At the height of the drought, Mweya undertook the long trek home and introduced her new baby to the people who raised her. If any elephant would tackle such an extraordinary journey, it would be Mweya. She has always been a traveller.
In 2001, Mweya wandered into a small village. She was very young — a month old, at most — and utterly alone. Flummoxed to find an infant elephant in their midst, the locals collected her and returned her to the bush. Fortunately, word got out, and a full rescue was mounted.
Before she ultimately made her way to the Nursery, Mweya enjoyed a six-week sojourn at an education centre. She shared quarters with several chimpanzees, who initially thought that their new roommate would be an easy target to antagonise — but how wrong they were! Small as she was, Mweya held her own and quickly became the ringleader of the group. This experience undoubtedly helped shape her into the force of nature that she is today.
After spending a formative year at the Nursery, Mweya graduated to our Voi Reintegration Unit in Tsavo. She adeptly learned the ways of the wild, honing her leadership skills in the process. When she eventually transitioned from our care, she teamed up with her best friend, Edie, to form an ex-orphan herd.
True to form, Mweya appointed herself the head nanny of Edie’s first two daughters, Ella and Eden. In November 2019, she became a mother herself. After many months away, Mweya and Edie proudly paraded up to Voi with their newborns in tow: a feisty little girl named Mwitu for Mweya, and a sweet little boy named Eco for Edie. Unsurprisingly, she proved to be a formidable mother, raising Mwitu with her signature steely determination.
We last saw Mweya in February. As has become tradition, the ex-orphans returned to Voi around the New Year, after spending much of 2021 in the far reaches of Tsavo. Based on her telltale round belly, it was obvious that Mweya would welcome a new addition to her family in the not-too-distant future. However, an elephant’s gestation period is a whopping 22 months, which makes it very difficult to predict a due date. Only time would tell when her baby would arrive.
Given Mweya and Edie’s penchant for returning around the New Year, coupled with the dramatic drought conditions in Tsavo, we didn’t expect to see them before the rains. Thus, the Keepers were shocked to find four surprise visitors waiting outside the stockades on the morning of 18th October. It was Mweya, along with her firstborn, Mwitu; Edie’s daughter, seven-year-old Eden; and Mweya’s latest addition, a tiny baby boy! We are calling him Mojo — for he really is a magical little creature.
To navigate such a journey as a newborn is staggering. Based on reports we recently received of Laikipia, who traditionally travels with Edie and Mweya’s herd, the ex-orphans are currently stationed some 100 kilometres from Voi. We will never know why Mweya decided to undertake the long trek ‘home’ at such a precarious time, but we can surmise: At just three years old, Mweya's firstborn, Mwitu, is still suckling. She would depend on milk particularly during the drought, when there is so little vegetation to be found. When Mweya gave birth to Mojo, she must have known that she would struggle to produce enough milk for both babies without supplementary food. So, she took an extraordinary leap of faith and ventured back to Voi, where she knew plenty of food would be available. She needed support, which is why Eden joined her. There is no water between where they were likely stationed and Voi, which means they completed the 100-kilometre journey in a single go. This was an extraordinary leap of faith on Mweya's part; a brave decision made to save both her babies. That all four elephants not only survived the journey, but are by all accounts thriving, is an enormous testament to Mweya. Because of her decisiveness and leadership, her little family averted potential disaster.
For the days following her arrival, Mweya stationed herself at the stockades, fuelling up on food and water and giving her newborn plenty of much-needed rest. Despite the arduous journey he just completed, Mojo is a very active baby. He spent his first day at Voi napping and recharging, but ever since, he has been busy cavorting around the compound, enchanting everyone he meets. Although she is still quite young herself, Mwitu is an attentive big sister and dotes on her little brother. Eden clearly tagged along as Mojo’s head nanny and takes her role very seriously. Given how instrumental Mweya was in raising her, this is a wonderful full-circle moment.
Edie and the other ex-orphans still haven’t made an appearance at Voi, but we aren’t worried. Mweya, Mwitu, Mojo, and Eden arrived in surprisingly good condition, which indicates that they have been riding out the drought in one of the few plentiful pockets remaining in the ecosystem. Perhaps Edie’s group is waiting to move until the rains arrive; perhaps they are already en route to us. Either way, we feel confident that the others are skillfully navigating the drought, just as Mweya clearly has. The photo we received of Laikipia showed him to be in very good condition, which bodes well for the rest of the ex-orphans.
In the meantime, we are delighted to meet little Mojo and see Mweya continue to thrive as a mother. Mojo is the 52nd known calf born to an orphan we rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild. Earlier this month, we welcomed another addition at Ithumba, when Wendi introduced us to her third daughter, Wimbi. Each of these babies is a testament to the Orphans’ Project, a reminder that by saving one life, we pave the way for so many more.