Published on the 27th of May, 2016
At last it was time for the naughty boys Olsekki and Enkikwe and their special friend Siangiki to make the journey to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Stockades in Tsavo. A running joke in the nursery was that Edwin, our Head Keeper, would be relieved to see these young bulls move on, especially greedy Olsekki, to become Benjamin’s ‘headache’, Benjamin being the Ithumba Head Keeper. Olsekki had been a handful in the Nursery, but the Ithumba Keepers were excited and eager to be receiving 3 new babies, albeit they perhaps did not fully appreciate what was in store for them with this naughty duo. However, whenever babies leave the Nursery to graduate to the Rehabilitation Units within the Tsavo Conservation Area, it is always a moment of mixed emotions – relief that hand-reared infants have come this far, and are one step closer to living a normal wild life, which is the ultimate gift of freedom one can give an elephant.
Hence, on the morning of the 24th at 3.30am the elephants were coaxed with a fresh batch of milk into their compartments on the Elephant Moving truck. All went smoothly, Siangiki being first in, until it was Enkikwe’s turn. He unexpectedly flatly refused to enter the lorry, despite having been cooperative during the practice sessions in the lead- up to this morning! Thankfully, Enkikwe suddenly complied, coaxed in by some freshly cut greens, extra milk and his favourite Keeper. Thereafter Olsekki was loaded, amazingly without a hitch, since he was the one that had been most reluctant hitherto during the practice sessions. By 4.05am the lorry and accompanying escort vehicle were on their way heading down the Mombasa Road and with light traffic at this early hour, the convoy made good head- way. Once it was light at 7.15 a.m., the lorry stopped so that the Keepers on board could cut fresh greens for the elephants which were devoured appreciatively as the keepers tried to put them in place so that all had their fair share. The lorry pulled up at the Ithumba Stockades at 10.40am, when the doors were opened for our babies to disembark and explore their new home.
Apprehensive at first, they remained close to the Keepers who had travelled with them, as they investigated new smells and a horizon that stretched far into the distance. Olsekki came out first, followed by Siangiki and then Enkikwe. They were all in good condition and drank their fresh bottles of milk before walking to the water trough for a much needed drink of water. Olsekki seemed slightly more bewildered than the other two, holding his head high with his trunk in the air trying make sense of all that lay before him. Trumpeting his concern to his Keepers, they called him back to the water trough and soothed him by repeatedly calling his name. After some 5 minutes had passed, their friends from their Nursery days, who had graduated to Ithumba almost a year ago to the day, arrived for milk and to greet the newcomers who would, of course, remember them. Barsilinga, Kithaka and Lemoyian all came running in, eager for their milk but also distracted by the smell of the lorry and of new arrivals! As soon as they had downed their milk, they ran to the water trough to meet the new babies, Lemoyian at first looking slightly apprehensive of Olsekki, initially backing away from him, whereas the others were very welcoming, Siangiki still attached to her Keeper from Nairobi although she appeared relaxed enough – even sleepy as a Keeper stroked her head to reassure her. Olsekki appeared the most unsure and seemed to be seeking the Keepers and his other Nursery friends such as Sirimon, Oltaiyoni and other members of his previous herd, unaware of course that they too would be joining him in Tsavo in the coming weeks.
Soon all the dependent orphans converged at the compound for their feed and to greet the new arrivals, but behind them followed the newly independent group led by Mutara, followed by Sities, Suguta, Kanjoro and Olare – all eager to meet the babies amidst a frenzy of welcome trumpeting and rumbling, smelling and jostling. This is not uncommon, for it is usual for all the now independent Ex Orphans living wild to come to the stockades whenever new arrivals come, mysteriously able to anticipate every new arrival possibly through telepathic capabilities, which years of experience have taught us that elephants certainly possess. Suguta and Olare showed the most interest in the young ones, Laragai was a bit pushy but Mutara and Shukuru were jostling to be as close as possible to the babies, touching them around the tummy with their trunks to comfort them and generally showering them with attention. It must be somewhat daunting for newcomers to be confronted by such large elephants, especially for those who are used to being the largest in the Nursery herd over the last few years! However, we know the babies will adapt and settle soon enough when used to the new routine and surroundings. These new arrivals will remain dependent on their milk and Keepers for several years yet as they embark on their journey back into the wilds of Tsavo. Elephants duplicate us humans in terms of age progression, and since “they never forget” they will always remember their erstwhile human family who steered them through early infancy and childhood back to where they truly belong.
After the initial greeting all the dependent babies made their way out to the bush to browse for the rest of the day, following their familiar Keepers and new friends. Of all three newcomers, Enkikwe seemed to adapt more easily, browsing happily and enjoying the new greens that Ithumba had to offer.
The babies returned to the Stockades in the afternoon at 5pm to a new arrangement, since 3 or 4 orphans share a larger pen, and were with Narok. However, more excitement was yet to come for after Mutara and Olare’s herd, who had accompanied them back to the stockades, moved away from the compound into the bush, Olare refused to leave, lying down in the stockade compound as if in protest at having to go because it was bed time for the dependent orphans! Later she remained, drinking from the trough outside near 3 wild bulls who turned up for a drink as well. Clearly she was delighted by the new arrivals and could not tear herself away.
Then from the east of the stockade, the independent group of Chaimu and Makireti turned up, included amongst whom were Kilaguni, Kalama, Naisula, Chemi Chemi and Kasigau. Then at dusk, around 6.30pm, the entire Ex Orphan herd led by Yatta, included amongst whom were Wendi’s group and one wild bull, slowly sauntered into the stockade area, joining up with 3 other wild bulls and Olare who were still drinking from the water trough. It was an incredible spectacle - every member of our Ex Orphans in the orbit of the stockades at that time, bar Tomboi and some of the other bulls such as Ololoo – all gathered to complete the welcome of the new babies. Wendi and Loijuk and later Zurura and Makena also wanted to come into the compound to be near the new orphans.
The next morning, when the dependent babies left their Night Stockades, Nasalot was there, extremely interested in them, with Olare still hovering around. They settled down into the routine very well but head Keeper Benjamin was soon to learn what he had inherited in these greedy naughty boys. Olsekki was very greedy at the mud bath milk feed, trying to grab more than his share and scattering bottles of milk. Caught off guard and not fully appreciating what a handful he could be, the Keepers were taught a stern lesson on day one! However, the babies spent a very lovely day exploring with the attentive dependent group, and that afternoon they were again treated to a visit from the excited independent orphans, with Kanjoro, Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, Kainuk, Olare, Kibo Mutara crowding in on them. Then Kilaguni came in with others like Kalama, Naisula, Chemi Chemi, Kasigau, Makireti and Chaimu. By the second night, our three new arrivals seemed to have come to grips with the routine and seemed enthralled by the presence of the bigger elephants, relishing being the spoilt little ones for a change.