The Kenya Wildlife Service are currently in the process of translocating another 250 elephants from the Shimba Hills National Reserve to Tsavo East National Park, which is, the second phase of a massive exercise to move 400 elephants out of Shimba, which is a small Sanctuary with a rare coastal forest, close to dense human settlement which has brought sanctuary to many elephant refugees fleeing the poaching holocaust of the early seventies, eighties and early nineties. Being a fertile place, there has been a great deal of human/elephant conflict in the area, so this operation was ordered by the President last year following complaints from the neighboring communities. This is the largest translocation of elephants ever undertaken, and the Kenya Government must be commended for not having taken the easier option of killing them instead. Sadly the electric fence aimed at segregating the elephants from croplands has also either been vandalized or fallen into disrepair, and this has been a contributory factor to the human wildlife conflict.
The mother of our latest 6 week old orphan, named “Shimba”, died shortly after having been moved to Tsavo along with other members of her elephant family. Unhappily, much of her trunk had previously been severed by a wire snare, and although the wound had healed, it had left her weakened since her ability to forage had been inhibited; her condition exacerbated by recently having given birth to a bull calf.
The dead mother was spotted by a road maintenance team at 11.00am on the 1st October, 2006, with the tiny calf beside her body near the second pass in the Yatta, named Thabangunji. She had, apparently, been dead for about twenty four hours, and it is a miracle that the baby had not fallen victim to predators.
Our Voi Keepers were alerted by the Voi KWS Research Officer and immediately drove to Thabanguni which is just North of the Galana River. Coincidentally, and it so happened that Robert Carr-Hartley was at Ithumba, having driven there on the 30th to film the arrival of Kora and Lualeni, and the subsequent reunion with all their ex Nursery friends. He, too, was alerted by radio, and set off immediately for Thabangunji where he met up with our Keepers, who had already located the body of the mother, but found no sign of the calf. Having fanned out to scour the surrounding bush, eventually they spotted the baby coming down from the nearby Yatta Plateau and eventually found him resting in the shade of a tree. Desperately thirsty, the baby seemed happy to have human company, and charged towards the Keepers with outspread ears. Later he followed them, swinging his tiny trunk from side to side, and en route to the waiting vehicle, unhappily had to pass by the body of his dead mother. Immediately, he ran to her, going down on his knees to desperately try and suckle her and climbing over her in an attempt to rouse her again – a heartbreaking sight, indeed. Protesting loudly at being taken from his mother, he was cooled down by being given a little mudbath, and a long drink of water and rehydration before being loaded onto the waiting Pickup van and driven to a bush airstrip near Lugards Falls, there to await the arrival of the rescue plane.
Meanwhile, we in Nairobi very fortunately managed to locate a Chartered plane heading to Finchattens Camp in Tsavo West to drop clients, and the pilot diverted on the way back in order to collect the calf from Lugards Falls airfield. Little Shimba, who is about 6 weeks old, arrived at 7 p.m., just as it was getting dark having already downed copious quantities of rehydration fluid and a weak mixture of milk. He was extremely traumatized and very restless throughout the night, sleeping only for a few minutes, and then waking up to bellow his anguish, something that inevitably upset and disturbed the night of all of the other Nursery inmates as well as everyone in the compound and not least, of course, who were assigned the duty of being with him throughout the night. Loijuk, who was next door, was especially troubled to see and hear the distress of this new baby, anxiously reaching out her trunk through the separating bars and rumbling to him. His bellows also distressed Sian, so it was a sleepless night for all! However, the good news is that little Shimba is a fighter, and although psychologically disturbed having weathered such a nightmarish few days in his short life, he is in good physical shape and hopefully has the resilience to cope and settle down to life amongst his orphan peers. He is, indeed, a very lucky little elephant to still even be alive, but we grieve for his poor mother and for all the others that will be forced from their lush Shimba home and have to undergo a terrifying time as well as adjust to the very different environment of Tsavo. However, in the end, they will find themselves in a better place that can offer them the space they need, far removed from dreaded humans.
After his first very disturbed night, little Shimba has settled down remarkably well, and is now firmly attached to his Keeper Attendants. He loves being stroked and fondled, feeds well, and has slept peacefully in between feeds. We can expect some digestive problems from a change of milk, but he has the reserves to cope, so his future looks bright.