Barely a week after moving Olare, Kibo and Kandecha to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Stockades on the 13th May, the l9th was another important day in the Nairobi Nursery for it was to be the day that miracle Murka, beautiful Naisula and her best friend Kitirua were off to join them. All three were now healed both psychologically and physically, Murka who had the blade of a spear lodged l0 inches into her forehead and deep axe wounds on her hindquarters, Naisula and Kitirua, who were both found in an advanced state of emaciation simply wandering alone, Naisula from the Archers Post Area of Samburu National Reserve, and Kitirua an orphan from Amboseli National Park, both believed to be poaching victims in areas where Chinese workmen were engaged in road construction. Again it was a 3 a.m. start. The three elephants to be upgraded were given a shot of Stressnil, none of them having been eager to enter the Elephant Truck parked at the Nursery Loading Bay having put two and two together since Olare, Kibo and Kandecha were spirited away! The Keepers believe Murka has a mysterious ability to predict events ahead of time! She had been visibly upset for no apparent reason the night before Tano found herself tossed by rhino Shida. The same happened the night the lions killed a buffalo behind the Stockades and a hyaena took up residence under a Container near the milk mixing area in the morning, and she had been agitated the evening before she was to be moved, bellowing and rattling the chain securing her stockade! Because of this, we anticipated trouble persuading Murka to go into the truck when the time came, but we need not have worried, for all three elephants seemed resigned when the time came, such was their trust of their human family.
The Elephant Truck has literally revolutionized the transfer of elephants from the Nursery to the Rehabilitation facilities in Tsavo East National Park. The huge Mercedes Transporter purchased second hand in Mombasa was a scoop - reasonably priced and in good condition. Robert Carr-Hartley, Angela Sheldrick's very practical and experienced husband designed and had the body custom built with elephant comfort in mind, so that much of the stress factor could be eliminated during the long journey to Tsavo, not all of which is on good roads. Inside three spacious well ventilated compartments are secured by steel gates and surrounded by a narrow walking corridor so that the Keepers who travel with the elephants can move around their charges in order to calm and reassure them en route. One side of the truck is hinged to fold down flat against the Loading (or Unloading) bays so that the elephants can easily walk in and out at the other end.
This time Daphne was with Robert in the Trust Landrover which trailed the truck all the way, with just two stops en route, one to cut delicious Grewia branches as a midway treat for the three occupants and the other to refuel the truck. The elephants traveled well, although Murka became slightly alarmed when they hit the corrugated dirt road branching off the tarred Mombasa road at Kibwezi town.
As the convoy drove into the Ithumba Stockade compound, only one bull was drinking at the Stockade Water trough, whom Head Keeper Benjamin informed us was part of Yattas now wild group, but today had come alone. Parked at the Unloading Bay, Murka, Naisula and Kitirua walked hesitantly out and briefly surveyed their strange surroundings surroundings that must have appeared hauntingly familiar filled with the pungent smell of elephant presence. Within moments all 11 Keeper Dependent Youngsters arrived in a rush Suguta, Chaimu, Tumaren, Melia, Kilaguni and Sabachi with Olare, Kibo and Sabachi along with one who on this occasion was very obviously odd one out little Ithumbah, who had not been part of the Nursery group. Recognition of Murka, Naisula and Kitirua by all the others was instant. They crowded around the three newcomers, Olare immediately singling out Murka for a very special loving welcome. Unlike previous reunions, this was very different. It was not the usual highly charged affair but one of quiet relief and silent thanksgiving at being reunited again. All the Ex Nursery companions gathered together in a silent huddle, their heads pressed together, quiet trunk kissing and fondling of one another taking place amidst soft, low rumbling. It was a touching scene of overwhelming relief and happiness almost like a prayer session of thanks. However, there was one little outsider who was not included and that was Ithumbah who stood quietly apart obviously feeling very left out. Murka went over to comfort her briefly before rejoining the huddle.
The entire group, now 13 in number, then moved to the Ithumba drinking trough where they fraternized very comfortably with Yattas envoy the wild bull aged about 18 who was very relaxed amongst them all and obviously familiar with the established members of the group, while Murka, Naisula and Kitirua were all orphaned old enough to remember their wild life clearly. Not one had any reservations.
