Nyambeni is alive today because an ordinary man stepped up and went to extraordinary lengths to save her life.
Her story began in Mula, a small village in the heart of the Meru landscape. On the morning of 9th May 2022, a suspicious noise captured a farmer’s attention. He followed the sound to the bank of a shallow, muddy ditch — where he was surprised to find a tiny elephant calf crying out to him! She must have fallen in the night before, as her herd migrated from the Shaba grasslands to the Nyambene Hills. Wary of human presence, elephants traverse farmlands under cover of darkness and remain constantly on the move. Fearful of what might happen if they stayed in the area for too long, the calf’s family was forced to leave their little one behind.
This part of Kenya isn’t known for its sensitive approach to elephants. In the past, orphans found on farmland would have likely met a tragic end. At best, they would have been left to die; at worst, they would have been poached for subsistence. But times are changing, and some local community members are becoming more invested in the giants they live alongside.
With that said, rescuing an elephant is both a logistical and a physical undertaking. Far from being deterred by the bellowing calf before him, Nyambeni’s rescuer rose to the challenge and made it his mission to save her life. (We named her Nyambeni as a nod to her origin story, both her place of rescue and the person who made it possible.)
Getting Nyambeni out of the pit was no small task; even a three-month-old elephant is quite heavy, and she was full of fight. After finally pulling her to terra firma, he tethered her to a tree and went to seek help. This was an endeavour in its own right, as he had to find the proper authorities.
Because of this good samaritan, KWS was alerted and put a rescue in motion by contacting the SWT. A helicopter was chartered from Tropic Air, based out of Nanyuki town, to collect Nyambeni and fly her down to the Nairobi Nursery, where our Keepers were waiting for her. We braced ourselves, because Nyambeni arrived just as her first molars were popping through. This is typically a fraught period for infant orphaned elephants, as teething puts intense stress on the body with a suppressed immune system and leads to a marked loss in condition.
However, Nyambeni surprised us. Much like Lemeki and Thamana, she sailed right through the teething phase and barely gave us a day of worry. She really helped herself in this respect, determinedly munching on greens despite her painful gums to fortify herself with extra nutrients while readily accepting her milk bottle at each feeding. Despite being so young, Nyambeni has always known exactly what she needs. She is a remarkably self-sufficient, resolute little girl.
Nyambeni has navigated her early days with a very special partner by her side: Mzinga, a brave little orphan who was rescued from Tsavo earlier in the year. Mzinga and Nyambeni must have been born within a few weeks of each other, at opposite ends of the country. Because fate left them both orphaned, the Tsavo girl and the Meru girl will now grow up side by side. They instantly became best friends and have been integral to each other’s success stories.
Because she is younger and more fragile than the rest of the Nursery herd, Nyambeni hangs out with the other blanket babies. Swaddled in their colourful blankets, this little group follows their own beat for most of the day, far from the boisterous antics of the older orphans. They link up with the wider herd for the mid-morning mud bath and milk feed, much to the delight of Naleku, Kindani, Kinyei, Olorien, and the other females. Come evening, they are escorted back to their cosy stables, where a bounty of freshly cut greens awaits them. Nyambeni always tucks into her share with great enthusiasm, eager to put her budding teeth to work.
Given everything she has overcome, one might assume that Nyambeni is a serious calf. In fact, she is quite the opposite. The Keepers remark how playful and social she is. With her little trunk held aloft, she is constantly cooking up the next activity. Nothing fazes her: Just a few days after her rescue, she discovered Maxwell’s stockade. Far from being intimidated by the rhino standing on the other side of the gate, she walked right up to him and proffered her trunk! That is Nyambeni in a nutshell. She loves making new friends and is always on the hunt for a new source of fun.
Had her heroic rescuer not intervened, this little elephant’s story could have ended in a ditch. However, fate favoured Nyambeni. We cannot wait to see what the future has in store for our fun-loving young girl.