Motherhood is a defining milestone for any female elephant, but especially for one who lost her own mother. Our gentle girl Mutara, whose story has such fraught beginnings, just embarked on this remarkable chapter.
Mutara never knew her own mother. She was found on the evening of 26th July 2009, walking alone on the road between Rumuruti Town and Mutara Ranch. We knew to expect a small elephant, but we were taken aback by the tiny creature who emerged from the rescue plane. Her umbilical cord was still attached and she had the petal pink ears so indicative of newborns. Given the location and time period, we suspect she lost her mother to poachers.
Mutara grew up among the ‘kindergarten group’ at our Nursery, but she quickly emerged as a mini matriarch in her own right. She graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit in 2013, where she continued to grow as a leader. When she transitioned to the wild, she formed a small herd consisting of Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, and Kainuk. All these girls have been fast friends since their Nursery days.
Every elephant is extraordinary, but there is something special about Mutara. She exudes gentleness; to be in her presence is to experience tranquillity in its most natural form. At the same time, she commands authority and has the absolute respect of her herd. She has always had an incredibly close bond with Ithumba’s Head Keeper, Benjamin.
In May 2020, we witnessed the courtship that resulted in Mutara’s little miracle. During one of her visits back to Ithumba, she was obviously in season and attracted the attention of a number of amorous bulls. Mutara selected her preferred partner, a very handsome fellow, and they spent an extended period of time together.
Over the following 22 months, Mutara’s belly continued to grow. She chose to spend the majority of her pregnancy close to home, and for the past two years, Mutara and her girls took up residence in the environs of Ithumba. This is the first baby of their little herd, so we were happy to see them exercising caution and ensuring Mutara didn’t tax herself too much, especially during last year’s challenging dry season.
While Mutara nurtured life within, Suguta, Sities, Kainuk, and Turkwel were busy honing their nannying skills. They selected dependent orphan Dololo as their surrogate — and their devotion reached truly dizzying heights! They took to sleeping outside the stockade compound, so they could observe Dololo while he slept and be the first to greet him in the morning. If their dedication to this little bull was any indication, they would be a formidable force of nannies.
On the night of 8th March 2022, just as our Ithumba team was getting ready for bed, Mutara and her herd appeared outside the stockades. And... we were delighted to find a newborn in their midst! He was fresh out of the womb — Mutara had clearly given birth earlier that evening — but a picture of health. Mutara decided to spend her first night as a mother around Ithumba, sharing this special moment with Benjamin and the other Keepers who raised her.
The following morning, Yatta, Wendi, and their ex-orphan herds were outside Ithumba, but Mutara and her group were nowhere to be seen. Benjamin found them just around the hill, where it was quieter. Guided by her flawless intuition, Mutara realised that lots of wild visitors have been filtering through Ithumba, and wanted to avoid the bulls and their boisterous behaviour.
We often find that motherhood transforms an elephant’s character. However, Mutara remains completely unchanged. She is still her gentle, trusting self and has taken the whole experience in stride. On the other hand, her girlfriends have been predictably over the top — Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, and Kainuk take their nannying roles very seriously!
Given how effortlessly Mutara has taken to motherhood, it is easy to forget that she is an elephant raised by the human hand. While she never knew her own mother, she still grew up knowing the love and support of a family. Now, she will apply this same love and support as she raises her own family in the wild. We feel incredibly privileged to be part of Mutara’s story. It nearly ended 12 years ago, just as it was beginning.
And on that note, we share the name we have given Mutara’s baby: Mambo. ‘Mambo’ is a familiar Swahili greeting, one that brings a smile to one’s face. It essentially means, ‘tell me your stories’ — and what a story Mutara has to tell! Now, she embarks on a wonderful new chapter, with little Mambo by her side.