It was in the very early hours of Wednesday 28th May that Orwa, Teleki and Bomani prepared for the next stage in their ultimate rehabilitation back into the wild. With 31 orphaned elephants in our care at the Nursery, we have been waiting for suitable weather conditions in Tsavo before beginning to move some of the older Nursery orphans to our reintegration centres in Tsavo East National Park. For in Tsavo the elephants have a perfect environment, with space to roam and wild elephants from whom they can learn the ways of the wild. The first of two planned translocations to Ithumba included Orwa, Bomani and Teleki – three young males, ready to begin the next stage in their rehabilitation, a new phase in their ultimate where they will first remain reliant on their keepers and the older Tsavo orphans for some years to come.
Orwa was rescued in late 2011 from northern Kenya near South Turkana National Reserve, aged just one year. He had clearly been without his mother and milk for some time, for he was in an extremely emaciated condition and had been harassed by small predators, with superficial bite wounds on his body. Given his state of health, the team worried that he might not survive, however he defied the odds and has grown into a beautiful, soft hearted elephant. Bomani, a suspected poaching victim, was rescued at the age of one year in July 2012. Bomani was alone and had been trying to attach himself to a fence maintenance team working in the Voi area. He was clearly desperate for company, following the men back to their camp in the evening. The team fearing the orphan would become a meal for predators during the night called the KWS and the rescue was initiated. Teleki was about 1 and a half years old when he was rescued in September 2012 on community lands abutting Mount Kenya. The fate of his mother was never confirmed, however he is believed to be a human-wildlife conflict case.
In the days leading up to their translocation to Ithumba, Orwa, Bomani and Teleki become acquainted with the Trust’s specially designed elephant transporter, which would take them on their journey to Ithumba. Taking milk feeds on the stationary truck allows the elephants to become accumstomed to the vehicle and its stables, reducing any stress that might otherwise be caused on the day of the move.
So it was that at 3.30am on Wednesday 28th May, Robert Carr-Hartley, Angela Sheldrick and the keepers were up on and ready to lead the elephants onto the transporter, in what proved to be a damp and drizzling morning in Nairobi. First to board was Orwa, led onto the transporter with a bottle of milk, which he happily guzzled. Next to follow was Bomani, who quite literally ran onboard the vehicle to join Orwa. Last came Teleki, a little more strong minded, Teleki needed some gentle persuasion from the team, with a strap around his body allowing the keepers to guide him aboard and once there, the rest of the keepers quickly closed his stable door and with that, the main doors to the transporter were closed and all was set – everything taking place in just 20 minutes. Three keepers hopped in the back of the transporter, where they could be with the elephants during the journey, where they are able to offer them reassurance should it be needed and to keep them cool with a water shower, built into the vehicle.
Waved off by the other keepers remaining behind with the now 28 Nursery orphans, at 4am the transporter pulled out of the Nursery and hit the tarmac for the drive to Ithumba. The early start has two clear benefits when moving the elephants, the first is the ability to avoid the traffic on Nairobi’s roads, which gets worse every day, lorries filling the roads back and forth between Mombasa Port and the capital. The other reason is to ensure cooler conditions throughout the journey for the elephants, allowing them to travel more comfortably, for what is a huge day in their lives.
With light rains accompanying the transporter from Nairobi for much of the journey, slowly the grey clouds began to clear with small glimpses of the sunrise between them. At 7.30am, a pre-planned stop took place allowing the keepers to cut some grewia (greens) for the elephants, a bush that doesn’t grow in Nairobi, however is a known favourite of elephants. The stop also allowed the keepers to offer the elephants milk and check to see how the travelers were doing, happy to see that all three of the boys were travelling extremely well.
Back on the road, the transporter pulled into Tsavo East National Park’s Northern Area at 10am and by 10.40am it arrived at the Ithumba Stockades. The side doors to the transporter were opened and Orwa, Bomani and Teleki witnessed for the first time what would now be their new home. Matching the order of their loading, first off was Orwa, followed by Bomani and Teleki, each encouraged off with a bottle of milk. The current Ithumba Orphans were kept back initially, to allow the three time to drink their milk and find their feet, having been travelling for six and a half hours. With that the introductions and re-introductions began, for the three new arrivals had old friends at Ithumba whom they’d known at the Nursery before. Shukuru, Mutara, Tano, Kilabasi and Kanjoro had all been translocated to Ithumba in January 2013 and Shukuru was one of the first to meet and greet the new arrivals.
Orwa, Bomani and Teleki, still covered in the red soil of Nairobi were all incredibly relaxed as they were surrounded by excited Ithumba grey-coloured elephants, the difference in colour purely the result of the soil. In just a few days, they will all be sporting the grey colour that so distinguishes the elephants in the Northern Area of Tsavo.
Orwa and Bomani arguably settled the quickest, trunks smelling the air and unquestionably all sorts of conversations taking place between the new arrivals and the existing Ithumba herd, inaudible to us humans. Teleki, while relaxed and dusting himself with soil, stood back a little more as the Ithumba orphans came to greet the newest members to the herd. Laragai, aware of this, took it upon herself to welcome Teleki, slowly approaching him and touching him with her trunk, reassuring him that he was in a safe place and amongst friends. Her efforts and the presence of the three Nairobi keepers who’d travelled with the elephants, soon paid off.
An hour after arriving at Ithumba, the new arrivals met a few members of Suguta’s now semi-dependent herd who were at the stockades – it is very common for ex-orphans to be present when new arrivals come to the Stockades, somehow knowing that they were coming, for elephants can communicate over vast distances. After a full afternoon in the bush, Orwa, Bomani and Teleki returned to the stockades with the keeper dependent orphans and prepared for their first night in the shared stockades; Shukuru, Laragai and Narok sharing their stockade and their keepers sleeping, not with them, but just a few metres away, on hand should they be needed in the night. Head keeper Benjamin was delighted to share that the night had been a peaceful one and as dawn broke on 29th May, Orwa, Bomani and Teleki left the stockades with the other orphans, enjoying some Lucerne, before their first full day out and about in the bush in the Ithumba area.
These three little bulls will remain keeper-dependent for some time to come, and during that time, they will slowly be weaned off their milk and will mix with the wild elephants that come to the Ithumba mudbath and visit the stockades. These wild elephants will share their knowledge with the orphans and they will play their role in helping them to ultimately return to a fully wild life, which without the involvement of the DSWT, would never have been a possibility.