Once again, dawn of the 15th December 2005 saw three large trucks draw slowly from the Loading Ramps at our Nairobi Nursery, this time each carrying one elephant, namely Naserian, Rapsu and Buchuma, bound for Ithumba, the Trust’s Rehabilitation Centre in the Northern Area of Tsavo East National Park and the important next step of growing up and rehabilitation back where they belong, amongst their wild kin in a Protected Area that can offer them ultimately a wild life, but also a quality of life that is the birth-right of every elephant. Rapsu, who had come to us as a starved and angry orphan retrieved from Rapsu in Meru National Park, was now a healthy and plump baby over two years old, sporting two 2 inch long trusks, Buchuma, retrieved from a jagged break in the Mombasa water pipeline as a pathetic 3 month old, who suffered such terrible superficial wounds as a result, and took months of treatment to become whole again, was also now ready for the next phase of life, sporting brand new tooth-pick tusks, as was the mini Matriarch of the Nairobi Nursery, Naserian, the tragic star of Elephant Diaries, who, as an orphan, had been rejected by the wild herds of her birthplace in Smburu, and had almost been drowned in the flooded Uaso Nyiro river prior to her rescue, an event captured on film in Elephant Diaries and viewed by millions of people world-wide.
The decision to move these three Nursery inmates had been prompted by several factors that we had long mulled over – plentiful rainfall in the Northern Area of Tsavo, which had brought on an abundance of green vegetation for the elephants; the all consuming and possessive love of Naserian for baby “Makena”, which had left little Lualeni’s trunk “out of joint” (as it were), and the arrival of another starvation yearling named “Challa”, who was not sufficiently strong to put up with being pushed around by the two older and now somewhat rambunctious little Nursery bulls, Rapsu and Buchuma. Since elephants never forget, we felt it wise not to allow a deep-seated grudge against Rapsu and Buchuma smoulder in Challa’s memory, for such scores tend to be settled years later when grown. Both Challa and the other Nursery newcomer, little Zurura, both of whom were grieving and mourning the loss of their erstwhile elephant mother and family, needed a more peaceful environment to repair psychologically whilst Lualeni longed for a turn to become the Queen Bee of the Nursery.
Moving Rapsu, Buchuma and Naserian to Ithumba would solve the mini dilemma that the arrival of both Makena and Challa had triggered, and it was time, anyway, that the older elephants were exposed to a wild situation in which to grow up, learn about their elephant world and eventually take their rightful place amongst Tsavo’s wild elephant community.
Whereas normally we usually like to move Nursery inmates to Tsavo during the cool “winter” months in Africa (May – August), this time we decided to take advantage of the green season and this turned out to be exactly the right decision for the relocation went without a single hitch; in fact, the smoothest and most joyful ever accomplished. After the 8 hour journey, all three elephants stepped out of the vehicles into an Elephant Heaven – a land filled with nutritious greens of every shade in Nature’s palette, where butterflies fluttered and birdsong filled the air, where puddles of fresh water dotted the landscape, in which they could cool heated bodies, and where another 14 young elephants, many of whom had shared time in the Nursery with the newcomers, were there to welcome them with an out-pouring of elephant joy. As usual, the reunion was extremely touching. Wendi, who had been the Nursery mini Matriarch when Naserian was a tiny baby, was overjoyed to be reunited with her; Buchuma could not believe his eyes to find his old playmates and pushing partners, Ndomot and Madiba, again, and Rapsu, who actually had never met any of the Ithumba group before, instantly felt joyful and happy because Northern Tsavo in the green season mirrored joyous times in his life of his Meru birthplace, the vegetation being identical. The four older ex Voi Unit Ithumba females, namely the new Matriarch of the group, Yatta, and her “Nannies” and help-mates, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna were over the moon to suddenly find their new unit swelled by another three elephants. They, too, extended a touchingly warm welcome, which we, in Nairobi were able to view on film when those who had accompanied the convoy returned back to base.
Back at the Nursery, that Thursday morning, we anticipated some problems with tiny Makena, who would no doubt feel the loss of Naserian, whom she loved so obsessively and deeply. The Keepers were instructed to take with them playthings to distract her – the ball that the Nursery elephants loved kicking about, the rubber tube that they enjoyed romping in, with instructions to try and divert her attention. Makena cried a little at first, rushing around in search of Naserian, but Lualeni immediately rounded her up, and gently brought her back into the fold. Obviously, a subtle message had been received by baby Makena, for she instantly settled down, and battened onto Lualeni, in the same way as the had Naserian. Lualeni was overtly delighted to suddenly find herself as the Queen Bee of the Nursery, a position for which she had longed ever since Makena usurped her position as Naserian;s “favourite”. Challa and Zurura who have found solace in each other’s similar predicament, both sharing a sense of deep loss being only newly orphaned, could grieve and heal more peacefully, whilst Kora, who had already befriended Challa, seemed to enjoy suddenly being the Big Boy of the group, no longer having to share the human family with two older age-mates.
It was wonderful for those of us left behind at the Nursery to view footage of the arrival and welcome offered to Naserian, Rapsu and Buchuma at the other end – to see Tsavo at its best, with butterflies fluttering over the noon mudbath as the elephants romped in the water, and to view Rapsu grabbing huge hunks of lush green grass, and stuffing them into his mouth. There is, however, always just one downside for new arrivals at either of the Rehabilitation Centres in Tsavo, and that is the live wire of their electrically fenced Night Stockade. That evening, every time one of the new arrivals approached the perimeter of the Night Stockade, Wendi immediately moved in to gently steer them away from it, something that amazed and touched all human onlookers, and again demonstrated the caring and compassionate intelligence of elephants. Rapsu amazed us all by the way he immediately slotted in, demonstrating such joy at finding himself in familiar surroundings that mirrored remembered happy times in his Meru birthplace, with his elephant family. Having been saved from the jaws of death by starvation, he was delighted to now be a member of a new and obviously very loving elephant family, with male age-mates such as Tomboi and Taita with whom to playfully test his strength and a Big Boy in Napasha to hero worship. Buchuma was quite obviously over the moon to find bis best friend, Ndomot again, and Naserian, whilst obviously a little sad to be parted from Makena, was nevertheless happy to be reunited with Wendi, whom she had loved so dearly as a Nursery baby. Back at home, Lualeni was overjoyed to be able to have baby Makena all to herself, and at last become a Mini Matriarch, whilst Challa and Zurura, who previously had spent time apart from the others in order to find the quiet peace they needed to heal psychologically having recently lost their elephant family, were thankful for the solitude the absence of Rapsu and Buchuma brought.
Hence, things could not have turned out better. All agreed that moving Naserian, Rapsu and Buchuma when we did had been the correct decision to have made for all concerned. There was comfort in knowing that the three new arrivals at Ithumba would share a very joyous Christmas with all their established elephant peers, and the Nursery inmates would likewise have a very peaceful and happy time with their human family, and little Lualeni as their new and very caring mini Matriarch.