For weeks 3 large Safari vehicles had been parked against the Loading Bays at the Trust’s Nairobi Infant Elephant Nursery, awaiting the first rains in Tsavo in order to be able to move 5 of the older Nursery inmates to the two Reintegration Centers in Tsavo East National Park. There they would embark on the journey back into the wild elephant community within a large Protected Area that would offer them the space an elephant needs for a quality of life, a journey that will take at least another 5 – 8 years before they become independent of their elephant Keepers, for elephants lives duplicate our own. Five of the Nursery inmates were now old and fit enough to be upgraded, and it was also urgent to free up space in the Nursery for others sure to be brought in as a result of what has been probably the worst and most severe drought in the history of the country.
Having heard that the first rain had fallen in Tsavo, the move of Kenia and Shira to Voi, (to join Lesanju’s unit who were already known to them, particularly Kenia, from Nursery time) and Enesoit, Meibai and Naimina to Ithumba (for whom Lesanju’s unit would be strangers) was planned for Wednesday 4th November. With traffic in Nairobi often gridlocked from dawn until dusk, an earlier than dawn departure was planned.
Wake-up on the 4th was at 3.30 a.m. so that the milk feed would be the carrot to get the elephants that were going into their respective vehicles for the journey. Since all had enjoyed many weeks of practice, this loading was one of the smoothest we had ever experienced. All went in without hesitation; Kenia and Shira in one large vehicle, Enesoit and Naimina in another, and Meibai, (the largest of the candidates) in a amaller Canter on his own. All, of course, had their Keepers with them for company during the journey armed with bottles of milk and cut greens.
Except for one slight hitch, when the truck carrying Kenia and Shira failed to start do to the battery being flat, and had to have a tow-start, all three trucks were pulling out of the yard by 4.30 a.m., waved on their way by all the Nursery Staff who lined up to see the elephants off and wish them well. They would be missed of course by all, but especially by their little elephant friends, especially Dida, who has always been very close to Kenia, and upon whose shoulders leadership of the Nursery orphans would now rest.
By 7 a.m. the convoy carrying the elephants,(led by Robert Carr-Hartley and his father, Roy in a Landrover) were well past Salama on the main Nairobi – Mombasa highway, heading towards Kibwezi, where Lionel Nutter, our Tsavo Field Manager would be waiting to escort Kenia and Shira to the Voi Stockades. There Robert and the trucks carrying Meibai, Enesoit and Naimina would peel off the tarred Mombasa road to follow the rough dirt track to Ithumba. Theirs would be a more tiring, hot and longer more grueling journey than that of Kenia and Shira, who were at the Voi Stockades by 11 a.m., there welcomed warmly by Tassia and Taveta, who remembered them instantly. It took a little while for Lesanju, Lempaute, Wasessa and Sinya to recognize Kenia, who was no longer the small baby they remembered in the Nursery, usually separated from them to keep order amongst those even smaller! But they, too, soon began to take a keen interest in the newcomers, who meanwhile had settled in like veterans, and were soon enjoying a milk feed plus a cooling dousing of water over their heated bodies, followed by a glorious mudbath and a red dustbath that turned them the colour of Tsavo and the others. Acres of fresh new grass must have appeared as though manna from Heaven for the Nairobi newcomers, since there has been practically no substantial rain back at the Nursery for over a year. Escorted by the established elephants, Kenia and Shira were soon tucking into all this, and appeared small beside the others. As such they can be assured of endless pampering from the older females, and the companionship of the three little boys, Taveta, Tassia and laid back Shimba who simply took everything in his stride as though it was normal!
By the time Meibai, Enesoit and Naimina arrived at Ithumba, and the vehicles were parked against the Unloading Bay at those Stockades, Loijuk, (the new Leader of the Keeper Dependent Ithumba orphans, (Naserian having made the transition into Yatta’s ex orphaned Senior Group) was there to greet them, along with Sidai, Lualeni, Kora, and Sian. The welcome those three newcomers received was joyously touching and exceedingly exuberant. Since all three were orphaned at an age when they could recall their time as wild elephants, they were overjoyed to find themselves amongst older inmates, and in the midst of endless thickets of delicious and nutritious browse brought on by two heavy storms at Ithumba.
Having taken their milk, and enjoyed a cooling mudbath, Loijuk led the newcomers off into the bush beyond the Stockade compound, where another exceedingly exuberant and surprising greeting awaited them. Yatta, Wendi and the Senior ex orphans suddenly appeared as though by magic, obviously sensing that an unusual event had taken place back at base. Enesoit, Meibai and Naimina were soon in the midst of a huge herd of older elephants, all tenderly extending trunks to touch and greet them amidst trumpeting, bellowing and urinating. It must have been like a dream come true for three youngsters who not long ago had faced death, Meibai having arrived in the Nursery already comatose!
Thereafter all the elephants fed happily together as one large herd included amongst which was Yatta’s wild recruit, Mgeni along with some other wild attachments. Meibai and Enesoit could not get enough of the fresh new Ithumba greens, stuffing their mouths endlessly until their stomachs appeared barrel-like and it was time to return to the Stockades, satiated. There Loijuk ushered them in, while all the now wild ex orphans, Naserian included, lined up outside, watching closely. Loijuk cautioned them about the hot electrified wire surrounding their Night Stockade whenever they approached it, and they seemed to understand the message. Later, most of the ex orphans left, except Nasalot who remained glued to the Stockades all night, with eyes only for the three new “babies”, ready to escort them out into the bush in the morning. Meibai, Enesoit and Naimina were small “babies” at Ithumba, there to be nurtured and loved by those older. The 4th November was, indeed, a very happy occasion for 5 of our Nursery elephants, but for their little friends left behind in the Nursery, it was a sad occasion because loved ones had again been lost. We wished we could explain that the separation was only temporary, and that all being well one day they would be reunited to enjoy a second chance of life as part of a herd of ex Nursery inmates, all of whom would be their replacement loving and lifelong elephant family and that their Keepers would always be there for them back at base if needed.