Published on the 14th of June, 2017
At 3am, on the morning of June 4th, Ukame, Wanjala and Galla made the journey to the Ithumba Translocation Unit.
The three orphans were mildly tranquilized to take the edge off their journey before being led into the elephant moving truck. Ukame was first to be loaded and milk was brought to her to lead her towards the translocation lorry, but as soon as she realized the plan, she quickly applied the brakes! A strap was placed around her middle to assist the Keepers to maneuver her into the lorry and actually, considering her utmost refusal to load during the previous weeks while acclimating to the loading conditions, it didn't take too long. She went into the right most compartment, being the biggest and the oldest of the three. Next it was the turn of the boys, Galla and Wanjala. They had been very good about boarding the lorry during training but this morning was a different story as they were suspicious of events and both of them required a strap around their waists to coax them in as well. Wanjala was loaded first followed by Galla who went in the middle compartment and who got the furthest into the lorry purely under the lure of a nice milk bottle! Once they were inside they quickly settled down, finished their milk and munched away on the nice greens provided for them. Despite the initial stubbornness of all three, we were underway very quickly, and at 3.30am the lorry pulled out of the Nursery Gates bound for Ithumba.
At around 6.30 am the convoy, comprised of the translocation lorry and support car, followed by a film crew, turned off at Kibwezi making good time as they proceeded along the road into Northern Tsavo East. Unfortunately this part of the journey was short lived, as at 7.30am an air bag spring, which is part of the intricate suspension system on our custom built Elephant Moving Vehicle, burst beneath the Cab. This was disastrous since we had broken down in the middle of a town called Kyadula, with our precious cargo obviously attracting attention for the numerous Sunday Church-Goers, and we could not afford to allow the elephants to get too hot.
Being a Sunday, a quick repair was a challenge but thankfully there was a spare spring in the workshops in Nairobi, so the 3 mechanics who travel on such moves set about attempting to rectify the problem. They called Robert and Angela who quickly formulated a plan, and they organized for the spare to be flown to Ithumba, where Robert Carr-Hartley and DSWT pilot Andy Payne collected it in the Trust helicopter and were able to deliver it to site along with another mechanic, additional tools and equipment to tackle the task, and some freshly mixed milk from Ithumba to pacify the elephants. The whole exercise took three hours and all that time the elephants were fed their fresh milk, delicious cut greens and appeared totally unperturbed. The customized truck has a shower system with a huge water tank attached to the underneath of the vehicle so the orphans could be cooled throughout the process. Thankfully the hour was early, and there was significant cloud cover ensuring favorable conditions. By 11.15am the entourage was finally on the move again!
Thankfully the rest of the journey went smoothly and by 12.40 pm the team was offloading Ukame, Wanjala and Galla at the Ithumba Stockades. They seemed bewildered when they eventually disembarked and trustingly followed their two keepers who were holding the much loved milk bottle. They then slowly made their way to the mud wallow to have a drink and spray their bodies with refreshing cool water.
Slowly the other dependent orphans began to arrive, including old Nursery babies like Roi, Oltaiyoni, Siangiki and Sirimon who came first for milk and then turned their attention to the new arrivals. Then one by one more elephants started to arrive, until we were inundated with dependent orphans, as well as a large number of the semi-independent herds led by Mutara,.Narok, Suguta, Sities, Turkwell and Lualeni with Big Boy ex-orphan Rapsu present as well! They all came lumbering down the path towards the Stockades, excited to greet the new babies. Some were initially a bit pushy, eager to stamp their authority from the outset, but all the females were especially eager to comfort and reassure the new arrivals, who responded to their love and comfort.
For the rest of the day this large group of elephants wandered into the bush accompanied by their Keepers from Nairobi and the resident Ithumba Keepers and got to know the area, enjoy the plentiful new browse which is abundant thanks to good rains at Ithumba. Then in the evening they followed the others back to their night stockades without much fuss and settled down well, with all the routines communicated to them by the other dependent babies.
The next morning was spectacular when, as it grew light, we saw that Yatta, Wendi and Kinna’s herd, plus their babies with their Nannies, all in attendance, (but for Galana, Gawa and a small splinter herd). They appeared desperate to welcome the new babies rumbling and trumpeting. and when the dependent orphans were let out of their Stockades having had their milk, they could hardly manage to walk out due to the wall of ex-orphans there to welcome them! They had not seen such large elephants since being rescued, and needless to say were somewhat intimidated by all the attention! Ukame, Wanjala and Galla seemed to settle quickly though, with Wanjala the smallest of the trio attracting special attention.
Ithumba is a truly magical place, a haven for elephants, such expanse free of the human footprint in which to call home, and these three little elephants have all originated from Tsavo in the first place before being orphaned, so it must feel like a welcomed homecoming for them all, once more surrounded by large herds of elephants, something they would remember well.