The new year began on an auspicious note for our Nursery big girls. On 18th January, Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit in Tsavo East National Park, where they will continue their journey to a life back in the wild.
For each girl, the move to Tsavo brought new possibilities: Naleku arrived the baby of the Nursery herd, but over the years, she has blossomed into a capable mini matriarch. However, at just three years old, she still has lots of growing left to do herself. We knew she would benefit from the leadership and guidance of older, more experienced friends.
Once known as the Nursery’s firebrand — and instantly recognisable for her perennially flared ears — Suguroi has matured into a wonderfully nurturing elephant. Like Naleku, we felt it was time for her to expand her horizons.
Sagateisa was rescued from death’s door, ravaged by the drought and mauled by hyenas. When she arrived at the Nursery, it seemed impossible to hope that she could survive. However, Sagateisa is a fighter. Her steely character helped her overcome nearly insurmountable odds — and once she recovered, she began applying that same grit to everyday life! It was time for Sagateisa to be among older elephants who would put her in her place and teach her a few things along the way.
We always marvel at how elephants intuit a situation. Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa had been practising the move for months. They proved to be excellent students and felt completely at ease aboard the moving lorry. However, on the morning of graduation, Naleku seemed to realise that this was no mere practice session. While the other girls walked into their respective compartments without a hitch, she was deeply suspicious. At first, she applied some clever acrobatics, but a tantalising milk bottle encouraged her to tiptoe onboard.
At 3:10 AM, the girls officially bid the Nursery farewell and began the journey to Tsavo East. The convoy made very good time, arriving at Ithumba just after 8:00. Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa confidently emerged from their compartments and stepped foot onto the red earth of Tsavo, the wilderness they will call home. They promptly settled in by gulping down a celebratory bottle of milk.
The Ithumba Keepers had gathered old Nursery friends, led by Larro, Roho, Neshashi, and Mukkoka, to welcome the girls to their new home. The moment was marked by a chorus of delighted rumbles, trunk hugs, and flapping ears. Roho and Naleku, who once had a ‘sibling rivalry’ when they were both Nursery babies, were particularly delighted to be reunited.
Little by little, the rest of the Ithumba herd was brought in to greet the newcomers. Everyone was enthusiastic, hospitable, and visibly thrilled to have three additions to the herd. The older girls were quite protective of their new ‘little sisters,’ while the boys shyly sized them up — perhaps realising these particular orphans wouldn’t be suitable sparring partners!
You would never have guessed that it was Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa’s first day in Tsavo. All three girls dove right into the mud bath and splashed around with unbridled joy. Naleku swam around with her little trunk poking just above the water’s surface like a snorkel, while Suguroi and Sagateisa floated amidst all their new admirers.
Later, ex-orphans Mulika and Loijuk stopped by for a visit. They showed great interest in the newcomers — in fact, we suspect they showed up expressly to greet them. (Again, we marvel at the intuition of elephants!) Through friendships with ex-orphans, Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa will learn the ways of the wild. If they’re lucky, they’ll also be granted some special nannying opportunities — both Loijuk and Mulika have wild-born babies of their own!
Once on firm ground, they turned their attention to the local vegetation. Ithumba is still quite green, so the girls had a veritable buffet at their feet. Once back in their bedroom for the night, the feasting continued. The Keepers put several bunches of cut greens in the stockades, with the intention that each orphan gets a personal stash. However, Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa had other ideas. They insisted upon sampling each bunch, as if to make sure that they weren’t missing out on a single bite!
After an action-packed afternoon, the girls slept soundly beneath the endless starry sky. This is the beginning of the rest of their lives. In the coming years, Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa will grow up and reclaim their place in the vast Tsavo wilderness. They will have babies of their own, starting families that will stretch for generations. And to think — it all spawned from this first day in Ithumba.