Born in January 1989 in the Imenti Forest, a small remnant patch of indigenous forest East of Mount Kenya between the towns of Embu and Meru, Ndume was just 3 months old when he came to us. The Imenti forest, which is shrinking through illegal logging, has long sheltered a few fragmented and beleaguered elephants whose traditional migratory corridors are now densely populated and heavily cultivated by a burgeoning agricultural based far from Ele-friendly human population. Ndume was amongst a herd of elephants discovered in a maize patch at dawn as they tried to leave the forest and were surrounded by an irate and growing crowd of villagers, who turned out en masse to defend their crops. Encircled by an army of aggressive humans, all throwing spears, firing poisoned arrows and hacking into living flesh, traumatized elephants fell in disarray until finally the adult survivors managed to break free and flee back towards their forest stronghold. However, they left behind three tiny calves who had been isolated, one a newborn who was literally hacked to pieces before the eyes of the other two. Their turn would have been next, had it not been for the timely arrival of some Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers who managed to persuade the crowd to spare them, though not before Ndume had suffered such a severe blow on the head that he fell unconscious, and Malaika, the second calf, had been almost hamstrung by “panga” blows.
Both calves were flown into the Nairobi Nursery from Nanyuki, and arrived in a pathetic state, both infants of just 3 months, Ndume still unconscious, a huge lump on his head evidence of the severity of the blow that rendered him unconscious, and Malaika severely traumatized with legs that were slashed. Ndume was immediately fitted with a saline drip in an ear vein to try and save a life for which there seemed little hope, whilst the Vet attended to the wounds on Malaika.
It was many hours later that Ndume, much to our surprise, regained consciousness, but he had no recollection of what had taken place to deprive him of his elephant family or bring him to such a strange place surrounded by “the enemy”. His cries became so frantic that we knew we had to let him out of his stable so that he could find out for himself that his elephant mother was nowhere to be found.
For the next few days he tore around the bush, bellowing and running after every rustle, searching desperately for a mother lost forever. When he was again in a state of near collapse, the Keepers managed to gently steer him back to join Malaika, his little forest friend who was also in bad physical shape but mentally accepting of the tragedy that had left her orphaned. It was extremely upsetting for us to witness the depth of their trauma, and the inevitable depression and grief that went on for months as they mourned they loved ones. Pressed close together for comfort, the two babies presented a pathetic picture, plagued by nightmares during the hours of darkness which haunted them and left them fearful of everything around them. However, they took milk, and gradually time healed their bodies and the input of the other Nursery elephants healed their tortured minds. They were showered by an out-pouring of love and compassion, as the other Nursery elephants empathized fully with their distress, all having suffered themselves in varying degrees when they, too, lost loved ones. The day when Ndume and Malaika first began to play all those years ago, was cause for celebration, and a joyous day indeed, in our Nairobi Nursery.
When they had past their second birthday, Ndume and Malaika were transferred to the Voi Rehabilitation Centre to begin their gradual reintegration back into the wild elephant herds of Tsavo East National Park. There Malaika grew up to become the Matriarch of the Tsavo herd, once Eleanor had relinquished her leadership to join the wild community, but sadly her story does not have the happy ending of that of Ndume, for she was destined to die in childbirth aged l0, unable to give birth to a very large bull calf that was lying breach. Following the devastating loss of both Malaika and her baby, which was felt deeply by all, both human and animal, Ndume grew up alongside his ex Nursery male friends, namely Dika, Edo, Imenti, Uaso and Lewa with Emily as the Matriarch that replaced Malaika. By the year 2,000, he qualified as one of our BIG BOYS, once he had begun to leave the orphaned fold to wander apart and independently with his male peers, Dika, Edo and their wild friends, as adolescent bulls always should.
Thereafter, Ndume, Lewa and Imenti were three of our Big Boys who fell into bad company, led astray by two wild age-mates who habitually took them into neighboring Voi town during the nights, and this was, of course, another recipe for disaster. In order to save them being shot as “problem elephants” it was imperative that they be moved to safer surroundings, and so, on the 5th October 2001, all three young bulls were moved to Tsavo West National Park, and released in the Ngulia Valley far from human habitation, l00 miles away from home. For this journey they were sedated, crated, and moved in the KWS Elephant Carrier named “Hannibal” and with a heavy heart we bade them farewell in what we believed would be a new and better home. However, Ndume didn’t think so, and nor did Imenti. Astonishingly, just three days short of one month later, at the end of November 2001, who should suddenly turn up back at the Orphans’ daily mudbath in Voi, but Ndume, feeling very aggrieved to have been subjected to such a long walk back, something he had mysteriously been able to accomplish despite never having set foot in Tsavo West before! Imenti was not so brave, and also uncomfortable in his new surroundings, so he took to frequenting the grounds of Kilaguni Lodge searching for his lost human family, since he could remember no other, having lost his elephant mother the moment he was born. In the end, after having scared some of the Lodge inmates by inserting a hairy trunk over the wall of the Staff Showers to trap water and take a drink, we sent his favourite Keepers to bring him also back home, an epic journey documented on our website which spanned 5 days. Only Lewa, who was much younger, stayed put, assimilated into the wild community and has never returned to our knowledge.
For the next few months Ndume rejoined his orphaned peers, Dika, Edo and Uaso, reappearing only briefly to visit the still dependent group and the Keepers, his human family. In February 2002 he spent time courting Aitong and was seen actually mating her and his next brief reappearance was in January 2003 followed by another in March of that year. Then, on the 18th November, 2003 he and Dika brought little Irima back home.
Irima, who had been found orphaned in Tsavo East, and who was old enough to go directly into the Tsavo group, had been a relative newcomer to Emily’s unit when he was hijacked and taken off a visiting wild herd Although both the Keepers and Emily trailed the wild herd for 5 kms., the wild elephants refused to relinquish their newfound acquisition, disrupted elephant families being prone to hijacking the small children of others in order to build a new family for themselves. Imagine everyone’s astonishment, therefore, when some 5 days later, Ndume and Dika, whom we had not seen for many months, turned up with Irima, whom they had repossessed and were escorting back to Emily’s group. Having handed him safely back to Emily and the Keepers, they turned round and again left and 3 ½ more years would pass before we saw Ndume again!
However, in June 2007 he returned briefly and it was, indeed, truly wonderful to see him again, now a Very Big Boy of l8, that once tragic little unconscious waif now just a distant nostalgic memory. Today, he stands the brink of Elephant Bullhood, a magnificent specimen who towers over the others, probably qualified as a bull scout of elephant society who covers enormous distances in silent great strides to check out areas suitable for the cow herds and their young. It is always a proud moment to welcome back any of the Big Boys as and when they happen to be passing, and none more so than Ndume from the beleaguered Imenti Forest herd of elephants who so nearly had no life at all. It is an honour to have been able to save him, and offer him another chance of a long and healthy life in safer surrounds, but above all, a quality of life in wild terms which is the birth-right of every African Elephant. Ndume will scatter hardened Northern Frontier genes amongst the wild herds of Tsavo National Park and has enriched our lives immeasurably.