It is now April 2004 and when a huge teenager Bull strode in to join our Tsavo orphans, and was greeted tentatively by Emily and Aitong, who outstretched their trunks in greeting, it caused quite a stir, both amongst our Keepers and the herd of Tsavo orphans – not surprisingly, because DIKA is, indeed, now a very impressive 16 year old, big in stature for his 16 years, with long thick tusks, and one who dwarfs all those still in our care. We cast our minds back to November 1988 when a heartbroken tiny little 3 month old calf was brought into the Nairobi Nursery, with large acacia thorns protruding from every inch of his body having fled through a thorn thicket when his mother and elephant family were gunned down in a hail of gunfire at the hands of poachers.
Dika, named after the Dika plains of Tsavo East, is from the Tsavo elephant population, since he was found confused and alone on a small patch of private land sandwiched between Tsavo West and East. Back in our Nairobi Nursery, it took days to extract all the thorns from his flesh and months to heal him psychologically, for so deep was his grieving for his mother and lost herd that we doubted that he would ever recover fully. For four long months he stood forlornly apart from all the others, with watering eyes and depression expressed graphically in a dejected body language. He took his milk only reluctantly, had difficulty sleeping at night, often crying out in anguish plagued by nightmares.
We doubted that we would ever experience the joy of seeing him play as a normal baby elephant should, but surely and slowly, after months of gentle handling and endless coaxing and patience from his Keepers that day duly dawned and we all rejoiced. We knew now, that he wanted to live, instead of simply hoping to be able to die.
How can we possibly describe the feeling of pride and awe we experience when we see Dika as he is today, a huge, impressive bull elephant towering over the other elephants, with fine long white tusks, and back where he rightly belongs leading a life of freedom that is the birthright of all wild creatures. Today Dika roams the great 8,000 square mile wilderness that is Tsavo, which reaches beyond all visible horizons, just as a confident bull elephant should. Yet, when he returns, which he does only infrequently, he is as gentle and trustworthy as ever. What greater reward for all our labours than this! Testimony to this is an incident that happened about four years ago, when, after an absence of several years, Dika returned to the Night Stockades in Voi, trailing a snare around a back leg, and with a wound near his temporal gland on the face. Without hesitation, he simply extended the snared leg, and without flinching, allowed the Keepers to remove it, which must have entailed pain, since the cable had dug deep into the flesh. Then he allowed our Head Keeper, Mishak, to reach up and syringe out his temporal wound, which was sceptic and badly infected. For several days thereafter, he returned to have his face wound treated, and once it was on the mend, off he went again to who knows where, on his bull elephant travels.
Dika is a beautiful elephant, both in body and in mind.
Turning back the pages of our photo albums, and seeing him as he was 16 years ago, a tiny broken-hearted baby, we feel we must share this sense of pride and joy with all those that have helped us achieve this – everyone that has supported us over the years, and particularly the foster-parents of this great bull. It is they, particularly, that we want to show the image of Dika as he is today.