In the early hours of 28th November, Roho, Neshashi, and Oldepe bid the Nairobi Nursery farewell and graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit in Tsavo East National Park.
These three are probably the most well-practised orphans to ever make the move. 2022 was dominated by a brutal drought that affected huge swathes of the country, including Tsavo. This was no environment to introduce elephants to the newest chapter in their reintegration journey. So, while the drought held Tsavo in its grips, Roho, Oldepe, and Neshashi diligently conducted training sessions at the Nursery to prepare for the move.
They proved to be excellent students. As often happens with older orphans who have outgrown the company of the Nursery babies, they branched off into their own little clique. They always looked forward to training sessions — in fact, they were so attached to the moving lorry that they would even sneak back ‘after class’ just to hang out there!
At last, the first rains arrived in Tsavo and we felt it was an opportune time for our precious trio to make the move. Neshashi boarded first, followed by Oldepe. Roho experienced some momentary stage fright — which was interesting, because he was always the most blasé during training sessions — but after some reassurance from his Keepers, he strode confidently onboard. By 3:15 am, they were ready for their Nairobi departure.
The journey to Tsavo passed without incident. The lorry pulled into the park gate at 8:15 am and pulled up to the stockades a half hour later. The orphans found themselves in the heart of a lush oasis, as Ithumba is swathed in green from all the recent rains.
Larro, Mukkoka, Naboishu, and Musiara were brought over to welcome the trio. For Roho, this was a reunion with old friends. He knows all four elephants from his Nursery days and clearly remembered them well. Larro, who was mini matriarch before she graduated to Ithumba, was delighted to be reunited with her no-longer-so-little former charge. Oldepe had a bit of crossover with Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu; he was rescued in October 2021, and they graduated from the Nursery a few weeks later. For Neshashi, who was rescued earlier this year, these were all new faces.
After the meet-and-greet, our gentle boy Musiara and the ever-nurturing Larro led Roho, Oldepe, and Neshashi into a big stockade. Rather than bring the entire herd around right away, we wanted to give the graduates a secure space to acclimate amongst their new friends. This was particularly important for Neshashi and Oldepe. For Roho, who was rescued as an infant, his human-orphan herd is the only family he has ever really known. However, Neshashi and Oldepe were rescued at older ages and needed more time to adjust.
After about an hour, Head Keeper Benjamin brought the rest of the herd back to the stockades. As usual, the other orphans embraced the newcomers with great enthusiasm. The older girls lavished the trio in trunk hugs, while the boys sized up Roho and Oldepe as potential wrestling partners. Everyone headed down to the midday mud bath, where they enjoyed milk bottles and a good wallow.
Larro immediately laid claim to Roho — which meant that all the other girls were desperate to adopt him, too! The little bull could barely be seen between the tangle of trunks embracing him. Neshashi and Oldepe have always preferred to do their own thing, but they were also immersed into the group.
The day ended with Larro in the lead, showing the graduates into ‘Class One,’ the bedroom earmarked for our youngest Ithumba orphans. All three settled down for a peaceful first night in Tsavo, surrounded by friends old and new in the neighbouring stockades.