On 4th July 2018, a group was on a game drive in Ol Kinyei Conservancy in the Mara. They were watching a pride of Lions, an exciting and most welcome sight on safari, when they spotted something amiss: a tiny elephant calf, alone and wandering precariously close to the pride. She was skirting in and out of the bush, but as soon as the lions felt compelled, she would have made very easy prey.
The group alerted Porini Cheetah Camp, who sent out a party to locate the calf and ascertain if she was indeed an orphan. In the meantime a lactating female elephant was found dead, still with her tusks, very close to where the baby was first sighted. When the calf was located again she was found trailing three adult bulls. While they were much better company than the lions, they could not provide the milk such a young baby needs to survive.
Once it was clear that a rescue was necessary we were contacted and arrangements for the rescue were made. Marc Goss of the Mara Elephant Project was on hand along with a KWS veterinary officer Dr. Njoroge. A combined effort from Ol Kinyei Conservancy Rangers, Porini Cheetah Camp staff, Mara Elephant Project and the Kenya Wildlife Service rescued the baby. She was tiny, only a few days old, and so it was decided that Marc Goss would fly her up to Nairobi in the back of the helicopter virtually in Dr. Njoroge’s lap, to save precious time. We decided to call the baby Kinyei after the area from which she came.
At the time of her rescue, Nairobi was beset with incessant rains, the ground was sodden, there was a permanent chill in the air, and torrential rains assaulted us on a near-daily basis. In short, it was no place to bring up a vulnerable, infant elephant. We decided to bring Kinyei to the Nursery for just the night given the late hour, and then take her to our Kaluku Field Headquarters the following morning, where she could recuperate in the warm, dry conditions of Tsavo.
And so, bright and early on the morning of 5th July, Kinyei was whisked off on the final leg of her journey. She joined Kindani, another young orphan who had been rescued just three months earlier. They instantly became best friends, drawing strength and comfort from each other. Indeed, they are more like sisters than friends, bonded for life by their formative days together.
Initially, we were optimistic about Kinyei. While so many infant rescues can be touch-and-go, she seemed to be a remarkably hardy calf. Around three months after her rescue, however, things began to take a downturn. She developed a bad stomach and lost condition rapidly, growing progressively weaker and more gaunt. This confirmed that moving her out of the inclement conditions of Nairobi was the right decision, but Tsavo held its own complications. It was searingly hot at the time and we even had to resort to IV drips to hydrate her.
Kinyei gave us a scare, but again her pluckiness won out. Slowly, she began to perk up and grow stronger. The bolstering presence of Kindani certainly helped, as did the arrival of little Bondeni, a precocious young bull who both girls rallied around. He gave Kinyei a purpose, someone to care for and lavish with love.
Kinyei’s greatest love, however, is eating. She and Kindani have always been extremely focused on their daily browsing sessions. This is probably a result of growing up in Tsavo, where one has to take advantage of bounties of vegetation when they are available, knowing greens will be far and few between during the dry season. Even still, when Kinyei is busy browsing, little can divert her from the task at hand: She is a girl on a mission, and will not be distracted from it!
By 2020, we knew the time had come for Kinyei, Kindani, and Bondeni to move up to our Nairobi Nursery. Nairobi was lush from favourable rains — perfect for a baby as food-focused as Kinyei — and the trio would benefit from an expanded friend circle. So, on the night of 3rd September, they pulled out of Kaluku and made the journey north. By dawn, they were happily ensconced in their new home.
In fact, the biggest adjustment for Kinyei has been the change of vegetation in Nairobi. To begin, we had to appease her with dried grewia branches, which were more in line with the browse she had grown up with. In time, however, she developed an appetite for the lush vegetation that is on offer in Nairobi National Park. Kinyei has really put on condition, as evidenced by her plump belly and round cheeks. She still prefers Kindani’s company above anyone else, but she also enjoys the attention of mini matriarchs Maisha and Larro. Misheck, the Keeper who has been by Kinyei’s side since day one, remains her favourite person and a very reassuring presence in her life. Surrounded by so much love and support, we know that this special girl will only continue to blossom.