The time had come for another move to take place, this time the big girls Suguta, Melia and Tumaren, all best friends and destined for our Ithumba Unit within Tsavo East National Park. This is now the next phase for them, but because they are milk dependent calves still, they remain very much Keeper dependent, so this is by no means the end of our responsibility. Moving to Tsavo is just another small step towards their re introductory process, and one day they will eventually live wild amidst Tsavo’s elephant population.
On November, Thursday 2nd at 4.00am the three orphans destined for Ithumba were loaded onto the new lorry, custom built specifically to transport baby elephants. The new vehicle was designed to carry three elephants at one time, with space enough for the Keepers, this time Edwin, GaloGalo and Sammy, to accompany them and comfort and feed them throughout the journey.
Early that morning all the Nursery orphans sensed something dramatic was happening, and seemed very unsettled, communicating extensively between each other, with Mutara particularly upset. She proceeded to break down her partition and attempted to clamber over her stable door, before a Keeper could return to her side and calm her down. Despite the unsettled atmosphere it did not seem to affect Melia and Suguta who both walked into their cubicles trustingly without any problems. Tumaren on the other hand, despite being the easiest throughout the practice sessions, had to have a shove from the Keepers before the truck doors could be closed. Overall the new system of loading the elephants simultaneously into one lorry, separated yet close and able to see each other, seemed to work well. The loading process was both smooth and quick and the convoy of two vehicles and the lorry set off on schedule at 4:30am headed for Ithumba, with Robert Carr-Hartley, leading proceedings.
By dawn, and before Nairobi’s morning rush hour, the convoy was well out of the city and passing through the Athi plains. The drive for the most part was very smooth and the orphans generally behaved themselves, with Suguta initially a little stressed. However the comforting presence of the Keepers, and her beloved Tumaren, convinced her that all would be fine and she soon settled down. After stopping briefly at Kibwezi to refuel, the convoy turned off onto the extremely bumpy dirt road for the last third of the journey. Back at the Nursery, with Olare stepping into the role of Matriarch, all seemed calm and the elephants that remained behind went about their daily routines as normal.
The convoy finally arrived at Ithumba at 11.00 am just as it was beginning to get very warm and humid and the babies were immediately off loaded. They were greeted by a profusion of every hue of green thanks to the recent rain. Despite it being an extremely hot and humid day the new lorry design worked very well, and none of the orphans lost much condition throughout the journey. As soon as they were off- loaded they immediately gulped down their milk feed and headed straight to the water trough where all the Keeper dependent Ithumba orphans, with Makena now their matriarch, waited eagerly for the new arrivals. They were greeted by warm rumblings, and tender touching trunks. Kilaguni, Chaimu and Sabachi remembered their orphan friends, and vice versa. Suguta, Tumaren, and Melia were initially a little withdrawn, with Suguta particularly clingy to her Keepers.
It was clear that Suguta and Melia found the whole ordeal more traumatic than Tumaren, who despite a reluctant beginning seemed terribly laid back about things, but by the afternoon they had all settled down and were happily feeding with the rest of the orphans. Chaimu, Kilaguni, Sabachi and Meibai remembering their old friends stayed close to the new arrivals throughout the afternoon. That night they were accompanied by Chaimu, Kilaguni, and Ithumbah in the electrically fenced Ithumba stockades. regardless of this being a very different set up to the Nairobi Nursery, it didn’t take them long to familiarize themselves with their new night quarters, their new routine, and the electric fence. They enjoyed a dust bath in the stockades and fed next to their friends, the power of their communication clearly evident with the Ithumba Orphans guiding them every step of the way.
In the middle of their first night Wendi's group arrived at the stockades, and she was so excited by the presence of new arrivals at Ithumba that she kept vigil throughout the night, sleeping close to the stockades and waited until dawn for the Keepers to open the doors.
At 6.00 am when the Keepers opened the stockade doors Wendi and the others rushed over amidst great excitement to greet the new babies warmly. Suguta was a little overawed initially, and Wendi sensing this paid special attention to her, tenderly hugging and guiding her. The Nursery babies basked in all this, and for Suguta, who arrived in the Nairobi Nursery so young, this was indeed a very dramatic day, for these were the biggest elephants she had ever seen.
Wendi’s herd accompanied the newcomers into the bush, and showered them with much love and attention. They were constantly surrounded and gently hugged and touched and fussed over. Watching their change of roles was fascinating as they went from being the little Matriarchs of the Nursery, to now suddenly reverting back to being babies again, with calf-mother behaviour such as feeding out of the older orphans mouths, and basking in all the attention. Wendi stayed close to Suguta, obviously sensing she needed the most guidance and comfort. Galana and Naserian showed a keen interest in Melia and Tumaren but both Tumaren and Melia were orphaned older, and clearly they still had good memories of their wild life before being orphaned and were adapting into their new life fast. For Melia she was in fact returning home, as she was rescued from Tsavo East National Park.
Suguta despite arriving at the Nursery as a tiny baby, never having known anything but the Keepers and her Nursery life, calmed down quickly, and by day two was no longer clinging to the Keepers. She was clearly enjoying the company and attention for the older ex orphans, and relished the attention given to her by Wendi. It was heartwarming to watch the new arrivals so quickly settle in to Ithumba life, adapting to a new place and routine, under the watchful eye of Wendi and her group of ex Orphans, and of course our Ithumba Keepers headed by Benjamen.