The Big Boys

The Trust now has l0 “Big Boys”, raised through our Nairobi Nursery as orphaned infants, and now grown and living free and wild amongst their wild peers in Tsavo National Park

The Trust now has l0 “Big Boys”, raised through our Nairobi Nursery as orphaned infants, and now grown and living free and wild amongst their wild peers in Tsavo National Park.   The Bulls are the Scouts of Elephant Society, and they travel far and wide, covering enormous distances in response to a genetic memory, and the desire to investigate new pastures for the cow herds.   From the radio collaring of Bull elephants in Northern Kenya, this fact has been scientifically established and we also have personal experience, because Orphan Imenti walked l00 miles in a day, turned round and walked l00 miles the next, and Orphan Ndume walked from Tsavo West back to his home in Tsavo East, a distance of over one hundred miles.   It is therefore not surprising that our now grown Big Boys are sometimes absent for many moons, and even years before renewing contact – a case in point Orphan Taru, who was absent for some l0 years before showing up again.

The most regular Very Big Boy visitor who returns to renew contact with the still dependent orphans of the Voi Unit is l9 year old Dika, orphaned by poachers in l988 when just 3 months old, and his mother and family were slaughtered by poachers in a hail of gunfire.   He was found alone and confused in a small patch of thorn bush a tiny survivor of this massacre within a traditional migratory route between Tsavo West and East.   Once back in our Nairobi Nursery, it took days to extract all the thorns that had skewered almost every inch of his flesh, and months to heal him psychologically, so deep and protracted was his grieving for his lost mother and elephant family.   Today, Dika is a magnificent Bull, still always  friendly and gentle, who greets the still dependent youngsters fondly and tenderly whenever he happens to call.  He has unfortunately recently broken his left tusk which is unfortunate.

The most regular Big Boy visitor to the dependent youngsters of the Voi Unit, however, is 13 year old Uaso, rescued as an l8 month old from the flooded Uaso Nyiro river on Loisaba Ranch in Northern Kenya.   Uaso has the “hots” for Edie, as does Dika, both regularly singling her out for special attention, much to the displeasure of the Voi Unit’s still dependent biggest Boy, 8 year old Laikipia, who doesn’t like seeing Edie pestered by Bigger Boys, but can’t do much about it without risking a serious thrashing!   Uaso spends a lot of time with Emily’s now wild unit as well, and is often amongst the escort party that turn up to take the youngsters from the Stockades and out into the bush in the early mornings.   When Aitong’s Bigger Wild Suitors turn up, Uaso has to keep a safe distance apart, and is careful to do so.

Also recent regular visitors are some very tame Wild Boys, who are not only very comfortable with the Keepers around but also familiar with the still dependent Unit, and who also sometimes turn up at the Stockades and happily go back in if the gates happen to be ajar.   None of the current Voi Unit Keepers recognize these visitors, but by their behaviour, are pretty sure that they must also be ex Orphans.   We believe that one could be Ajok who came to the Nursery in May l990 from the Turkwell Gorge in Turkana aged just l week, and who was raised in the Nursery without the company of the others that had moved on to Voi ahead of him.   When he eventually joined the Voi orphans, he befriended a wild age-mate and left when just 4 years old.    Ajok would now be a bull of 17, and we are pretty sure that he is very likely to be one of the “Wild Boys” mentioned in the Keepers Diaries.

Another could be 13 year old Orphan Lominyek, whose mother died in a hail of automatic gunfire from poachers in Samburu National Reserve when he was l8 months old, and who, himself, suffered a bullet wound in the leg.   Lominyek was only with us for about 7 months before befriending a tuskless wild Matriarch, and leaving the orphans to become a permanent member of her herd.   Thereafter, he was occasionally seen by the then Keepers with this wild herd on the Voi River when he would come over to greet the orphans, but had no inclination to rejoin them, very comfortable with his new mother and family.

Another possibility could be 11 year old Lewa, orphaned at Lewa Downs when l year old, and flown directly to join the Voi Orphans in Tsavo.   Along with Orphan Ndume, he was moved to Tsavo West some 7 years ago, and since Ndume returned back home, it is conceivable that Lewa might have followed suit, now that he is older.   Like humans, I think in elephants there is a definite desire to return back to a place fondly regarded as “home”, and Lewa would undoubtedly look upon the Voi Stockades as his early “home”, having gone there so young.        

It is very normal for bull elephants to leave their natal family, or in the case of the orphans, their adopted family, at the age of puberty, and attach themselves to higher ranking Males, who tutor them in the disciplines that male elephants need to learn in order to limit conflict, for when Bull Elephants really fight, one or other usually ends up either mortally wounded or killed, so powerful are they as combatants.   Therefore Nature limits conflict in subtle ways - through hormone deposits exuded by the temporal glands and the penis, from which other bulls in the vicinity can size up their rivals when attracted by a cow in season before risking engagement.

Orphans Olmeg and Taru, the first newborns reared in our Nairobi Nursery way back in l987, would now be Bulls of over 20 and therefore Very Big Boys.   Taru is distinctive, since his trunk was bitten by orphaned Rhino “Sam”, so one finger of the trunk hangs free.   He returned briefly after an absence of some 10 years, but has not been recognized since, obviously fully occupied further afield than Dika and Uaso.   Similarly Olmeg was last seen near Tsavo East’s Eastern boundary, which is also a long way from “home”, but none of the current Keepers would know him, so he could well be amongst the Very Big Wild Boy visitors.

When ex orphans return to renew contact, the Keepers are instructed not to approach them, but to give them space, since they could have another view of humans imparted by their wild peers.   If the visiting ex Orphan wants to greet the human Keepers, he will approach them, rather than the other way round, for ex orphans now living wild may not want human scent on their bodies, for obvious reasons.   Humans, sadly, are pariahs within the Animal Kingdom and human scent is anathema  to those living a normal wild life further afield from the Voi Unit, who may not understand its origin.