Ex Orphan Lissa, born in l986, was a poaching victim of the three decades commonly known as “The Poaching Holcaust” which followed the transfer and subsequent death of David Sheldrick, the Founder Warden of Tsavo East National Park. She was spotted by Lissa Ruben near Mackinnon Road on the Nairobi Mombasa highway - an emaciated, forlorn and lonely two year old, who was little more than a bag of bones with a severely mis-shapen hind leg that had obviously been broken at some stage, but had somehow managed to knit sufficiently to enable the calf to move slowly. However, she was so thin that she could not have lasted in a wild state more than just a few more days, her elephant mother obviously one of the many thousands of other elephants poached for their ivory tusks during that tragic period before Richard Leakey managed to return some semblance of control in the early nineties.
Lissa Ruben personally arranged the rescue of this orphan who was over two years old at the time and handed directly into the custody and care of the then elephant Matriarch, “Eleanor”, who “mothered” all the orphans that were given to her aged two and older, including Ex Nairobi Nursery survivors during those tragic years. Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter, Jill, were by then living in the Nairobi National Park.
Orphan Lissa bonded instantly with Eleanor, and remained with her until Eleanor fell pregnant for the first time in the early nineties, and handed over all her adopted elephant family to a wild friend, the cow subsequently given the name “Catherine”. Eleanor left, possibly suspecting that her baby might be taken from her, having had a very young orphan taken from her (Taru) who was milk dependent and needed to go to Nairobi to join Daphne’s first orphan, Olmeg. Eleanor had also witnessed the arrival of ex Nursery orphans. Baby-snatching is a common practice amongst elephant females who have lost their natal family and who are desperate to try and build up another for themselves, something Eleanor herself had been guilty of when she attempted to take possession of Orphan Mary’s newborn calf. Mary, who had been at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club for the first l0 years of life, was a relative newcomer to the Tsavo Orphans, and once she had managed to recover her baby from Eleanor, she left Eleanor’s unit and severed her human ties entirely. Although occasional seen by the Keepers amongst wild herds, Mary wanted nothing to do with humans or Eleanor ever again.
The Matriarchal duties were taken over by a young cow Nursery reared Malaika who tragically later died in childbirth herself aged l0, surrounded by her distraught Keepers and the Vet who were powerless to help her and had to euthanize her to relieve her suffering. Thereafter Emily took control of the still dependent ex Nursery orphans, but Lissa, who was with Catherine’s wild family kept in regular touch with them and their Keepers, returning periodically to either share a mudbath or spend time amongst them out in the bush - a permanent part of the Orphans’ extended family, who divided her time between Catherine’s wild family, other wild elephant friends, and the Voi Keeper Dependent orphaned unit.
Lissa gave birth to her first calf in mid January l999 when she was 14 years old. She returned with her newborn and an Ex orphan named “Mpenzi” who was the chosen “Nannie” to the new baby. Lissa proudly showed her new baby to the Keepers and the other orphans in their care before leaving again. We gave the calf, who was female, the name “Lara”.
The next time Lissa returned, the calf was trailing a wire snare from one back leg, which fortunately was not tight, but needed to be removed. Being wild born, the Keepers were unable to catch up with little Lara, but Lissa obviously trusted them and understood what needed to be done. She walked calmly into the Stockades and continued quietly feeding, paying no attention to the terrified bellows of her baby as the Keepers pursued it around the compound. Eventually the other orphans were brought in, who immediately surrounded the baby, enabling a Keeper to crawl beneath their bellies and remove the snare from Lara’s leg. Lissa was then reunited with her calf and all was well once more as the two walked calmly off together from whence they had come.
On the 22nd November 2002 Lissa returned to the base of Mazinga Hill in the vicinity of the Stockades, accompanied by a large herd of about 50 wild elephants, all in a great state of excitement. Sensing that something unusual was about to take place, some of the Keepers climbed a huge rock, and from that vantage point spotted Lissa in the midst of the wild group, obviously in labour, lying down and getting up at intervals. After a while, her second baby was born. (To the Keepers’ amazement a large wild bull then barged his way through the attendant cows and immediately mated poor Lissa, since apparently the hormones released during a birth closely resemble those of a cow in estrous.) In a perfect world, where elephant families are intact, a young mother would be protected by her older relatives, but at that point in time, Tsavo was far from the perfect world. There were virtually no remaining intact herds within the entire ecosystem, the population having been reduced through poaching from 45,000 to just 6,000.
Once the second baby had arrived, excitement within the herd was intense, with trumpeting, rumbling, elephants urinating and milling around, trying to encourage the baby to its feet. Once the baby was up on wobbly legs, things quietened down again, and the wild elephants began to disperse. Lissa and Mpenzi then took the newborn under shade and the Keepers were able to approach and sex the calf, who was another little female. We named the baby “Lali”.
Lissa, Lara and Lali remained regular visitors to the Keeper Dependent Juniors based at the Voi Stockades. In March 2007 Lissa surprised us all again by returning to the Stockades with a tiny third calf of about 2 – 3 months at foot, still attended by Mpenzi as the Nannie. This time the baby was a little boy, whom we named “Lugard”.
Thereafter Lissa and her three babies periodically still kept in touch with the Stockade based Keeper Dependent Juniors, often also found in amongst Ex Orphan Emily’s now wild unit, and still very much part of the Ex Orphaned “family”. By now Mpenzi was also a young mother herself, having given birth to her second calf, her firstborn having been killed by lions when just a few days old below the Voi Safari Lodge. Mpenzi’s second baby was born amongst Lissa’s unit and we named the baby, who was also a female, “Asante” meaning “thank you” in Swahili, thankful that this time round she had enjoyed the protection of Lissa and possibly other wild females during the birthing process.
In November, 2011, Lissa gave us another very pleasant surprise, appearing at the Junior orphans’ bush mudbath, with her fourth wild-born calf - another little boy whom we named “Lazima” meaning “It has to Be” in Swahili. He must have been born earlier that month, or perhaps even in October 2011.
And so, the tragic little orphan from Mackinnon Road rescued during the infamous Poaching Holocaust, who came in as a bag of bones with a mis-shapen hind leg, at 25 years old is now a very successful wild elephant mother of four wild-born young, 2 girls and 2 boys, and as such one of the Trust’s proudest success stories.