After a while, the wild Bull left, and later the Juniors were escorted out by their Keepers to go and browse nearby since it was a cool overcast day at Ithumba. No sooner had they left than Wendi arrived at the compound leading a large Splinter Group comprised of all the Ex Junior Matriarchs, Loijuk, Galana, Naserian, Lualeni, Chyulu, Sunyei, Sidai and Makena along with bulls Tomboi, Kora, Zurura, and Kamboyo, Kora and Zurura now sporting impressively thick sizeable tusks. It was such a treat to see Kora again, now fully healed. We recalled his dramatic rescue - found as an orphan some 50 miles from the nearest water source in far-off Kora National Reserve, his jaw shattered by the bullet that probably killed his elephant mother. We recalled the months of suffering he endured and the gallons of pus that had to be cleaned daily from the damaged jaw and how stoically he submitted to a procedure that must have involved a great deal of pain on a daily basis. At the time the Vets gave him little chance of recovery, and every chance of life threatening bone infection. For several years thereafter a small opening on his jaw exuded diminishing amounts of pus but that hole had now closed completely and no pus had been exuded for the past 3 years. Aside from a slight thickening of one side of his jaw, Kora was handsome and whole, leading a quality of life as a wild inmate of Yattas Ex Orphaned Unit.
Meanwhile, Wendi, as usual, was more interested in us humans than all else, although she and her group definitely picked up the scent of the huddle, inspecting that patch of ground closely. Wendi was reared from the day she was born and had always enjoyed a special relationship with her surrogate human family, and especially Robert, who always has brought the new babies to Ithumba. However, on this occasion her interest extended beyond the human members of her extended family. It soon focused on the new Elephant Truck parked at the Unloading Bay and she tried every ruse in the book to out-manouvre the Keepers who feared she might damage the wing mirrors or scratch the immaculate paintwork! Even after her group had all moved off, she remained behind until lunch time when we humans left for the nearby Ithumba Camp.
That evening, at 5 p.m. we returned to the Stockades to await the return of the Keeper Dependent Youngsters, suspecting also that Yattas envoy would have told the Seniors about the new intake. In this we were not mistaken, for soon Yatta turned up at the compound, accompanied by Big Girls Kinna, Nasalot, Mulika and Big Boy Napasha, now a very handsome bull aged 10, who came into the Nursery as a 9 month old orphan, so grief stricken at losing his elephant mother that he just lay down to die and was reluctant to even rise when found by a wandering herdsman who believed him already dead! It was extremely uplifting to see him, and all the others again, now huge, healthy and happy, each and every one a living miracle who had they not been found in time, would otherwise not be around today! With Yattas group was the l8 year old wild envoy as well as another younger wild bull aged about 8 apparently a newcomer to her unit. Also with her were Selengai, Taita (retrieved having fallen into a septic tank at Taita Hills Lodge near Tsavo West), Buchuma, Rapsu (now a very handsome fellow with large thick tusks), Challa, Orok and Madiba from Botswana - now a well grown 8 year old, no longer the furry stranger from the South who resembled an infant woolly mammoth and who didnt seem to understand that he was an elephant! Sandwiched in the midst of these big elephants, looking miniscule in comparison, was the latest Junior to upgrade himself to the Senior Set, Meibai, who never did have much time for humans!
Immediately Nasalot did a quick circuit searching for her favourite, Kilaguni, before joining Yatta, Kinna and Selengai who had come to greet us and inspect the area where the Junior huddle had taken place earlier. All three Big Girls then decided to wait at the entrance of the Stockade knowing that the Juniors would be arriving soon and at their approach, they moved hurriedly to intercept them, extending their trunks and trumpeting happily. However, on this occasion the Juniors were more interested in their evening bottle of milk and rushed past the Big Girls into their Stockades. Nasalot rapidly singled out Kilaguni for a quick trunk touch, but she then joined Yatta and Kinna who were sanding outside the Stockade that housed the new arrivals, rumbling greetings to them and gazing at them intently as they lined up and were fed their evening milk. Nasalot became focused on Murka, ignoring Kilaguni in the abutting Stockade which he shared with Melia, Kilaguni, Sabachi, Tumaren and Chaimu. Murka sensed her empathy, and having taken her milk, reached a trunk through the electric fencing of the Stockade to touch Nasalot several times in between munching on the cut greens. All three Big girls were riveted, Yattas pregnancy evident by the swelling of her breasts. Mulika, however, remained at the Stockade trough, seemingly uninterested in the new intake, but the Boys came to take a look, Rapsu and Buchuma joining Napasha to fraternize with us visiting humans.
As darkness set in, it was time for us to return to the Ithumba Camp for the night, but the Senior Elephant Group apparently remained at the Junior Stockades until 10 p.m. before leaving. Early the next morning, we returned to watch the babies exit the Stockades and were surprised that the Seniors were not there, waiting. All the Youngsters had enjoyed a relaxed and peaceful night, with plenty of wild elephant comings and goings in the compound during the hours of darkness. All looked relaxed and happy, although little Ithumbah was still not fully integrated into the Junior herd, sanding apart from all the others. We knew that the day promised to be an exciting one for the Juniors, and were sorry to have to miss the noon mudbath for we knew that all the Ex Orphans and their wild friends would be there to join the Juniors and that they would probably remain with them throughout the rest of the day, escorting them back to their Stockades in the evening. In this we were not mistaken. As always, the newcomers had been lovingly welcomed into the fold. .