Another important day in the Nairobi Orphaned Elephant Nursery was the 13th May 2011, for this was graduation day for three more Nursery elephants - Olare, Kibo and Kandecha who were due to be upgraded to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Centre in Northern Tsavo East National Park. There they would join Ex Nursery friends Kilaguni, Sabachi, Chaimu, Melia, Suguta, and Tumaren and meet another little elephant from the Ithumba area who was able to by-pass the Nairobi Nursery – little Ithumbah, who was rescued from the drying mud of the nearby Ithumba Dam by the Keepers and taken directly to the Ithumba Stockades, there to complete her milk dependency period.
At the Ithumba Stockades orphans who have graduated from the Nairobi Nursery embark on the next important phase of their reintroduction back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo East National Park – a journey made easy for them, because another 28 Ex Ithumba Orphans all Nursery reared from early infancy have already accomplished that transition and are living wild but still keeping in close touch with milk and Keeper dependent “babies” secured for safety during the hours of darkness in the Ithumba Elephant Stockades. The Ex Orphans regard all Ex Nursery Youngsters as part of their “family” and welcome them into their large elephant hearts, embracing them, comforting them, reassuring them and showering them in love with an outpouring of boundless joy.
This time though, there was a different and very special vehicle positioned at the Loading Bay of the Nairobi Nursery – a custom designed huge Elephant Transporting lorry, carefully thought out to ensure maximum comfort for any elephant occupants. Large doors covered in hay lay flat against the ramp leading into three separate but spacious compartments, each to accommodate one elephant, with a surrounding passageway so that the Keepers can have contact with their charges en route. The elephants can also see and touch one another through the separating poles of their various compartments, with space for milk, cut greens, water etc. for the journey.
We have learnt from experience that whenever Nursery elephants are to be moved, somehow, mysteriously defying human comprehension or explanation, the Senior Ex Orphans amongst whom are wild recruits and wild friends, always seem able to predict such an event and this time it was no different. All 28 Ex Orphans and their wild friends had been hanging around the vicinity of the Stockades for a day prior to the actual move, even though there was no good reason to do so, other than anticipation of some important new “family members”. In May both water and browse is not in short supply at Ithumba, so why else would the Ex Orphans choose to wait in the vicinity of the Stockades rather than being elsewhere, as they usually are? Yatta is the main Matriarch of the Ex Orphan Seniors, ably assisted by subsequent Junior Matriarchs such as Wendi, Makena, Galana, Sunyei, Chyulu, Lenana and Loijuk all of whom often lead Splinter Groups of whoever wants to join them in order to keep in close touch with the Juniors.
Olare, Kibo and Kandecha had been practicing entering the Elephant Moving lorry for the past week - always a pre-requisite to the move itself. Olare quickly became resigned to taking her milk inside the Truck, with Kandecha less keen and Kibo positively anti anything to do with it keeping his back legs firmly on “terra ferma” and reaching as far as possible in order to take his milk, and even, if necessary, doing without it!
The Nursery began to stir at 3 a.m. on Friday 13th May, since this the usual time for one of the last night three hourly feeds before the onset of dawn. All the babies were fed as usual except Olare, Kibo and Kandecha who were left until last, for their milk ration awaited them inside the Elephant Mover and Kibo and Kandecha needed a shot of Stressnil to make them more compliant. The three were then ushered by their Keepers to the vehicle. Olare went in without a problem, Kandecha followed more reluctantly and Kibo needed a great deal of manpower shoving from behind to get him in. However, by 4.30 a.m. all were safely ensconced, as were their Keepers, and the Elephant Mover pulled slowly out of the Yard carrying its precious cargo, escorted by Robert Carr-Hartley and two friends in a Landrover.
Strangely enough, Olare was the only elephant on board who was unsettled until a brief stop en route to cut some favourite Grewia browse diverted her attention. Kibo and Kandecha were resigned, trusting of their Keepers, confident that their human family would never do anything that was not in their best interest. Back in Nairobi, those that had waved farewell were left with a mixture of sadness tempered with satisfaction in the knowledge that the three orphans were going back to a place that would be their permanent home, and prime elephant country, there to join a resident elephant population of some 12,000, amongst whom was the natural family of little Kandecha. All three elephants were now in fine fettle - all now just over 2 years of age, psychologically and physically healed ready to embark on the next stage of growing up and ultimately taking their place back where they rightly belonged, in an area sufficiently large to offer an elephant a quality of life.
By l0.30 a.m. the great truck drove through the Ithumba entrance Gate in Northern Tsavo East. This was the final leg of their long journey, and as usual, mysteriously, all the Ex Orphans came to greet and embrace them, as did the seven Youngsters who had preceded them from the Nursery, and whom they would remember having shared time together in early infancy. The arrival of new babies to Ithumba, and the welcome that is extended to them has been graphically captured on the Big Screen in the famous Imax film Born to be Wild, when Kilaguni, Sabachi, and Chaimu were moved to Ithumba on the 7th June 2010, as was the rescue of Kandecha who, as a milk dependent orphan was being protected by 25 magnificent bulls near Kandecha in Southern Tsavo East.
Tumaren especially extended a very warm welcome to the three newcomers, just before the arrival of the Ex Orphans, which happened moments later. Once all 28 Ex Orphans moved in to embrace the newcomers, the welcome they received was, as ever, moving. They were embraced lovingly by the tender laying of trunks around them; they were treated to elephant “kisses” with trunk to mouth contact; they were made to feel wanted, loved, and very special! Kandecha responded instantly, overjoyed to be amongst a big herd of big elephants all over again, obviously remembering the time he spent with the 25 Big Bulls after losing his mother and before being rescued. Being the smallest he was the focus of most of the attention, which left Kilaguni feeling somewhat displaced.
That afternoon the entire herd browsed together near the Stockades, and at dusk the Keeper Dependent Juniors, including the newcomers, were ushered into the Night Stockades, an event monitored by the Seniors who remained just outside in the yard most of the night. The next morning they were there to escort the Youngsters out and introduce the three newcomers to their new surroundings. At noon they were at the milk and mudbath venue, Kilaguni determined to test Nasalot’s enduring love of him, by taking himself off to wallow separately from the others. He was not disappointed, for Nasalot came to be with him and by so doing demonstrated that he was still her favourite!
As usual the newcomers were somewhat nervous of actually going into the mudbath itself which was much larger than what they were accustomed to at the Nursery. Instead they enjoyed a wonderful red dustbath in amongst all the Ex Orphans with the afternoon spent browsing in amongst them, and escorted back to the Stockades by them in the evening.. Thus ended a very happy first day in Tsavo for Olare, Kibo and Kandecha.