Only days after Kilabasi and Kanjoros journey to Ithumba, the momentous morning came on Friday 25th January to transfer three of the Nairobi Nurserys oldest females orphans, Shukuru, Tano and Mutara, to the Ithumba reintegration stockades. Mutara, now three and a half years old was one of the Nurserys chief and much loved matriarchs alongside Murera, having been rescued in 2009 at the tender age of seven days old from Mutara Ranch in northern Kenya. Shukuru like Mutara was rescued as a newborn at just three days old having been saved by a herdsman after falling down a manhole on the Mzima-Mombasa Pipeline over three years. Tano was two and a half months old on her rescue in 2009 from Loisaba Ranch in Laikipia, having been found on her own at "boma tano", the 5th cattle holding area on the ranch.
All three females, who are now in their third year of life, were victims of poaching, but have all miraculously thrived at the Nairobi Nursery over the past years, having all become wonderful characters within the Nursery family, adored by the Keepers, staff and visitors alike. The three girls have had a longer phase in the Nursery as they have waited for Ithumba to rejuvenate with the late rains. They would have been moved sooner had the environment of northern Tsavo East been able to provide them with the lush greens, vegetation and water they need, especially as they have been used to the abundance of Nairobi National Park. An especially early wake-up call was planned on the move-day, as the Keepers knew they were going to have real problems with getting Mutara safely into one of the compartments of the elephant-mover truck. During Mutaras practice warm-ups, which the Keepers carried out daily to get all of the orphans used to the big truck, she was always causing a huge fuss, refusing to go into her compartment despite being lured by freshly mixed milk and treats, whilst Tano and Shukuru both showed complete confidence and ease as they strolled happily into the truck after their Keepers and milk. At 2.30am the Keepers were up and about, organising everything for the journey, Mutara was given extra Stresnil to calm her nerves and make her easier to handle whilst persuading her to enter the truck. Before the three orphans were ushered out of their stockades, Robert Carr-Hartley and the team rigged-up a system of soft tow-straps, attaching the straps to a vehicle with the intention of gently pulling Mutara into the truck if she refused to go in. So the Keepers began with Tano, enticing her out of her stockade with her milk in the darkness of early morning, and like all her practices she trustingly walked into one of the Trucks compartments and the Keepers closed the door behind her. Shukuru was next and like Tano she had no worries about the truck and sleepily followed her Keeper into the compartment next to Tano. Next was Mutara and everyone was anxious as to how she would react. As expected she only followed her Keeper so far and then refused to go any further forward. So the tow-straps were carefully positioned behind her front legs and around her underbelly so the vehicle could encourage her forward slowly. Whilst the Keepers all directed her forward as the vehicle pulled, she was finally safely within the compartment and with delicious treats and milk she soon relaxed, especially with the comfort of Tano and Shukuru beside her.
Kevin, one of the Nairobi Nurserys Keepers, was chosen to join the orphans and Hassan who left with Kilabasi and Kanjoro earlier in the week on their new phase in Ithumba, helping to give the new orphans comfort and familiarity in their new home, whilst three other Keepers also joined the travelling group to help on the journey. The elephant-mover truck finally started its journey by 4am, setting off as usual through the cool darkness of the night, whilst the roads of Nairobi are quiet and traffic-free. The journey went smoothly with the usual stop near Hunters Lodge so that the Keepers could cut some freshly cut greens from the vegetation on the side of the road for the orphans and give them so milk. Mutara was very laid back, clearly feeling the effects of the Stresnil, and it was Tano who was a little apprehensive throughout the journey but nothing dramatic, she just needed the reassuring attention of her keepers regularly. All of the orphans were coping well with their big move. Finally reaching Ithumba in good time at just after 10am, the milk-dependent orphans were all waiting for the new arrivals at the stockades with the Ithumba Keepers. After the truck had come to a stop and the Nairobi and Ithumba Keepers had all greeted each other, the compartment doors were slowly opened, allowing Tano, Shukuru and Mutara to have a first glimpse at their new home. Kilabasi and Kanjoro, who had only been at Ithumba a couple of nights, were the first to greet the three new girls obviously recognising them immediately as part of the Nairobi family. It was funny to see them acting like hardened 'old hands' completely familiar with the routine of Ithumba already.
Still feeling somewhat out of sorts from their long and tiring journey the three new Ithumba girls stuck close to the Nairobi Keepers for comfort and support, whilst the rest of the Ithumba orphans gathered around them, smelling, kissing and rumbling encouragement. In fact if they could have climbed onto the Keepers laps they would have, that is how clingy they were to begin with. After some time of getting to know each other, the Keepers led the whole milk-dependent orphan family out into the bush for some time to relax and browse on the lush vegetation covering Ithumba in a swathe of green. Kanjoro was especially happy to see his Nursery matriarch Mutara, following her everywhere, whilst Kilabasi also helped to show the three newcomers the ropes. Returning to the stockades at around 5pm the three girls went straight to the water trough and went crazy with the cool water, spraying it everywhere to cool themselves down as their bodies tried to readjust to the heat of Ithumba from the relatively cold heights of Nairobi. The Keepers then ushered them into the safety of their communal night stockades. As with all the new arrivals from the Nursery, it takes time for them to get used to their new stockades which they share with a number of other and especially the electric-fencing, but the three girls soon found their place and got the hang of things.
The next morning after their early milk feed, Mulikas group showed up unexpectedly at the stockades at around 7am followed by a host of the ex-orphans as well as a magnificent big wild bull. The arrival of the older ex-orphans seemed to calm Mutara and the new arrivals down significantly as all three went straight up to the big elephants to greet them, although they still gravitated back to their Keepers for moral support, especially when the huge wild bull made lots of noise as he watched the strange mix of humans and elephants getting on so well with one another. As a wild bull he has grown-up to not trust humans and his immediate reaction was to try and protect the orphans from their Keepers, but the orphans only wanted to stay close to their human family, and this unfolding before him only seemed to confuse him more.
All of the orphans and ex-orphans as well as the wild bull soon moved off into the bush for their day of browsing and playing in the wilds of northern Tsavo East and the beginning of a new life for Shukuru, Mutara and Tano. While this is a big change for our special girls, it is only the beginning of a new phase, a phase that will see them remain keeper dependent for many years yet to come, but a phase that will enable them to have the important interaction with the older orphans and the wild herds of Tsavo - a place better suited to growing elephants. Their road to independence takes many years, just like that of our own children, and it will be a significant amount of time before they are weaned off their much loved milk feeds and even longer before they are independent of their Keepers, and we are all grateful of that, because these enchanting girls, nurtured from newborn, hold a special place in so many hearts both here and around the world.