On Saturday 16th June, after six months spent convalescing at our Nairobi Nursery, Shukuru made the journey to our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit, where she has joined our happy herd of 11 orphans
In December of last year, we took the decision to bring eight year old Shukuru back to the Nairobi Nursery from Ithumba, as she had developed health problems and we wanted to ensure she could be closely monitored by a team of vets, with regular blood diagnostics and treatment easily available, as well as plenty of tender loving care.
As Shukuru overcame the worst of her health problems, we had to think long and hard about her future. While her condition was by no means perfect, as getting back to optimum health after the challenges she has faced over the years does not happen overnight, Shukuru appeared bored at the Nursery in the absence of all the older orphan friends, who were translocated to our Reintegration Units in Tsavo recently, and she was certainly missing her age group and the stimulation she had experienced for four years while at Ithumba prior to her health issues.
Umani Springs is our most recent Reintegration Unit, purpose-built for the more physically compromised elephants, as well as their close friends, and is a place where life is easy with food and water plentiful throughout the year, avoiding the need to travel great distances in search of browse. When considering Shukuru’s future, and given the difficulties she had experienced while at Ithumba already, it was decided that Umani would be the ideal new home for her.
Loading Shukuru into the transportation lorry happened at 2.30am. The journey was purposely carried out at night to ensure the roads were free of traffic and the temperatures cool. Having experienced two previous journeys of this nature in the elephant transporter truck – first from Nairobi to Ithumba in 2013 and then back again to Nairobi from Ithumba last year - Shukuru could have been excused for being reluctant to once again make the trip. Amazingly, this was not the case and she walked straight in, probably thinking that she was returning to her friends in Ithumba. After an uneventful journey down to Umani Springs, nestled within the Kibwezi Forest, she was very confused when she found herself in an unfamiliar place! The company however was not altogether unfamiliar, given that Shukuru shared the Nursery with Murera and Sonje back in 2012, but given her body language and standoffish behaviour, this was not evident as she climbed out of the truck.
Predictably, first to meet her was Lima Lima who heard the rumblings of the new arrival and came rushing out of the forest to greet her. She was followed by the other Umani orphans and soon Shukuru was enveloped by them all reaching and touching gently, fascinated by the newcomer in their midst. Shukuru was visibly unsettled and rather overwhelmed by events, but immediately turned her attention to the lush vegetation of Umani, even choosing to overlook her milk bottles and the Lucerne pellets in favour of delicious mouthfuls of grass.
If ever one needed an illustration of just how healthy and thriving the Umani orphans are it was seeing Shukuru measure up against the others. She was totally dwarfed in size, yet she is the same age as Murera, both having been born in 2009. Even Alamaya and Mwashoti, born in 2014, were not far behind her in size.
As time passed Shukuru has settled in very well and already is gaining condition with her energy levels increasing every day. After a tentative beginning, she clearly loves her new home, and has now become firm friends with Lima Lima, Sonje and Mwashoti; a very much integrated member of the Umani elephant orphan herd. She is clearly stimulated enormously by her new surroundings and the abundant food will hopefully ensure she gets back to perfect health very soon.
Already in the few weeks she has been at Umani she has put on weight. It has been very encouraging to see how Shukuru has responded to this beautiful new environment and we are witnessing her do things that she has avoided for years due to her poor health, for example wallowing enthusiastically in the mud bath and wading deep into the waters of Umani Springs. These are all indicators that Shukuru is healing and we hope the trend continues to be positive, as clearly Shukuru is happy here which is hugely rewarding given her challenging journey.