Every graduation is a momentous occasion — but this particular move was a milestone for two very special orphans, and for all of us at the Trust.
Lemeki was the founding member of our Kaluku Neonate Nursery herd. Given that she is a torrent in elephant form, it is only fitting that she came to us in a swirl of floodwaters. In March 2018, severe weather sent Kenya into a watery crisis. During a routine patrol, MEP scouts spotted a creature bobbing among the angry whitecaps of the Mara River. Upon closer inspection, they discovered it was a newborn elephant.
We will never know how far Lemeki’s odyssey took her, but the mere fact that she survived the raging river was a miracle. However, she wasn’t out of danger yet: Newborn elephants are very fragile, and Lemeki’s prolonged time in water left her susceptible to pneumonia. Nairobi was also experiencing extreme flooding at the time, so we changed course and flew Lemeki directly to our Kaluku Field HQ in Tsavo, which was warm and dry.
Eight months later, Thamana entered the fold. During a patrol of the Voi River Circuit in Tsavo East National Park, KWS rangers spotted a tiny elephant struggling in the middle of a drying waterhole. No doubt his family had tried desperately to extract him, only to be forced to leave him behind. Ironically, the mire ultimately saved his life: A lone calf is very vulnerable to predators, and there was evidence that some had been circling in, but they must have been hampered by the mud.
We have always said that Thamana is the yin to Lemeki’s yang. As we often see with orphans who grow up together, they are best friends — but they could not be more different. Lemeki is attention-loving and bossy, with a real flair for drama. Thamana is as easy-going as they come, hooked on his Keepers and happy to follow Lemeki’s lead.
Now that they are both over three years old, we knew it was time for them to take the next step in their reintegration journeys. We had been planning this move for quite some time, but had to wait until the conditions were just right. First it was too dry, then it was too wet — and finally, in early January, Voi had transformed into a gloriously green garden of Eden ready to receive its latest additions.
Just before 5 o’clock, we took the whole Kaluku Neonate herd on a “dawn patrol” in the direction of the airstrip. We knew Lemeki would be reluctant to leave her stockade without everyone in tow, so a group excursion kept everyone happy. As they had been practising for several weeks now, Lemeki and Thamana walked right onto the moving truck. The parting of the ways went by without incident. Lemeki and Thamana were thoroughly distracted by the bounty of greens onboard, while the other orphans were focused on their Keepers and the bottles they knew were waiting for them back home.
The convoy enjoyed a smooth, uneventful journey to Voi. Between mouthfuls of branches, Thamana interacted with his favourite Keeper, Joseph. Lemeki was so nonchalant that she fed herself a bottle of milk en route!
Around 8 o’clock, the truck pulled into Voi. Because this was an entirely new herd for our graduates, we made sure there were no orphans around, so they could disembark peacefully. Lemeki, ever the social butterfly, immediately set about introducing herself to all the Voi Keepers. Thamana stuck to Joseph like glue, although he never seemed too overwhelmed.
From there, we brought the Voi orphans over in small, manageable groups. Tagwa, Tamiyoi, and Sagala made up the first welcoming committee. The girls couldn’t believe their luck to have two new friends enter the fold! The meet-and-greets continued from there, as the whole herd made their way down towards the baobab for the afternoon milk feed and mud bath.
They must have been briefed by the other orphans, because Lemeki and Thamana came charging down for milk as if it was their everyday routine. Lemeki made quick work of her bottle, clearly eager to resume her introductions with the Keepers. She was so busy socialising that she missed the memo to continue down to the mud bath! Thamana had a lovely wallow with his new friends and even took a dip in the pool. Tagwa, Tamiyoi, and Sagala definitely want to lay claim to the pair, but they may have to share, as everyone wants to spend time with them. Voi’s mini matriarch, Mbegu, is very interested in Lemeki, while Ngilai and Ndotto are keen to recruit Thamana into their young bull cohort.
The rest of the day passed in a blissful blur of browsing and playing. As the sun began to sink, the dependent herd eagerly led their newest members back home. Lemeki and Thamana’s Kaluku Keeper, Joseph, will remain at Voi for several weeks, until they are fully settled in. Based on how peacefully they slept the first night, however, they already feel right at home!
This is a moment of growth for both our graduates. Lemeki is used to being the big fish in a little pond, and now, she is learning that there is a world beyond Kaluku. She has always blazed her own trail, but at Voi, she will benefit from the nurturing presence of older females. Our sensitive soul, Thamana, will relish the support of an even larger herd. All the older females are jostling to coddle him, while the boys are delighted to have a new sparring partner.
Lemeki and Thamana’s arrival couldn’t have been timed better, because there is a changing of the guard unfolding at Voi: When Edie’s ex orphan herd appeared on the scene last week, many of our older, semi-independent orphans (Kenia, Ndii, Tundani, and co.) chose to join them in the wild. As a result, it is time for the next age group to take charge. With Lemeki and Thamana, we now have 18 dependent orphans at Voi.