17 years ago, an orphaned elephant was desperately attempting to latch onto wild herds and suffering continuous rejection. In a last ditch effort, she tried to follow a passing group across the Uaso Nyiro River, but one particular member continuously thwarted her efforts and even pushed her underwater. It was a visceral reminder of how alone this calf was in the world.
A lot has happened to Naserian since 2004: The fate of her mother remains unknown, but she had been on her own for at least a week before she was rescued. At the Nursery, Naserian was stabled next to an outgoing orphan named Wendi. Ever since that very first night, when Wendi reached her little trunk through the stable to comfort the new arrival, the two girls have been best friends. This friendship carried them through the Nursery to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit, where they both found their place back in the wild.
And as the sun rose this very morning, Naserian arrived at Ithumba a changed elephant: She had become a mother. The Keepers awoke to find her waiting by the stockades, with a healthy infant calf tucked by her side. Ex orphans Wendi and Sunyei, and their wild-born daughters, Wema, Wiva, and Siku, rounded out the entourage.
We haven’t seen these elephants since April, which made the moment all the more remarkable. They had clearly returned to Ithumba with the express purpose of introducing us to Naserian’s newborn. We are happy to report that everyone appears to be in excellent condition. The baby, who is a few days old, is very active and happy. Fittingly, Wendi’s oldest daughter, Wiva, has appointed herself head nanny. You see, Wendi was a rather wayward mother the first time around, and Naserian was absolutely instrumental in raising Wiva. Now that Wiva is six years old, it’s her turn to play a supportive role.
After the girls had their fill of water and lucerne, they disappeared into the bush for several hours. They returned around 2pm with fellow ex orphans Kinna and Yatta in tow. Both Kinna and Yatta are mothers twice over — in fact, Kinna introduced us to her latest arrival, Kaia, just last week. It was almost as if Naserian was eager to show her extended friendship group, who she has known since her Nursery days, that she is now a mother, too! For our Ithumba Keepers, it was special to see these five ex orphans living wild and raising their own families so confidently and competently.
We are calling Naserian’s little girl Njema, which means “good” in Swahili. It’s a name that evokes joy in all of us. For Naserian, whose beginnings were so lonely and fraught, this turn of events is especially poignant. Raising Njema and with her friends by her side, she will never walk alone.