Friday 18th June – another Big Day in our Nairobi Nursery, for this is the day that Seraa, Mpala, and Morani will leave Nairobi to join the Tsavo Orphans and begin their gradual transition back into the Elephant World in Tsavo East National Park. Seraa, now a plump and healthy 19 month old, well over the life threatening pneumonia that almost took her from us on New Year’s eve, 2002; Mpala obviously a little older upon arrival than we thought, now sporting the tiny tusks of a two year old, and Morani, the little “Warrior” whose gunshot wounds have now healed, and who is the youngest of the three. He has only been with us some three months, and since Mpala is his special friend, he, too, was a candidate for Tsavo.
As usual, the practice sessions to get the orphans comfortable going into the large truck parked up against our loading ramp began three days earlier. As we suspected, the only elephant who firmly refused to be coaxed inside, was Mpala, for he obviously clearly remembered, with bad connotations, another journey in a vehicle when he travelled to Nairobi from far off Mpala Ranch in Laikipia in a vehicle. At that time he was newly orphaned, an emaciated orphan who trailed the cattle herds following the death of his mother on the Ranch, having been fatally wounded by poachers beyond the Ranch boundary.
The loading of the elephants began, as usual, very early at first light. With Seraa and Morani safely inside enjoying their morning milk, Mpala had to be physically wrestled in, protesting loudly! However, he found he was no match for about 5 stalwarts under the direction of Roy Carr-Hartley, whose expertise at handling wild animals spans a lifetime. Once safely ensconced, along with two Keepers, plus the fodder and water for the journey, the truck drew away from the Nursery at 7 p.m. En route, apart from the usual brief stops just to check that all was well in the back of the truck, there was just one worrying hold-up of half and hour when we encountered an up-ended Container Truck which held up all traffic on the road for about half an hour as it was being towed aside. However, thanks to a sympathetic Policeman, whose eyes grew wide when he heard that three elephants were in Roy Carr-Hartley’s truck at the back of the queu, the elephants were permitted to jump the queu and get ahead of everyone else!
Conditions inside the truck were somewhat cramped, and Morani was particularly claustrophobic, so the Keepers had their work cut out keeping everyone occupied until they reached the Voi Stockades at about 2 p.m. There the three elephants were relieved to be able to leave the truck and explore their new surroundings which were filled with the scent of many others, until it was time for the introductions to take place.
First to come to greet them were what is known as “The Baby Group” headed by Mweya, whose group includes those fairly recent arrivals who had shared the Nursery with Seraa and Mpala - namely Thoma, Burra, Solango, and Sosian, whose joy at being reunited was extremely touching. Solango, especially, was over the moon to see Seraa again, since both share a common origin in Shaba National Reserve, and possibly even be from the same herd. Burra and Sosian were happy to welcome their erstwhile younger friend, Mpala, so the only stranger was little Morani, who obviously remembered his wild elephant herd clearly, because when the bigger group of orphans arrived, he took an instant shine to Aitong, and attached himself firmly to her side. Possibly she resembled an older sibling in size, or possibly his erstwhile older Nannie.
There is always a great deal of excitement amongst all the Tsavo group when newcomers arrive, and it was no different on this occasion. Trunks enveloped the newcomers, many laid across their back in a gesture of love, and they could not help but feel immediately part of this larger family of larger elephants – in fact, a veritable “herd” of elephants, led by the Matriarch, Emily. Seraa was the only one of the three who probably would not remember her elephant family clearly, because she came in so young, but she was too over-joyed to see Solango and Thoma again, that she remained remarkably undaunted surrounded as she was by so many older elephants.
Of the Keepers that accompanied the three new arrivals, David Mutie was known to all the Tsavo Group, having spent a long time working with them, so he, too, received an exuberant elephant welcome. Keeper Julius was a particular favourite of the Nursery Elephants during his term of office, and they were delighted to see him again. Nasalot, especially, paid him special attention, and this touched him deeply, because he doubted that her group would remember him. Now, he knows “that an elephant never forgets!” He spent the first night sleeping close by the Night Stockade that housed the new arrivals, and during the night just one change had to be made to the sleeping arrangements, which entailed moving Burra and Sosian into the adjoining Stockade, since they were playing one-upmanship with Morani.
The next morning, it was as though they had always been part of the new “herd”. With the absence of Imenti and Maungu, their arrival in Tsavo brings the dependent group of orphans to 29, and as soon as the infrastructure in the North is in place, eight of the middle sized group known as Natumi’s group will be joining Imenti in the North. Daphne, Angela and Robert joined all the orphans at their noon mudbath, and it was difficult to identify Seraa, Mpala and Morani in amongst what amounts to a sizeable herd. They were all very relaxed and very much “at home” in their new home and amongst a larger orphaned family that will remain friends for life.
Back in the Nairobi Nursery, it was little Ol Malo who suffered most from the absence of the bigger elephants, and especially Seraa, of whom she was particularly fond. She went into a serious depression, standing dejectedly alone apart from the others, passing loose stools, and the first night again paced her stable unable to sleep. The next night she was given a mild tranquilizer and she did manage to sleep, with little Sunyei as company next door. Since then, she is much more settled and beginning to feed well again and to play.
Now it is Wendi who is the Mini-Matriarch of the Nairobi Nursery. She is taking this new responsibility very seriously, seemingly pleased to have all the babies in her care without having to share them with Seraa! Interestingly, her demeanour has changed and although she is only 7 months old, she has been transformed overnight into a caring and responsible miniature elephant, at all times conscious of her matriarchal responsibility, and not quite so mischievous!