As the weeks and months have passed at the Voi orphans rehabilitation stockades in Tsavo East the keepers have continued with their care of the semi-independent orphans, whilst always thinking of the rest of the fully-independent elephant family who have already taken the leap back into the wild. Having not seen a number of the ex-orphans in a long while, especially Emilys group, the keepers have naturally worried about their wellbeing particularly during these insecure times, and when the lands of Tsavo are parched from drought, and water and food is scarce and poaching escalating. The keeper-dependant orphans at the stockades have been supported through the harsh conditions in the last couple of months with generous donations of supplements of lucerne (alfalfa grass) and copra cake, whilst the younger milk-dependant orphans still receive their daily milk bottles. Yet just over a week ago on a dry morning in later October Emily led her group back into the familiar surroundings of the stockades, having last been sighted over four month previously. This is despite our Voi Team doing regular patrols throughout the region trying to locate the ex-orphans to confirm they remained are safe. Both the keepers and younger orphans were overjoyed to see their ex-orphan friends showing their excitement with trumpeting and embracing as both humans and elephants welcomed the travellers home. This exuberant reunion was reciprocated by the older ex orphans, whom despite their long absence we equally as pleased to be reunited with their familiar human family.
It was wonderful to see Emily, the matriarch of the group, who was raised through the Trusts rehabilitation program from the tender age of just one month, and who has so successfully returned to the wild, having raised a calf herself (Eve) who is now a healthy, young and totally wild elephant with lovely mini tusks. Icholta, another to arrive with Emily, was incredibly happy to see Julius, one of her old friends who had supported her through the difficult process of reintegrating back into the wilds of Tsavo, having been rescued from deep mud at just two weeks old from northern Kenya. Now a strong thirteen year old with impressive tusks for her age, Icholta has never forgotten her human family, and although now wild she still wants to show her affection towards those that will always remain a part of her life.
The same age as Icholta, Edie, another member of Emilys group is yet another proud example of how orphaned elephants can return to the wild. Rescued from Lewa Downs in Laikipia thirteen years ago Edie is another member of the ex-ophan unit that has made a family of her own having given birth to a healthy calf (Ella) who is now just as big as Emilys calf.
The three big bulls which returned with Emilys group included Laikipia, Morani and Lolokwe and the keepers were so glad to see them all in such good condition. Laikipia, who was rescued over thirteen years ago at the age of only twelve months proudly sauntered around the stockade on arrival, peeling off vegetation from the overhanging trees and spending time with the younger keeper-dependant orphans.
The oldest of Emilys group, Lissa, was also present in the homecoming, alongside all four of her wild calves, Lali, Lara and Lugard and Lazma. At twenty-six years old Lissa was rescued from Tsavo National Park having been made an innocent victim of poaching at just two years old, yet she has grown into a remarkable female and proud mother. Lissas calves, although completely wild, have also embraced her human family as well as making friends with the other orphans.
Another very special arrival that day was Mweya, a unique little orphan from Uganda who was rescued from the shores of Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park in 2001. Having wandered all alone into a fishing village at only one month old, Mweya found her way to the safety of the Uganda Education Centre where she was lovingly cared for with the companionship of cheeky chimpanzees for six weeks before being allowed to cross the international border into Kenya, and arrive by helicopter in Nairobi. After such a traumatic and extraordinary start to life Mweya has grown into a wonderful elephant who has embraced Kenya and her Kenyan family, having found a new life with Emily and the rest of her group.
All of the Trusts orphans have a story to tell and just like Mweya, Seraa who was another amongst the arriving party, had a harsh start to life. Now eleven years old Seraa was found stuck in a deep water well just outside of Shaba National Reserve not long after Mweyas rescue, having been helplessly trapped there for up to two days before being spotted by chance and quickly rescued by Ian Craig, who arranged a helicopter to transport her directly to the Nairobi Nursery.
Sweet Sally, who was overjoyed to be reacquainted with her human family, is another success story who had an incredibly harrowing beginning. Born in Sweet Waters Ranch (now Ol Pejeta) Sweet Sally and her mother, amongst over 50 other elephants, were translocated to Meru National Park over ten years ago due to an overpopulation of elephant herds in Sweet Waters. Although the translocation was predominantly a success, the trauma of the move on Sweet Sallys mother was too much to bear and she ran away from where she was released in fear, abandoning her calf forever. Once more, despite this awful start to life Sweet Sally has overcome her pain and mourning, and is thriving in her wild life in Tsavo National Park.
All of Emilys group have since stayed close to the stockades in the last week, visiting the orphans and the keepers every day. Although a number of Emilys herd have not yet visited the stockades, including Siria, Burra, Silango and Mpala, the keepers are hopeful they will reunite with Emily soon and they will be able to make sure that they are all happy and healthy. This special homecoming is a great relief to the entire DSWT team in Nairobi and Tsavo who have put so much love and energy into all of these exceptional elephants. To see them all in good health in such dangerous and worrying times is a blessing, yet of course they all must return back into the bush to continue their wild lives, but we are comforted in the knowledge that our anti-poaching teams and mobile veterinary unit, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, are doing everything in their power to keep them all safe.