It has happened often before, but each move presents a different challenge, a different set of traumas and an equally powerful emotional fallout for all left behind in the Nairobi Nursery. However, the move of Sian, Kenze and Loijuk, as the 24th May 2007 dawned had a special meaning for those of us who have worked intimately with these three elephants for many months, to heal them both physically and psychologically. Kenze and Loijuk especially, will always live in our memory as two miracles of Christmas 2006. Both arrived in an emaciated, and pathetic condition, and one look at them upon arrival convinced us that neither would make it. Loijuk was 7 months old when she came to us, her mother slaughtered by poachers near Wamba in the Northern Frontier and she was a bag of bones, so enfeebled that she could barely stand, exacerbated by the dreaded tell-tale indication of life threatening pneumonia, fluid pouring from her trunk. She is one of just three of many pneumonia victims whose life we have managed to snatch from the jaws of death, and she struggled valiantly for life as another new arrival next door gave up the ghost and died, just hours after arrival. Night-long intensive care involving essential oil massaging, plus a long course of antibiotic injections brought her round. There was no sign of anger from this beautiful little female elephant over her predicament, and the fact that she now found herself surrounded by the likes of others that had deprived her of her elephant family – she was far too weak for that, but miraculously, she gulped down her milk and miraculously, she lived and grew steadily stronger as the weeks and months went by, developing into the mother figure that comforted little orphan Chyulu when she arrived in the Nursery.
Kenze was another story. I think none of us who witnessed his arrival had ever seen an animal in a worse condition. Not only was he also a bag of bones due to milk deprivation, despite being almost two years old, but every square inch of his body was covered in ticks of all shapes and sizes, and his underbelly was a suppurating mess, having been chewed by a small predator, since luckily he had not been deprived of his “bullhood”. Over an above this, his loathing of the human species was very evident, and with every last ounce of strength, he longed to settle the score and kill whoever he could, even though he had ventured close to a community village bordering the Chyulu hills, knowing that this was his only chance of avoiding being devoured by lions or hyaenas. Quite obviously, this little elephant had witnessed a horrendous tragedy perpetrated by humans, because even today, he chooses to avoid contact, even with his Keepers, only coming to take his milk feeds, and then separating himself from both the Keepers and the other elephants, grieving deeply for his lost loved ones. In his case, there was nothing we could do for him until he had expended that last ounce of strength, and collapsed in a near comatose condition, unable to even lift his head. Then it was a race against time. The Vet was standing by, waiting for that moment, to insert an intravenous drip into an ear vein, the Keepers were there with a weak solution of milk and rehydrants, lifting his head so that he could swallow, whilst others removed what ticks they could, and sprayed the clusters of tiny small ones with Frontline. Having administered the injection of anti-biotic plus Vitamin B and other life boosters, the Vet then set about cleaning out the wound on his belly and Daphne rushed into the kitchen to make little cakes of cooked oatmeal mixed with desiccated coconut and milk which were put directly into his mouth.
Kenze was on the intravenous drip for several days before he was strong enough to stand, helped up by about 6 men. His anger was still very evident, and once up on his feet, the Keepers had to become pretty agile to avoid being crushed against the planks of his Stockade, but he very soon understood that the bottles offered to him through the bars was what he needed most – milk reinforced with porridge and coconut. Then, very gradually, he calmed down, seeing Zurura and Kamboyo next door, and taking his queue from them, grudgingly accepting a man standing with him at ground level.
Sian, was an Amboseli baby, whose mother, (named Soila by the Researchers), had accompanied the herd into neighbouring Tanzania. When the herd returned, Soila was missing, but they brought back 9 month old Sian, now obviously an orphan, her mother likely to have been shot by ruthless ivory hunters who habitually wait in ambush just across the border in Tanzania, to bag a prize pair of Amboseli elephant tusks. Fortunately, Sian came to us in reasonable condition, so her recovery was much more rapid as was her psychological healing, for she found herself a mother figure so many other smaller babies, who looked to her for comfort.
The actual move at dawn was accomplished smoothly, although loading Sian into the truck was a challenge, for she was determined not to go in. However, Loijuk was trusting, and Kenze followed the bottle, anxious never to be deprived of milk again. However, Sian had to be roped and man-handled into the truck, one Keeper in front hauling on a roped foreleg, and all available manpower at the Nursery behind and at the sides pushing with all their strength! Anxious thoughts were for “Mishak” the Keeper most loved by all our elephants, who was at the unenviable “sharp end” in front, since Sian was highly stressed, and equipped with short sharp tusks that could inflict injury. Nevertheless, despite her fear, and the trauma to which she was suddenly subjected, she was so trusting and gentle of beloved Mishak, that no attempt was made to skewer him in retaliation, although this would have been quite possible. With the back door slammed shut, she was calm and accepting of her new predicament and bore no grudges against Mishak and the other Keepers.
The three trucks, each carrying an elephant, some browse and milk and two Keepers, pulled out of the Nursery at 6 a.m., leaving poor Makena, who had been glued to Sian’s side since previous Mini Matriarchs Naserian and Lualeni left for Ithumba, rushing around trumpeting, in a high state of distress. However, Makena who came to the Nursery as a 3 month old, had seen it all before with both Naserian and Lualeni, and is now, herself, ready to take on the roll of Mini Matriarch, a position that holds enormous prestige for a female elephant, irrespective of age. Immediately, little Chyulu, missing Loijuk, battened onto her, and now shares the night quarters actually with Makena, so a strong bond is forming between them, lessening their sense of loss.
Hence, the aftermath of this particular move turned out to be the smoothest ever. The remaining Nairobi Nursery inmates settled down immediately, Lenana and Makena now the Matriarchs for the smaller set, Chyulu battened to Makena, whilst not much changed for Kamboyo and his best friend, Zurura, since neither became particularly fond of grieving loner, Kenze. Meanwhile tiny Lesanju still lords it over mischievous little Lampaute, and baby Shimba, who will soon be up to joining the older set day-long.
The journey to Ithumba is an arduous 8 hours on far from good roads, so the three transferees were tired upon arrival, but glad to get out and have a welcome noon day milk feed before being taken to the Ithumba drinking trough for a cool-down and drink of water. The younger Ithumba orphans then came at a run to greet them, surrounding them, touching them, rumbling and trumpeting, and checking them out carefully and lovingly. Kenze found the close attention of so many others somewhat overwhelming, and with a gentle shove requested some distance, but when the older orphans arrived, everything changed. Suddenly, he was in a real herd, with older females, all laying loving trunks over him, and all eager to have him close as their own. Instantly he calmed down, and became “theirs”. Meanwhile Loijuk and Sian were also accepting and calm, recognized by Orok and Lualeni, whom they had met at Nursery level.
Soon, the greetings having taken their course, the entire herd, now numbering 27 young elephants were heading out to feed in the thickets of Ithumba as a herd, and in the evening Kenze came back with the older gang, glued to Kinna, Yatta, Nasalot and Mulika, joining Orok as a cosseted favourite. For us, it was overwhelmingly heart-warming to watch events at the other end on the footage that Robert Carr-Hartley returned with the next day, particularly gratifying to see Kenze, at last, a happy and adored member of a real elephant herd, with four brand new mother figures, and a brand new elephant family.