He is one of the Stars of the IMAX film Born To Be Wild, a remarkable little Elephant (the equivalent in age of a human baby of that age) who came to the Nursery on 22nd May 2009 when just 5 or 6 months old, minus his tail and with hindquarters and legs chewed by the hyenas who came to feast on the body of his poached mother near the Chuyulu Entrance to Tsavo West National Park, not far from Kilaguni Lodge. From the outset little Kilaguni, as he was named, was different to most others who come in at that age. Old enough to understand that humans were the arch enemies of his kind, he knew he was being helped, and was grateful to have been spared torn asunder by predators, even by the enemy.
He was flown to the Nairobi Nursery, arriving just after dark, and our first words were too calm for comfort, for normally a calf of his age comes in fearful and aggressive, with just one mission in mind to kill those that are responsible for so much suffering. Kilaguni was exceptional. He was calm, gentle and loving, despite the pain of his wounds which had to be cleaned and dressed, plus the usual prophylactic injections as a precaution against pneumonia that he also had to endure. Instead, he simply sucked on the fingers of his Keepers for comfort, and took the milk and water that was offered to him with no hint of resistance. We feared that he had lost the will to even try to live.
His wounds were severe. His entire tail had been bitten off, leaving just a swollen stump at the base, surrounding tooth punctures clearly visible and bite size chunks taken from both ears, as well as wounds on his back legs, some fairly deep. Judging by his physical condition he had probably been without his mother for a couple of days desperately trying to ward off predators. He was so calm that the very next morning we decided to let him to join the other Nursery elephants, despite another complication - life threatening diarrheoa which entailed an oral antibiotics. The other Nursery elephants were brought to his Stockade door and surrounded him, rumbling and touching him gently with trunks. He instantly chose Tassia as his special friend who was his night neighbour in the adjoining Stockade. He was, as usual, embraced by all the others with an outpouring of compassion and empathy, many focusing on his wounded hindquarters. Kilaguni recovered and thrived from the start, but he was obviously conscious of having to live without a tail which made him different to all his peers. At the noon mudbath, when the public are allowed in to see the orphans take a mudbath, weather permitting, he would turn to display his stump to all the visitors, who oohed and aahed sympathetically, something that he obviously appreciated and expected. This became a daily event. But, yet another complication occurred as he grew and began to eat more browse, hardening the stools into boluses. He had difficulty passing them, since the scar tissue around his anal opening had lost its normal elasticity. In obvious discomfort, he turned to his Keepers who literally had to insert their hands and scoop out the waste, something he endured, again, with astonishing calm resignation. The Vet ruled out surgical intervention to widen his anus which would simply result in yet more scar tissue, and cause further pain. Instead he suggested the addition of molasses to his milk to soften his stools, and this had the desired affect.
