The Saga of Imenti, Ndume and Lewa

The densely populated town of Voi has expanded right up to the boundary of Tsavo East National Park, a boundary that was supposed to be electrically fenced to protect the people from the elephants and the elephants from the people

The densely populated town of Voi has expanded right up to the boundary of Tsavo East National Park, a boundary that was supposed to be electrically fenced to protect the people from the elephants and the elephants from the people. However, it transpired that the money ran out, and hence this barrier fence stops short of achieving this objective. This has proved an enormous hazard for those Orphaned Elephants collectively known as "The Big Boys", who have graduated from the human family that replaced their lost elephant one in infancy, and who are now comfortable consorting with the wild herds. It must be remembered that female elephants remain within the family for life, but young bulls leave the natal family to apprentice themselves to high ranking bull elephants, there to learn the disciplines that govern male elephant society - a society where Nature has to limit conflict, for obvious reasons. Little bulls, right from a very early age, develop "hero-worships" on those bigger, older, and as such more dominant, and our orphans are no exception. Supporters of the Trust will be conversant with the story posted on our web page of Ndume, Imenti and Lewa, and this is another episode of this saga.

One of the Big Boys, and the most adventurous of all, is "Ndume", orphaned along with "Malaika" when his beleaguered herd wandered into the settlement that now surrounds their tiny forest home near Meru in the North - the Imenti Forest. There are few survivors in this remnant elephant population, those that remain completely cut off by dense human cultivation from their traditional migratory route to the forests of Mount Kenya. Another Imenti forest victim is a young bull called "Imenti" - the youngest orphaned elephant ever to have been successfully hand-reared in the entire world, for when he arrived on our doorstep he was still wet, soft and brand new, encased in the foetal membranes his mother would normally have removed. This presented us with a challenge, for it was obvious that he had never suckled his traumatised mother who probably dumped him whilst fleeing a hail of bullets.

Deprived of his mother's first Colostrum milk which imparts to a baby its immune system, Imenti's first months of life were plagued by life threatening ailments due to his deficient immune system which left him vulnerable to everything around. It is a miracle he survived at all because for months we had to battle desperately to save the life of this tiny newborn which flickered weakly close to death. Eventually plasma taken from "Malaika" (also an older Imenti Forest orphan), saved the day, and miraculously Imenti survived.

He shared his Nursery period with "Emily" and in the fullness of time both were transferred to take their place amongst the older orphans in Tsavo, there to begin their gradual reintegration back into the wild elephant community of that huge Park. Today "Emily" is the orphan "Matriarch", having taken the place of Malaika who died in childbirth in 2000. Imenti has always loved Emily dearly, and rather than spend more time with the Big Boys, as he should, he has chosen to devote most of his time to Emily and her charges, taking on the roll of "Protector", chasing away intruders in their path as they wander the wild spaces of Tsavo with their Keepers - intruders such as antelope, squirrels, buffalo and baboons (as long as they obligingly start to run away!). Latterly, he began to view some of the new Keepers as "intruders", and this was one of the reasons that led to the decision to move him to the Ngulia Valley of Tsavo West National Park along with Ndume and Lewa, thinking that they would remain together and provide company for one another in their new home. Ndume had been persistently leaving the Park Boundary, venturing into Voi town where he had discovered a Pig Farm, and there delicious "pig swill" was there for the taking, simply by inserting a trunk through an open window. On one occasion he returned with a poisoned arrow imbedded in his trunk, and on another with a deep spear wound in his thigh, both entailing the chartering of a plane in order to fly a Vet down, immobilisation in order for the operation to be performed, and, of course, after care.

During the third of Ndume's forays to the Pig Farm, he had persuaded Imenti and Lewa to come along too, and this time not only he, but little Lewa as well, returned with a spear gash which again needed veterinary intervention. "The Boys" (both big and little) were proving expensive, not to mention that venturing into human habitation is a recipe for disaster and can cost an elephant its life, immediately earning that elephant the stigma of being a "problem elephant" and as such a legitimate candidate for a bullet.

