In Ithumba, newborns seem to be arriving on a weekly basis! Our latest little miracle was introduced at the afternoon mud bath on Tuesday, 16th November. There was already a rather celebratory mood in the air, between all the tiny babies gamboling about and the orphans happily splashing in the water. The celebrations ramped up exponentially when Sunyei appeared with a brand new calf by her side.
Sunyei was accompanied by her firstborn, four-year-old Siku, along with fellow ex orphans Olare, Ishanga, Lualeni, Naserian, and Makireti. Lualeni and Naserian’s daughters, Lulu and Njema, were also in attendance, as was Mulika’s eldest, ten-year-old Mwende. (It is interesting to note that Mulika was not even present at the time, which shows what a tight-knit, extended family our ex orphans and their babies have become.) Yatta and her team of ex orphans had arrived just 20 minutes before, also from the western slopes of Ithumba Hill. We believe that Sunyei gave birth in the early hours of Tuesday morning, surrounded by all her lifelong friends.
We have named Sunyei’s daughter Saba, which means 'seven' in Swahili. This is a poignant name: Saba is the seventh calf born to our Ithumba ex orphans in 2021, following in the footsteps of Kaia, Njema, Noah, and Yogi. It is also a nod to the two calves who sadly did not make it, Makena’s Mumo and Galana’s newborn. As we said when Mumo passed, for all the miracles Mother Nature presents us with, the wild world can also be a heartbreaking place — especially during such a challenging dry season as the one we are in right now. We don’t take any new life for granted.
Happily, Saba appears to be a picture of health. She eagerly plods after her mum, unfazed by the loving throng of elephants who are constantly vying for a moment with her. Siku is an excellent big sister, following Saba’s every move with hawk-eyed vigilance. After being paraded around the mud bath, Saba settled in the shade for some milk and a rest. She later cooled off in the water trough, ably assisted by her mother and sister.
It made the Keepers swell with pride to see Sunyei shepherd her little one around. This elephant was raised by the human hand, but she has blossomed into an exemplary mother. We rescued Sunyei in 2003, after Samburu tribesmen found her stuck at the bottom of a hole in a dry riverbed. (Fittingly, her name is the Samburu word for “sand river”). Sunyei was only a week old at the time. After a brief sojourn at the local police station, she was brought to our Nairobi Nursery, where she spent the next two years. She graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit in 2005, where she continued to flourish. When Sunyei was ready to make the transition to the wild, she joined Yatta’s ex orphan herd, which she remains a part of to this day.
It is a very special time in Ithumba, to be surrounded by all this new life created by our orphans. Had these orphans not been given a second chance many years ago, their babies wouldn't be here today. This is the beauty of the Orphans’ Project, giving life to generations of elephants.