Dupotto, Karisa and Kelelari disappeared from the Ithumba stockade compound in May having been spooked by something just days after arriving from the Nairobi Nursery. Being the most recent arrivals from the Nairobi Nursery and having been at Ithumba less than a week, they were not familiar with the area at all. We felt sure that we would find them from the air but after days of flying with our aircraft and helicopter they simply vanished. It was difficult due to how green Ithumba was at the time, with numerous waterholes filled throughout the region and plenty of wild herds. From this we drew some comfort at least as we knew they would have ample food and water. Our search continued throughout the month by air and on foot, but all were unsuccessful.
Finally, much to our delight and relief, they were sighted by our Yatta Anti-Poaching team while out on patrol two months later on the 4th of August, while patrolling along the Athi River in an area of Tsavo known as Gazi. They were in the company of wild elephant and within an area that has little infrastructure, so any possibility of a rescue was extremely challenging. In fact for the next two days a rescue proved impossible given their inaccessible location, and the teams waited patiently for the conditions to improve. On the 6th, Kelelari and Dupotto were located from the air early in the morning, this time on the top of the Yatta plateaux and just a few hundred meters from an old unused vehicle track. On this day they were in the company of some big bulls. Everything required for a successful capture was mobilized and put into place, and this alone was a logistical nightmare. While all this was happening our dedicated pilots circled in two planes taking it in turns to keep the elephants in sight. Finally, once all vehicles and men were in place, Dupotto was then separated from Kelelari by the helicopter and darted by Vet, Dr. Ephantus from the air. In no time she fell asleep and slumped to the ground, and the Keepers were able to run through the dense bush to where she fell, guided by the helicopter above. In the meantime the vehicle battered through the dense undergrowth to where she lay. Once she was stabilized and rolled onto the canvas stretcher she was loaded onto the back of a Ford truck, and this is where the problem was. She was so heavy that all the men on hand could not lift her into the back of the Ford pickup. The Vet even contemplated waking her and aborting the mission, but in one last ditch effort, everybody straining beyond what was humanly possible but driven by a fierce desire to retrieve Dupotto, who was looking in poor condition, she was lifted high enough to pull her into the pick. Robert Carr-Hartley then drove her the two hour journey to Ithumba with Dr. Ephantus in the back with Dupotto, keeping her lightly sedated for most of the journey.
It was impossible to dart Kelelari at the same time as he immediately took off in the opposite direction and was soon absorbed by his wild companions, and besides, being bigger and heavier than Dupotto, we knew was unrealistic to think he could be loaded by hand given the number of people we had on the ground and how far he was now from any roads. Kelelari is a big elephant who lived a wild life for many years before being rescued after three lion attacks in the Masai Mara. Given that he is in the company of wild elephants we have left him with the wild herds and continue to monitor him from the air.
When Dupotto arrived at Ithumba it was clear she had lost a lot of condition. While observing her from the air she looked extremely vulnerable, glued to Kelelari’s rear at all times, and given that she originally came to the Nursery as a young baby this whole ordeal must have been incredibly difficult for her.
When the Yatta Anti-Poaching team first came across the lost orphans they reported that there were three, but the aerial teams never conclusively sighted Karisa. Then, a couple of weeks later on the 17th August, we were reminded of the remarkable ways of elephants yet again when Karisa arrived at the Ithumba midday mudbath escorted by Ex Orphans and deposited with the Keepers, where upon he began to suckle their fingers and gulp down three bottles of milk and behave like he had never left! We and the Keepers have all been quite stunned as Karisa was last sighted by our Yatta Anti-Poaching team all those weeks ago, 30 kilometres away in an area with little infrastructure, before becoming separated from Kelelari and Dupotto. He looked in remarkably good health, fat as butter, and no worse for wear after his two month hiatus with the others.
On arrival back at Ithumba he was surprised by his best friends Galla, Wanjala and Ukame, who travelled to Ithumba the week they went missing, so for Karisa this was a welcome surprise. He is totally settled, as is Dupotto glued to her best friend Kamok, and fully in the routine at Ithumba. Karisa's arrival was a great relief, as he is the baby of the trio, and we were worried about him as the conditions begin to dry within the north of Tsavo, but it is evident that they have some special wild friends amongst the wild bulls that visit us. One particular bull visited Karisa for two days after he returned, coming to the stockades, trunk in the air with both of them rumbling and communicating, and when they are around he is very comfortable in their company, but they seemingly understand that this is where he needs to be through the dry season, with both orphans hooked once again on their much loved milk bottles.
Kelelari on the other hand, although separated from his Nursery friends (and clearly the one responsible for the perfect kidnapping) seems happy and content with wild friends for the time being; nevertheless we are half expecting him to arrive any day now too, now that Karisa has been reunited with their dear friend Dupotto, we know that they know the way and he is always welcome should he need, or want to, ever return.