It was on the 5th October 2001 that Ndume, Imenti and Lewa were finally moved from their Tsavo East home; tranquilized, loaded into huge travelling crates, and transported to the lush Ngulia Valley in Tsavo West National Park, l00 miles away, a place where both food and water is plentiful, the vegetation more lush due to a higher rainfall, and where other elephants are also plentiful, particularly even bigger "Big Boys" - those huge bulls for which Tsavo has always been famous. We were confident that our three charges, would take to their new surroundings, thereby relieving us of an ongoing "headache"! their move is documented on our web site as well, and went smoothly, but for the fact that Ndume ran as soon as he was released from the Travelling Crate, fearing another darting, and Imenti and Lewa ran after the departing vehicle which took their Keepers from them.

However, even the best-laid elephant plans often do not turn out as planned and this was one of them. Three days short of a month, who should be sighted striding purposefully down the Pipeline road heading for home; none other than Ndume! He had walked back home, navigating 100 miles of completely foreign terrain, despite having been transported sedated and enclosed in a wooden Crate. His journey entailed crossing the main Nairobi - Mombasa road and railway line, and the Tsavo river itself at the height of the dry season. When he turned up at the Elephant Night Stockades a little while later to announce to the Keepers and his orphan friends that he was back, he received a joyous welcome from all, both four legged and two. He spent a day with his friend "Edo", and then left to make contact with his wild elephant friends again.

Just before Christmas, Daphne received a friendly call from an Insurance Broker. An elephant had apparently picked up the K.W.S. Husky Aircraft from the Park's Airfield at Voi, carted the plane off into the bush and dumped it 300 yards away near the Voi river! Was this possible, she was asked and could an elephant truly have done this and why?

Having assured the gentleman that the culprit was not one of "our" Big Boys, but a wild elephant, (the footprints around the plane were that of an adult elephant; not a teenager), she told him that it was certainly possible - as to the reason - a bored elephant in passing might look upon the plane either as a mere plaything, or even a noisy pest that causes a great deal of noise on a daily basis, a sound that is offensive to the sensitive infra-sound capable ears of an elephant! A short while later, another call from the K.W.S. Chairman, who announced that yet another aircraft had been damaged by an elephant near Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West!

At that point in time, Daphne was unaware of this latest plane attack, and was confident that Imenti and Lewa were safely ensconced in the Ngulia Valley some distance away. She assumed that this, too, must be the work of a wild elephant and not one of our "boys".

Then came reports of a young bull, with tusks of about a foot in length, who was chasing after vehicles and people near Kilaguni Lodge, and who refused to be driven off by thunder flashes and even live bullets. He was posing a threat to all and sundry and had even inserted his trunk into one of the Staff Showers to trap the water, sending the terrified occupant of the shower fleeing in his birthday suit!

Jill and her partner J.F. happened to be in Tsavo for the festive season, so Daphne immediately sent J.F. along with two of our seasoned Elephant Keepers along to identify this "rogue" elephant, suspecting that it might possibly be "Imenti". It was! In full view of the lodge tourists, curious bystanders and K.W.S. staff, the Keepers approached the elephant and called "Imenti" by name. He swung round, ears outspread, and racing up to the two men, stopping short at the last moment to envelop them lovingly in his trunk, rumbling repeated joyous elephant greetings, whilst many of the onlookers burst into tears, overcome with emotion. To their amazement, this "rogue" elephant was, in fact, a friend, only seeking another human friend, missing both his erstwhile human family and his other orphaned elephant friends, yearning for company and security, desperately unhappy all alone as a "wild" elephant, having been deserted by everyone in a strange place.

But, where was Lewa, we wondered? Rising five years of age, and sociable by nature, he was quite used to waltzing into the wild herds, and, indeed, did so almost on a daily basis back home in Tsavo East. Imenti, however, at eight years of age, (big for his age, and lacking in confidence) would have had difficulty integrating into the wild female herds, now at an age when he should be with the bulls. He has always been a shy character, and obviously lacked the courage to attach himself to other unfamiliar bulls. Finding himself alone, he went in search of human company, poking his tusks into the windows of the Kilaguni plane to take a look inside! Desperate to make contact with the humans he saw walking on foot around the lodge, he ran after both them and the vehicles carrying them, trying to identify someone he could recognise as "family". When Keepers Mishak and Benson appeared, and called his name, his cup overflowed and his mission had been fulfilled!

