It is always with mixed emotions that one says goodbye to the Orphans that are making the big move from the Nursery Unit down to Tsavo, in this case Orok, Sidai and Challa. They are by no means flying the nest, merely taking the next step, which is down to the Ithumba Unit, where they will be warmly greeted by all the other dependent orphans and Keepers based there, all seventeen of them. The vegetation and minerals in Tsavo is more suitable for growing elephants, and of course this will ultimately be where they will live wild lives, and be exposed to wild elephants. For an elephant to go wild is a slow process, and this can take between six to twelve years depending on the individual, so there is the emotion of happiness seeing them take the first step closer to that, but of course some saddness parting with the babies from the Nursery, having seen them arrive so broken and traumatized, and through lots of tender loving care and often heartache come this far.
The trucks that carry the young orphans on the six hour journey were backed against the loading ramp days before in order for the Nursery Keepers to practice loading with the tempting milk bottle brandished in front of them. It seemed to be working well, Orok and Sidai sharing a lorry as the two of them are inseparable, and Challa in a truck all of his own.
On the departure date the loading process began at 5.30 am on the morning of the 10th of June, filmed by BBC for Elephant Diaries. Challa was the first to be loaded, and he followed his Keeper Mishak trustingly in to the back of the truck and the doors were slammed shut behind them. Next up was Sidai and Orok. Sidai followed her Keeper and the milk bottle immediately into the second truck, but Orok was having none of it. Memories of his rescue came flooding back, and with all the people gathered there, the whole atmosphere was deeply suspicious to him. After a number of attempts, with our hearts in our mouth, he eventually gingerly walked in behind his Keeper, reassured by the fact that his best friend Sidai was already inside.
The day was an overcast one which helped enormously, as the journey can otherwise be very hot for the young elephants in the back of the trucks. They traveled in the company of their Keepers, with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s mobile Veterinary Unit following the convoy just in case one of the elephants panicked. The whole move was coordinated by Daphne’s son in law Robert Carr-Hartley. Robert’s guidance ensured the move was a success, with the convoy stopping en route to cut the elephants favourite browse, to feed them their milk, and to wet them down to prevent them from over heating and of course to ensure the Keepers had drinks and food while in the back of the vehicle. The convoy made good time, and by midday Ithumba Mountain loomed on the horizon.
On arrival the orphans were clearly dazed and confused, and in the case of Orok very suspicious of his milk bottle, convinced he was going to be goaded into another unpleasant experience if he followed it. Challa too showed his displeasure by taking it out on the other two, Sidai and Orok, by pushing and shoving, reversing into them, and lashing out with a back leg whenever he could. They settled down fast and then the older Ithumba resident orphans were brought to meet them. Amidst a great noise, trumpets and trunks in the air, the other orphans enveloped the new arrivals. Nasalot in particular immediately took on the role as protector, nurturing them all with low rumbles, gentle caresses and by putting her trunk gently in their mouths. The whole group was clearly very excited indeed to receive the new babies. They appeared so big at the Nairobi Nursery, but suddenly seemed so tiny and vulnerable measured against the older orphans.
The newcomers settled in fast, and immediately went out to the browsing fields with the group. The terrain, with all the rocks, was alittle tricky for them to navigate, but under the guidance of the others they very soon got the hang of things. That night they were ushered into a stockade accompanied by Nasalot who was desperate to be with them and despite the new stockades being electrified, unlike their Nairobi ones, they understood what not to do, and avoided touching the wire.
By the next day the latest arrivals seemed totally settled and spent time wallowing around in the mudbath and making new friends. They were missed sorely by the seven orphans that remained behind in Nairobi, Lualeni, Makena, Zurura, Sian, Loijuk and Kamboyo and of course Kora, who was held back with Lualeni as company, to undergo his operation later this month on his jaw. The day Orok, Sidai and Challa left Lualeni was very distressed, and immediately went to where they were loaded onto the trucks, knowing they had been whisked away in them, even though when the loading had happened early that morning she was still asleep in her stable. Despite a wobbly beginning they too have now settled down into a routine with just the seven of them.