Rokka and Manda Graduate to Voi

Published on the 29th of February, 2024

On 21st February 2024, our second graduating class of Kaluku orphans moved to our Voi Reintegration Unit, where they will continue their journey back to the wild.

This move has been on our minds for quite some time. Rokka, the sole female in our little Kaluku herd, has blossomed into an excellent mini matriarch. As she grew older, however, it became increasingly clear that she was outgrowing Kaluku. She had started to pace in her nighttime stockade, despite a number of rooming rearrangements. Rokka has always been the nurturer, and we suspected it was time for a role reversal. At Voi, she would be under the wing of older females, in a bigger environment.

Manda, Kaluku’s resident ‘big boy’, also craved broader horizons. He had sprouted into the largest bull at the unit, despite being more than a year younger than Vaarti and Mayan. As Manda's size increased, so did his ego. He was constantly pushing his weight around, much to the dismay of his peace-loving Kaluku counterparts. We knew Manda would benefit from bigger, older friends who would keep him stimulated… and keep his behaviour in check!

After a few training sessions, Rokka and Manda were ready for their big move

Before dawn, the Kaluku Keepers escorted Rokka and Manda to the airstrip, where the moving lorry was waiting. Their old friends, Vaarti and Mayan, also joined the procession. The elephants trundled to the airstrip as a group. Peter and Julius, two of our most experienced Keepers, came down from our Nairobi Nursery to support the move, while Omari, who has always been a great favourite of Rokka’s, rounded out the graduation team.

The convoy started early, just after sunrise

The loading process was wholly uneventful. Lured by milk bottles, Rokka walked onboard first, followed by Manda. Mayan and Vaarti were momentarily taken aback when the lorry doors shut, but soon all anxiety was forgotten. The boys busied themselves with browsing on a nearby tree and barely looked up as the convoy pulled out of the airstrip.

There were a few unexpected delays along the way, but they still made good time

It was a smooth journey to our Voi Reintegration Unit, despite a few trees that had fallen across park roads. No matter: The team managed to move them out of the way with minimal disruption. That is why we always leave early and travel in a convoy! Manda and Rokka were unfazed by the stops. In fact, they seemed to enjoy them, as they also served as snack breaks — the Keepers took the opportunity to restock their compartments with freshly cut greens and feed them milk bottles, which both elephants drank happily.

A big welcoming committee assembled to greet the new graduates

Just before 9:30 in the morning, Rokka and Manda pulled into their new home. In anticipation of their arrival, the Keepers had gathered the entire Voi herd nearby on Msinga Hill. Angela and Head Keeper Joseph agreed that Voi’s big girls — Mbegu, Godoma, Tagwa, Tamiyoi, Sagala, Pika Pika, and Lemeki — would make up the initial welcoming committee.

Manda was immediately embraced by his new friends

Our welcoming committee took their roles very seriously. Before the team could even open the lorry doors, Mbegu and co. rushed over as fast as their legs would carry them. Despite intense competition, Lemeki muscled her way to the front and led the procession. We could barely get Rokka and Manda off the truck — everyone was too excited and clustered around the truck. Once the Keepers managed to get Rokka and Manda onto firm ground, they were embraced in a flurry of rumbles and trunk hugs. Their inaugural milk bottles had to wait, as the welcoming committee would not give them an inch of space.

Rokka stuck to Omari, her Kaluku Keeper, like glue

Our plan was to keep the ‘Voi Kids’ on Msinga Hill, so as to not overwhelm Rokka and Manda… but they had other ideas! After catching wind of the new arrivals, they refused to stay away. Before we knew it, the 14 youngsters — along with big boys Ngilai, Murit, Lasayen — had raced over to join the party. The Voi Kids largely kept to themselves, although they kept stealing surreptitious glances at the newcomers. Manda and Rokka are their peers (the Voi Kids are all Tsavo orphans rescued during the 2021-22 drought who bypassed the Nursery stage), so no doubt they were appraising them with equal measures of interest and jealousy!

The Voi orphans shadowed Rokka and Manda's every step

Moving slowly — it was hard to get a step in, amidst the tangle of trunks entwining them — Rokka and Manda proceeded to the stockade dust pile and mini mud bath. Unsurprisingly, their herd’s worth of new friends shadowed their every movement. Lemeki was in prime busybody form, rushing around to ensure she was always front and centre in Rokka and Manda’s line of sight. Mbegu reclined invitingly on the dust pile, much to Baraka’s dismay. He covetously tried to grab the graduates’ tails and push them away from ‘his’ nanny. Ngilai, Voi’s resident rogue, kept sidling over to the babies, but Keepers kept him at bay, knowing his mischievous ways.

With Rokka and Manda in the lead, the herd headed out into the bush

After the initial frenzy subsided, the Voi Keepers were able to properly introduce themselves to their new charges. Rokka, who was still feeling a bit woozy from the journey, stuck to Omari like glue. Manda was very interested in meeting everyone, both elephant and human. All the orphans were in fine form — dusting and wallowing with extra aplomb, swaggering around with ears flared, striking all sorts of impressive poses — in order to catch the attention (and, hopefully, admiration!) of their new friends.

Thanks to El Nino, it is still gloriously green in Voi — Manda couldn't believe his luck!

And just like that, it was time for the 11:00 milk feed and mud bath. Without a backwards glance, Rokka and Manda proceeded down the path, surrounded by their new herd. To any onlooker, it would be impossible to distinguish the new graduates from the 27 other Voi orphans.

Rokka (front) and Manda were immediately embraced by the herd

It has now been one week since Rokka and Manda graduated to Voi, and we are very happy to report that both orphans have settled in beautifully. Rokka is much happier with Voi’s communal sleeping arrangements and no longer paces. Manda has been a model citizen and seems to be enjoying all the stimulation around him. They are very attached to each other, but they have also started branching out and exploring new friendships. Despite Lemeki’s initial bravado, Mbegu has claimed the role of ‘top nanny’ and keeps a close eye on them throughout the day. The Voi Kids remain a bit aloof, but once they have thoroughly sized up the competition, we know they will embrace them as friends.

For Rokka and Manda, two orphans of Tsavo, this graduation is a return home

For Rokka and Manda, the graduation to Voi means a return to their roots. Both orphans were rescued from the Tsavo ecosystem, and in the fullness of time, they will reclaim their place in the wild here. We will be there to support them every step of the way, as they embark on this new chapter and beyond.

Rescue to Reintegration

Each orphan we rescue is ultimately reintegrated back into the wild — a process that can take upwards of a decade. Find out how our pioneering Orphans' Project works.
Orphans' Project

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