The snag was, though, that he wouldn't let them out of sight. In full view of all the lodge occupants, he walked quietly beside them to the Lodge waterhole to quench his thirst, and that night, one Keeper had to remain beside him as he fed and slept near the Airfield.

We knew now that there was but one solution for Imenti, and that was to bring him back home. Rather than traumatise him further by darting him again, and organising another expensive official translocation, we decided that the Keepers should walk with him the l00 miles back to Voi, a journey that would take them about five days, camping on the road at night, and allowing time for him to feed en route.

The first day saw them back at the Rhino Sanctuary near the Ngulia Valley where Ndume, Imenti and Lewa had been originally left. Imenti sensed that he was going home, and walked fast this first day, the two Keepers having difficulty in keeping up! But, that first night, not only was he exhausted, but also very stressed, perhaps thinking that he was about to be abandoned again by the humans he loved. But, his Keepers slept beside him in the vehicle that accompanied them all, and which carried the food and water they would need for the journey.

On the third day they reached the main Mombasa - Nairobi road. This presented a challenge, because the party had to walk across the bridge spanning the Tsavo river, and in order to do so, all traffic on either side had to be halted to enable this unusual cavalcade to cross in peace. Unhappily, the large long-haul transporters who came hurtling down the slope past a bend in the road towards the river, were reluctant to stop, and hooted rudely. Imenti was terrified - so terrified that he urinated in fear as he fled into the bush.

Eventually, Policemen had to be mobilised from nearby Manyani Prison Camp to stay the traffic, and then, when things were quiet, Imenti rejoined his Keepers, still reluctant however to walk across the bridge, since the river was in spate underneath. Finally, the Head Keeper, Mishak, had a brain wave and this ruse worked. The pickup vehicle went ahead very slowly, with Imenti right behind it, and a Keeper walking on either side of him as they crossed, much to the amazement of all the onlookers!

That evening found them near the Mbololo watercourse on home territory in Tsavo East, and the next morning, the final leg of the journey was completed by midday. Once back at the Elephant Stockades, the little party set out to make contact with the other orphans, who were feeding out in the bush. With the wind blowing from them to Imenti, he knew of their presence before they knew about him, and he ran fast to join them, mingling easily into the group as though he had never left. Many of the younger orphans who are quite used to one or other of the Big Boys joining them briefly at infrequent intervals, were obviously not surprised to see him, thinking he had simply been taking a break with some wild friends, as did the others. Only when he happened to bump into Emily in his exuberant homecoming, did she swung round to confront the one who had barged into her, and there was Imenti! The reunion between these two was touchingly tender and low key. They stood close together, their heads touching as time stood still for them, thinking their own elephant thoughts, whilst Aitong fussed around, happy to see Imenti back. Imenti was very tired, (and so were the Keepers who had accompanied him on his journey home). They left him with Emily, and headed back to base for a long rest today, the 9th January 2002, their five day journey over at last!

Those of us who orchestrate The Orphans' Project from our David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust base in Nairobi, have learnt a lesson from this last chapter in the Adventures and Misadventures of Ndume, Imenti and Lewa - (1) that an elephant must have friends in order to settle easily and happily, irrespective of how lovely the surroundings might appear to us humans. (2) that elephant friendships are forged when young, and endure for life and (3) that it would be futile moving any of our orphans anywhere in Tsavo's 8,000 square miles of bushland, for it is but a little stroll for them to get back home to where their friends and family are.. We know from Ndume that they are able to navigate unknown territory by mysterious means we humans have yet to fully comprehend.

Meanwhile, details of Lewa's features is with the Tsavo West Researchers who will be searching the wild herds to try and locate him, so that we can sleep more easily back in base, knowing that he, too, is alright. Who knows, when he is older, he too might make thejourney back home!