Natumi returned to the Stockades with some members of her group, but not all, on the 12th May 2009 when it was noticed that she and Lolokwe, (a young bull now also aged l0) both had an arrow head imbedded in their body. Under sedation our mobile Veterinary Unit was able to remove the arrowheads, which fortunately had not been coated with akokanthera poison, so the resulting wound was superficial and has since healed well. Poisoned arrow poaching has taken the heaviest toll of Tsavo’s elephants over the years, and, sadly, is again becoming of serious concern throughout the country, motivated by the higher prices paid to the poacher for illegal ivory by Chinese middlemen now on our doorstep. Chinese workmen are now prevalent in Kenya undertaking road construction work and several Chinese Nationals have been apprehended at Jomo Kenyatta Airport trying to smuggle out poached ivory.
It is, however, noteworthy for most folk, (but for us, no longer surprising), that Natumi and Lolokwe chose to return to the Voi Stockades, having been absent for a full year. Their return was obviously motivated by the fact that both were in need of some human intervention to remove the arrow heads. The orphans love and trust their Keepers who steered them into adulthood from early infancy, and whom they have embraced also as family members, bearing in mind that “elephants never forget”. The last visit of Natumi to the Voi Stockades was in May 2008 because she and her orphaned peers are now fully integrated into the resident wild elephant community of Tsavo National Park.
Similar examples of our orphans returning when in need of help are not unusual. Big Boys Ndume and Dika both returned when they needed medical attention, Ndume who had a poisoned arrow imbedded in his trunk, and Dika who had a wire snare digging into the flesh of a back leg, plus a nasty suppurating temporal gland. To clean and dress this face wound, a Keeper had to climb a ladder in order to reach it! Throughout both interventions, and despite obvious pain, Dika never flinched, such was his trust in the Keepers who had reared him from the age of just 3 months. Lissa (who now has 3 wild-born calves) brought her wild born baby back to the stockades to have a snare removed from its leg, and stood by calmly throughout the procedure, despite the terrified bellows of her wild-born baby as the Keepers tried to restrain it. In the end the other elephant orphans resident at the Stockades at the time crowded the calf so that it could not escape, which enabled a Keeper to crawl beneath their bellies and remove the offending noose, which, fortunately, was still quite loose. Throughout, Lissa remained complacent, calmly munching away on some greens until her baby could be reunited with her, minus the snare! This clearly illustrates her trust of the Keepers, for normally any elephant mother hearing the distressed cries of her baby would react with aggression. Not so, Lissa! Then more recently, Mweya, the little Ugandan orphan from Queen Elizabeth National Park, was seen to be limping when she was spotted by the Keepers near the Voi Safari Lodge in the company of Aitong’s group. Willingly she followed the Keepers back to the Voi Stockades, and upon closer inspection of the foot, it seemed that Mweya had trodden on a sharp stump. The wound was cleaned and dressed by our Mobile Veterinary Unit, and for the next few days Mweya remained close to the Stockades, and turned up daily for treatment, until the wound was well on its way to healing.
Up at Ithumba, at the Trust’s Northern Reintegration Centre, orphan Napasha returned to the Stockades with a poisoned arrow embedded in his face. In the absence of the mobile Veterinary Unit, on this occasion, the Keepers were able to extract the arrow without sedation, and dress the resulting wound. Because that arrow had been coated with the deadly akokanthera poison, Napasha was kept under close surveillance for the next few days in case the poison, took affect. Fortunately, however, it was old and not potent, so did not disrupt the rhythm of his heart which is the affect it normally has. Napasha recovered rapidly and was able to join his Keeper Independent peers. However, another Northern wild bull was not so lucky, and was found dead on the road near Lugards Falls, his life snuffed out by a poisoned arrow. However, the tusks were still intact, so KWS were able to retrieve them before the poacher could lay his hands on them.
It is comforting for us to know that whenever any of our ex orphans need assistance, they know where to come for help. What happens to them is simply a microcosm of what the wild elephant community of Tsavo is suffering today, as indeed, are all elephants countrywide. It is no secret that elephant poaching has escalated sharply this year and that Kenya has lost more elephants to poachers during the first few months of this year than in all previous years since the early nineties. All countries North of the Zambezi are reporting the same thing, ever since CITES misguidedly sanctioned the sale of the Southern African ivory stockpiles, and allowed China to become a legal bidder. Since Chinese construction workers in the country have driven up the price of ivory to a poacher, poisoned arrow poaching countrywide has also escalated sharply.
We have to keep reminding ourselves, having reared the orphaned elephants from newborn infancy into magnificent adulthood, and with such intensive care and at great cost and personal sacrifice, that our elephant orphans, aside from the love they have of the specific humans who were their Keepers, and who reared them after being orphaned, are no different to any other wild elephant in the country. All elephants are in the same boat, irrespective of location, and unfortunately, that boat is leaking precariously at the moment. Only a total ban on the sale of all ivory, and the destruction of all ivory stockpiles, irrespective of where they occur, will halt the decline of the earth’s magnificent pachyderms. The International Community through their mouthpiece CITES will have to put aside greed and trading concerns for once and instead concentrate instead on the plight of the earth’s endangered species which CITES is supposed to protect. It is they who must save the elephants and who are responsible for the present poaching crisis throughout most of Africa.