Mulikas First wild Born Baby - Mwende (the Loved One)

Mulika had been seen as usual with Yatta’s Ex Orphan group during the morning of the 6th November, but when Dame Daphne Sheldrick arrived at the Ithumba Orphans’ mudbath with guests during the mudbath hour that day, whilst Yatta and some of her group were there awaiting the arrival of the Youngsters, Mulika was no longer with them

Mulika had been seen as usual with Yatta’s Ex Orphan group during the morning of the 6th November, but when Dame Daphne Sheldrick arrived at the Ithumba Orphans’ mudbath with guests during the mudbath hour that day, whilst Yatta and some of her group were there awaiting the arrival of the Youngsters, Mulika was no longer with them. Daphne and her guests were again at the Orphans’ mudbath at 11.30 a.m. on the 7th November, awaiting the arrival of the Keeper Dependent orphans as the Trust’s Water Bowzer was filling the drinking trough with fresh water, allowing what water the trough still held to drain into the mudbath itself.  Suddenly, a large elephant appeared behind the Bowzer and the Keepers on the truck exclaimed “It is Mulika and with her is a baby!”.  We all rushed round to take a look, and sure enough Mulika was with her newborn calf, which must have been born either during the night of the 6th or in the early hours of the 7th.  It was minute, but perfect, reaching up on its hind legs to reach the milk bar and suckle every few minutes, and between whiles fitting snuggly beneath Mulika’s large frame.  Mulika herself was perfectly calm and relaxed, and even brought her baby right up to Daphne and her guests who returned to sit on the concrete bench beside the mudbath.  Meanwhile, in a state of high excitement, Head Keeper Benjamin took to his Suzuki vehicle to rush back and get the Trust’s Video camera to record this heart-warming event and to phone Trust Headquarters in Nairobi to pass on such joyful news to Angela and the Staff back at home.

Mulika, an orphan from Meru National Park, was rescued from the mud of a drying waterhole in 2001 and came to the Trust’s Nairobi Elephant Nursery when 7 months old.  From there, in the fullness of time, she graduated to the Voi Rehabilitation Stockades, there to embark on the gradual reintegration back into the resident wild elephant community of Tsavo East National Park under the guidance of older females such as Emily who was the then Matriarch, ably assisted by Aitong.  She would do this in her own time and her own way when sufficiently confident to take the step from human custodianship and return to her rightful place amongst her own “people”.  For Elephants are, indeed, very human animals, so one can use the word “people” with impunity.

Meanwhile, in June 2004 a momentous decision was being taken at the Nairobi Nursery – to move 6 of the older Nursery elephants, Naserian, Wendi, Tomboi, Ol Malo, Taita and Selengai to the Trust’s very new Orphans’ facility at Ithumba in the remote Northern Area of Tsavo East which had been abandoned by all elephants for almost three decades due to the poaching of the late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s.  With now 31 orphaned elephants based at night at the Voi Stockades things there were becoming unwieldy and crowded for the Keepers.  It was also important to allow the Voi Unit elephants to grow up to the point when they would not be vulnerable to attack by lions and could vacate the Stockades as a herd so that the facility could be rested and refurbished.  The Voi Stockades had housed Tsavo’s very first orphaned elephants during the Warden-ship of the late David Sheldrick -  “Samson” and “Fatuma” who were followed by many others, including the famous “Eleanor” who is still living with 3 wild-born calves having been a late starter due to poaching.

At the same time it was urgent to transfer 4 middle sized females from Emily’s Voi Stockade group to the North to act as older Matriarchs for the newly transferred Nursery six, there to comfort and care for them in an elephant way, even though they were still  accompanied by their favourite Keepers.  It was nevertheless important that behaviour from now on be taught in an elephant way prior to association with wild elephant herds.  Then the wild Matriarchs would pass on their acquired knowledge.  Targeted for this important assignment was Mulika along with Yatta, Nasalot and Kinna, a move that took place on the 26th June, 2004 and was famously documented on BBC’s Elephant Diaries series. And so, Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, all now aged round about five or six, went to Ithumba in three separate trucks, and immediately took control of the Nursery six, overjoyed to find themselves in charge of six small calves. For almost 2 years only Elephant Bulls (the Scouts of Elephant Society) visited the Ithumba Orphans, and then only under cover of darkness, until one Big Bull, nicknamed Friend (in Swahili) had the courage to show himself in daylight and even walk with the orphaned group and their Keepers, sharing their mud bath and even sleeping just outside their Night Stockades for many weeks,  before heading out to pass the message that it was safe to do so to his wild friends, who have been coming in droves ever since.  

Being the oldest of the four Ex Voi orphans, Yatta became the Matriarch, ably assisted by Mulika and Nasalot, while Kinna took over the role of disciplinarian to keep boisterous little boys in line.  And it was there that they all grew up, and under the leadership of the four older females eventually made the transition into the resident wild elephants of the Northern Area, still under the main Leadership of Yatta, who allows Splinter Groups led by other Junior Matriarchs to peel off from time to time and take with them whoever feels like going along.  However, Mulika has always remained behind with Yatta whenever the Ex Orphan Seniors revisit the Stockade compound, which they do on a regular basis, so it was very unusual not to find her there with Yatta on the 6th October, when Daphne and her Guests visited the mudbath.  

Mulika and Yatta were mated by the same wild Bull within days of one another early in  2009, something that was witnessed by the Ithumba Keepers not far from the Stockades, so we have known for a long time that they might well have fallen pregnant.  This became evident when their breasts became more enlarged some 6 months later, and began to fill more recently.  As Daphne was looking at Yatta, the Keepers pointed out her full breasts, but Daphne did not expect to actually be at hand when Mulika brought her wild-born first baby back to show the Keepers at the mudbath.  It was a baby girl, and Benjamin chose the name – a Kamba word for “the Loved One’ – Mwende (Pronounced Mwerndeh).  To actually be there was, indeed, a heart-warming event which made the 13 years involved in rearing this orphan so very worthwhile, granting her a second chance of life, which would otherwise have been denied her.   All the foster-parents who have helped financially with her support can also be justifiably very, very proud as are the Keepers who are, literally, Over The Moon!

As soon as the younger Orphans arrived for their milk and a mudbath on that auspicious day, they crowded around Mulika, all wanting to fondle the newborn with the tender trunk touching and elephant kisses.  With them were Ex Orphans Chyulu and Lenana who had joined the Juniors that morning and who instantly took over the role of Nannies to the newborn, walking alongside Mulika and her newborn to the Voi Stockades later on.  There, she went back into her previous Stockade where she enjoyed a handout of Dairy Cubes, Copra Cake and cut Grewia branches.  

Meanwhile Robert Carr-Hartley was on his way in the Trust’s recently acquired l85 Cessna aircraft to monitor Mulika and her calf for all her foster-parents and for the website generally which he did, following Mulika and her escort as she made her way out into the bush with her precious baby, surrounded by Ex Orphans Chyulu and Lenana and Makena.  Makena returned to the Junior fold during the height of the dry season having lost a lot of condition, but having enjoyed supplements, she has now regained her strength and is obviously eager to also be a Nannie to little Mwende.

The Trust can now boast several wild-born babies – Emily has little “Eve”, Edie has “Ella”, Lissa has “Lara”, “Lali” and “Lugard” (a boy), Mpenzi has “Asante” (having lost her first-born to lions below the Voi Safari Lodge and even Eleanor has three wild born babies who are un-named.)  Mulika now has “Mwende”, the first baby born to our Ithumba orphans, who will undoubtedly soon be followed by Yatta’s wild-born first calf who is expected any day now!