the extraordinary communication of elephants. Despite the fact that this was the trio’s first time sleeping in a communal bedroom, they strode in without hesitation and made a beeline for the milk bar. After having their fill, they enjoyed a twilight snack of freshly cut greens, before settling down for a well-earned sleep.