Published on the 9th of December, 2015
The move of Arruba, Mashariki and Rorogoi was originally planned for the 19th of November, and the loading process went extremely smoothly on that day with the three orphans safely loaded and ready to go by 4.00pm sharp. However, drama struck two hours out of Nairobi when due to torrential rains and bogged diversions on the Mombasa Nairobi highway, an overturned truck created a road block with literally hundreds of trucks gridlocked stretching over 20 kms. The decision was immediately made to abort the trip, as we could not possibly risk the elephants subjected to lengthy delays while incarcerated in the Elephant Moving Truck. And so these three little girls were safely delivered back home and seemed completely unperturbed – in fact they went for their 9a.m. morning feed taken again actually in the truck, as we were mindful that they would need to be reloaded at a later date. That somewhat surreal morning seemed to leave them completely unfazed, or so we thought, judging by their behavior.
The move was again planned for the 4th of December when the three girls were woken at 3 a.m, given a tranquilizer injection to take the edge off the experience and loaded again, Rorogoi going into the truck first without a problem. However, when Arruba and Mashariki saw the night time scenario set up again, with masses of Keepers milling around, and lights strung in the trees, they instantly knew that something was up, and flatly refused to be loaded, even sitting on their haunches in defiance. A strap was placed around their forelegs and together with a bottle of milk for further temptation; they were muscled into the truck. Once within they appeared resigned, taking their milk bottles with great enthusiasm and remaining silent and calm, so this time the “elephant convoy” left at around 4.30 a.m. having been slightly delayed.
The Elephant Moving Truck negotiated the usually congested Nairobi roads with ease due to the early hour, and thankfully on this morning the heavy rain stayed away replaced by just a light drizzle and low mist which kept conditions cool. However, as the journey proceeded, the temperatures rose but thankfully the ventilation in the customized vehicle proved adequate and the built- in water tank ensured that the orphans could be cooled down if need be. Despite all the extra morning milk bottles, Mashariki was loudly demanding greens, so the truck stopped twice en route to cut extra branches for the hungry orphans who spent the rest of their journey feeding, with the exception of Rorogoi who remained quiet throughout the journey succumbing to the effects of the Stressnil. Arruba somehow managed to lift her gate forcing the truck to stop for a third time in order to replace it back securely on its hinges.
The Truck finally climbed the incline leading to the Voi stockades at 11 a.m. and all the Voi dependent orphans were there waiting, fully aware that an ‘event’ was unfolding on this day. Lesanju and Wasessa were the first to approach the fence separating the mud wallow from the loading bay, raising their trunks in anticipation, as they knew that more babies were arriving into their fold. Their excitement was clearly evident.
Mashariki was the first off the truck and eagerly took yet another bottle of milk. The Voi Keepers opened the gate separating the Big Girls and Wasessa and Lesanju rushed forward to greet the newcomers with so much enthusiasm that it left Mashariki somewhat daunted. Intimidated by their size, she took off in the opposite direction but was soon lured back by the Keepers soon to be enveloped by the waiting herd. Wasessa and Lesanju were stationed at the Truck doors to embrace Arruba and Rorogoi as they exited the vehicle. Naipoki said a brief “hello” to Mashariki but soon the smaller Voi dependent orphans had to move off to make way for the Big Girls so that they too could truly welcome the new babies. Their love, gentle assurance and protective aura calmed the babies, and within no time at all it was though they had been there their whole life.
All three of the newcomers originated from the Southern section of Tsavo East and somewhere they must have remembered this as home, for the scents, the food, and the vast landscape was probably familiar because they all appeared extremely content very rapidly. Ironically it was old Nursery friends Tundani, Nelion and Lentili who were the most stand-offish; perhaps a little jealous of the attention lavished on the new arrivals. Only about an hour later they came to give their old friends a warm greeting.
The Keepers allowed the elephants to intermingle for a while before calling the new arrivals towards the water hole. Arruba and Mashariki were clearly feeling the heat, since Tsavo is significantly hotter than Nairobi temperatures. Enthusiastically they cooled themselves with water, Mashariki actually climbing into the waterhole and Lesanju following to ensure that she had company. In his excitement Taveta attempted to mount Arruba, but the Keepers intervened to thwart his attempt. Meanwhile Rorogoi was eclipsed in the midst of all the other orphans both big and small and it wasn’t long before they were all in the mudbath making it difficult to differentiate the new arrivals from the residents. After a while the Keepers summonsed their charges and Arruba and Mashariki responded, the others following closely behind. Arruba and Mashariki then led the orphans into the bush for the first time, leaving Rorogoi behind, but she soon realized that her Nursery friends had gone and was quick to catch up. Once out in the bush, Tundani, Lentili and Nelion spent time communicating with them, while Sinya undertook baby- sitting duties.
At 5pm, when it was time to return to the stockades, Arruba, Rorogoi and Mashariki were led back first for their milk and having gulped down their bottles, they returned to the waterhole to again cool themselves and by the time the others came in, the new arrivals were clearly distinguishable being the wettest orphans in the herd. Rorogoi, overcame her shyness, and was soon back to her old tricks; reaching through the wire fence to try and sneak an extra milk bottle and even trying to push Panda away in order to try and usurp her share.
Once the milk feeding was done, the Keepers led the orphans to their Night Stockades, Arruba and Mashariki following Lentili, Tundani, and Ndoria into the Juniors’ Stockade. Wasessa and Lesanju, with the other Big Orphans tried to follow them but the Keepers intervened to restrain them, although Rorogoi found herself caught up in amongst the larger orphans and with Wasessa, Sinya, and Lesanju went into the older orphans’ Night Stockade, which is left open for them to wander freely at night. However, as soon as she heard her Keepers calling her, she quickly turned around and joined the Juniors whilst Arruba and Mashariki were totally at home mingling amongst the herd. At first Rorogoi seemed somewhat displaced, but in fact it soon became clear that she was checking the other browse piles to see if there was anything more that she could steal! Having then picked put a few tasty branches, she returned to join her friends.
The orphans slept well throughout the night and didn’t call out in their new, shared, surroundings. Lesanju’s herd remained within their Open Stockade, obviously wanting to stay close to monitor their young charges. At dawn the newcomers were waiting patiently for their milk at the Stockade Gate and already knew where to go the moment the door was opened. There they were quickly joined by the slightly larger orphans and then the oldest ones. When Lesanju’s herd came down to the water hole, the younger orphans moved aside after which Arruba, Mashariki and Rorogoi led the way into the nearby bush and immediately started browsing near Sinya, joined by the other orphans, none of whom were in a rush to go anywhere. As the herd ascended the slopes of Mzima Hill, the newcomers appeared quite at home, easily negotiating the unfamiliar rocky terrain and enjoying the new sights, smells and food that encompassed them. We look forward to following their progress and watching these Mini Nursery Matriarchs assimilate into the orphan herd, now being the babies of the group. This will be a significant change for them, especially for young Arruba, but we know they will embrace their journey back into the wild, a journey that will take many years under our watchful eye. The first steps of that journey have been accomplished successfully and the newcomers seem genuinely happy in their new home, surrounded by a very loving adopted elephant family, and like many of our Ex Orphans, no doubt will one day know the joy of a family of their very own with the birth of wild- born babies.