By the 7th June 2010 Kilaguni and Nursery peers Chaimu and Sabachi were of an age when they could take the next step in their long journey back to the natural world where they rightly belonged, to be gradually introduced and returned to their wild kin in a National Park sufficiently large to offer a grown elephant a quality of life. Three large trucks parked at the Nursery Loading Bay heralded this important event celebrating the fact that three more infant elephant orphans had survived their fragile infancy and had reached graduation day from the Nursery. Now it was time to expose them to a natural wild situation so that the inborn genetic memory that we term instinct could come into play. Also at hand on that day were an IMAX film crew with all their sophisticated equipment of trolleys and cranes to wield the huge IMAX camera and film the orphans in 3D for the Big Screen. Kilaguni walked calmly into his waiting truck, but Sabachi and Chaimu needed a little more coaxing. Laboriously, the convoy of borrowed trucks bumped and luched over rutted wash-aways, erosion gulleys, broken culverts and dust six inches deep on the road leading to the Ithumba entrance of Northern Tsavo East National Park, until finally the convoy reached the Park Entrance Gate and the pristine surroundings of the natural world replaced the grot of humanity. At the Ithumba Stockades the IMAX film crew were poised to record the reception given to the three new elephants set to join their Keeper Dependent peers based at night in the Ithumba Stockades. Meanwhile, some 30 Ex Orphans under the Matriarchship of Yatta, now living wild in Northern Tsavo were somewhere out in the vastness of the bush, but Kinna apparently peeled off and hurried back to the Stockades as the vehicles approached the Entrance to the Park, to await the arrival of the newcomers. This mysterious event happens every time newcomers from the Nursery are en route to the Rehabilitation facilities, but was surprising in that the three Nursery elephants being moved this time had only shared a brief time with Orphan Meibai in the Nursery, and would be strangers to all others. It was yet another demonstration of mysterious elephant perception that defies human explanation. First to emerge from the trucks parked against the Unloading Bay at the Ithumba Stockades was Kilaguni, and deliberately so, because we knew he could be counted upon to provide a calming influence over the other two more feisty babies, Sabachi and Chiamu. Sabachi emerged in an anxious frame of mind, running around in confusion until he spotted Kilaguni at the Stockade water trough, and ran to join him before accepting his milk. Chaimu did likewise, and when all three newcomers were more settled, Head Keeper Benjamin radioed the Keepers who were with the Keeper Dependent Youngsters, and Ex Orphan Kinna who had joined them, to come and greet the new arrivals. As always the greeting was exuberant, enthusiastic, warm and loving. All the established orphans crowded around the newcomers, which at first the three found a little overwhelming, especially as Kinna then aged l0, towered over them all. That same afternoon Yatta and all the rest of the Ex Orphan herd also came to greet the newcomers, amongst them a wild bull of about 14 who had become part of the herd and whom we named Mgeni (the visitor). It was an incredible sight to witness the outpouring of affection and concern by 30 large now ostensibly wild Ex Orphans for the three tiny miniatures in their midst, attended by the human family who had steered them through early infancy. Most memorable of all was the instant recognition by the Ex Orphan herd of the Keepers who had accompanied the three newcomers from Nairobi, some of whom they had not seen for the past l0 years, reinforcing yet again the fact that Elephants Never Forget. It was not only the babies who were overwhelmed, but also those particular Keepers, many of whom were so touched that they were in tears. And meanwhile, all this was captured for the Big IMAX screen on camera. When the Keeper Dependent Orphans had returned to their Night Stockades, the Ex Orphans remained in the yard, watching them closely before wandering off to browse nearby during the hours of darkness. But, early the next morning they were all back to greet the Youngsters as they emerged from their Night Stockades, and remained with them throughout the day, accompanying them to their noon mud and dustbath, were the huge IMAX camera had again been hoisted aloft to capture an unforgettable scene for the film Born To Be Wild, filmed in 3D. As the Orphan herd, plus wild boy Mgeni bathed and dusted themselves with red earth, the IMAX camera swiveled overhead and around them, clouds of red soil thrown swirling around them. Wild boy Mgeni was in their midst, inconspicuous amongst all the Orphans, just as though he had always belonged. Kilaguni, Sabachi have remained firm friends. Sparring partners who enjoy testing their strength against one another, and who often separate themselves from the plethora of bigger girls who are intolerant of male rough and tumbles. Kilaguni has grown as he should, but for one bout which needed the assistance of his Keepers and the addition of molasses to his milk. At 4 - 5 years old he is still gentle, loving and polite a very special little elephant whose trust of his human rescuers has touched so many human hears all over the world, and who has humbled us humans with such a graphic demonstrating of forgiveness, bearing in mind, that as an Elephant, he Never Forgets.
Our ability to rescue and care for orphaned elephants like Kilaguni, so that they might be afforded a second chance at life in the wild when grown, is reliant on contributions from a compassionate global public. Any amount you feel able to give today helps us provide for the orphans in our care and those other elephants in need of our help http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/html/help.html Thank you