Published on the 14th of January, 2018
On the 16th of December some more of our older Nursery orphans were ready to move to Ithumba, one of three of the Trust’s rehabilitation units. They were to follow their friends Sapalan, Namalok and Kauro who preceded them just nine days before. This time it was to be two boys, Rapa and Pare and their female friend Maramoja to make the transition. We consider the moves after the rains, when conditions are favorable and Ithumba in December was looking like a garden of Eden with all the waterholes full and abundant food for elephants.
Elephant’s lives duplicate our own in terms of age progression, so these babies are very much still dependent on their human family despite being translocated to Tsavo, and this will be the case for many years to come. The move is important when they get older to ensure that they are surrounded by older elephants they can learn the ropes from, and in Rapa’s came sometimes some discipline as well, all the while situated in the most ideal of elephant habitat. These wild influences imparted from Ex Orphans and wild elephant friends is what hones these hand raised babies for a future in the wild. Just like our own education, it takes time and confidence to build before our orphans are comfortable enough to take their first independent steps. In the case of Maramoja, Rapa and Pare, it will be many years still before this happens, but this graduation is a first step!
They had undertaken some training in the lead up to the loading day, being led into the elephant moving truck at feed times, and they seemed to have no problem at all; in fact they were so comfortable in the confines of their compartments that some days during the training they would remain there for a good long time before being coaxed out once more by their Keepers. On the 16th December the loading began extremely early, just before 3.00 in the morning. First to follow their milk bottle into the truck was Pare closely followed by Rapa who was situated in the middle compartment, finally these two were followed by Maramoja, who, sensing something was amiss this day, paused and hesitated and thought about refusing altogether – however the temptation of her milk bottle and a helpful shove from her Keepers ensured there were no delays and the entourage pulled out on time and got underway nice and early.
This translocation was achieved in record time, as the roads were virtually free of traffic, so once the team was out of the Nairobi environs they made great time, and the road diversions along the way were quiet too, with no traffic blocking proceedings. So with a routine stop along the way to top up on the greens cut for the elephants and another milk feed, they rolled into Ithumba at 8.00am! They were so early that it almost caught the Ithumba Keepers by surprise, but the dependent Ithumba orphans, along with their friends Sapalan, Namelok and Kauro were there to greet them and ease them into Ithumba life.
These three orphans were quite remarkable in how rapidly they adapted. This was due to the communication from the three orphans that had preceded them earlier in the month who communicated the routines and assured them they had arrived in elephant paradise. They were later greeted by the remaining dependent orphans whose gentle reassuring welcome had an additional calming effect. After another milk feed, and a dowsing of water from the waterhole, the new arrivals settled to feed on greens, and it was clear that they relished the tasty and abundant vegetation Ithumba had to offer, all very different from what they had grown use to at the Nairobi Nursery situated in Nairobi National Park.
Later the whole dependent group, numbering 27 elephants, slowly made their way towards the Ithumba mud bath for yet another feed at 11 O’clock, stopping now and again to roll around in fresh mud wallows that were everywhere due to the recent rain. As is so often the case the Ex Orphans were aware that something was occurring, and on this day they arrived en masse at the mudbath at to investigate the new arrivals with many little wild born babies in tow, including baby Yoyo with his mother Yatta, Gawa with her mother Galana and naughty Wiva with her mother Wendi! Rapa, Pare and Maramoja were given an incredible initiation and a very warm welcome and despite it being rather daunting they seemed to take it all in their stride, in fact they even joined many in the deep Ithumba mud bath for swim.
That evening they were the first group to make their way to the stockades in the company of their friends Sapalan and Namalok and Kauro and seemed to already be fully briefed by the time they arrived! Despite the arrangement being quite different in Ithumba compared to Nairobi, where they are in separate stockades to ensure there are no fights over milk bottles, at Ithumba they are together in groups within electrically fenced stockades. Comfortable with their old friends they avoided the electric fence and looked like they had been there for years.
Angela and Robert were present for the move and made the decision to bring Shukuru back to Nairobi to try to better get on top of her chronic health issues. Shukuru, an older orphan of eight years, has suffered from recurring blood parasite problems, and so it was that she was loaded at 12.00pm that night into the elephant moving truck and by dawn was safely in Nairobi. Despite being eight years old, she followed Benjamin into the truck trustingly without any milk to coax her in, seemingly knowing she was being helped. She arrived well at the Nairobi end, and behaved as if she never left the Nairobi Nursery, totally familiar with her surroundings.