Ex Orphan Sunyei's first wild born baby Siku

Published on the 2nd of November, 2017

All the elephants the SWT rescues are milk dependent and need 24 hour feeding, care and protection that simulates what they would receive in the wild from their mother and maternal family

Our team of devoted keepers sleep with the babies and feed them every 3 hours including throughout the night, acting as the young orphans surrogate family. Our Ex Orphans are elephants that have risen up the ranks of maturity and dependency at our Reintegration Units - from the Nursery to Tsavo East - to live a life in the wild once more. Nothing can quite highlight the success of this Orphans’ Project like the birth of wild born babies to orphans raised by the Trust and now living wild. October 2017 proved to be a truly momentous month for us when Yatta, the matriarch of our Ex Orphan herd at Ithumba, along with two of her adopted ‘sisters’ Nasalot and Sunyei, all gave birth to healthy calves, bringing the total count of our wild born babies to 28. We are delighted to witness the Ex Orphan herds beginning to expand so naturally, and not only through the addition of orphans joining their ranks as they out-grow our reintegration units. The Ex Orphan herds are slowly but surely morphing into a composition befitting a wild herd, including sisters, aunts, teenage calves and young babies.

Sunyei came to us as a tiny infant, having fallen down a hole in a river as a tiny baby. She did well in the Nursery despite our initial reservation having been fed cow’s milk by her caring Samburu rescuers, but which is so detrimental to an elephant calves success rate. She thrived however and in 2005 was moved to the Ithumba Unit along with three others, to rejoin her particularly good friend Wendi who had previously been the matriarch of the Nursery herd. After Yatta and Nasalot gave birth to two healthy male calves at the beginning of October, it was Sunyei’s turn to delight us when on the 21st she gave birth to a healthy girl we called Siku meaning ‘day’ in Swahili. Still pink and wobbly on her feet, the Ithumba keepers realised the little calf was only a few hours old when Sunyei came striding into the compound at dawn to show off her new baby, hence her chosen name. As a young mother at just 14 years old, she found the excitement from all the other elephants, our still dependent orphans and wild ones, rather too daunting for one morning!

With her nanny Loijuk accompanying them, she took her baby to the western side of the stockade compound where she allowed the keepers to quietly interact with her baby in a more subdued environment. The extent to which these orphans fully trust and believe in their keepers is a very heart-warming bond to behold. That a fully grown, wild living, elephant has the desire to introduce a new baby the very same morning to the human family that raised her, speaks volumes about their intelligence and their sense of family but also for the love and appreciation that our Ex Orphans have for their keepers, their human family.

We have watched with great pride as Sunyei has blossomed into a very caring and attentive mother, completely enchanted by her tiny calf. It has also been very interesting to watch the Ex Orphan bulls offer Sunyei escort and protection when she chooses to spend time apart from the rest of the Ex Orphan herd, which she has done on occasion, savouring quiet time with her pride and joy. The Ithumba Ex Orphan herd is fast feeling like the Trust’s Nursery with little babies of all sizes underfoot everywhere, the only difference being they require no work from our Keepers, with the exception of the odd extraction of Nusu and Siku from the water trough perhaps! It is so wonderful to see them playing with each other, and how involved every Ex Orphan is in their upbringing, highlighting further how in elephant society raising a baby is very much a family affair, with many eager nannies delighted to share the responsibility and share the love.

We are so grateful for the support towards our efforts, so that we may continue to rescue, raise and protect animals, and watch with pride as they return to where they rightfully belong, in the wild. There could be no greater gift for us, or testament to the success of the Orphans’ Project, than to share in the joy of such perfectly healthy baby elephants like our three ‘October kids’ Yoyo, Nusu and Siku born to elephants we have raised and nurtured from infancy.