In the depths of northern Tsavo East a unique baby was born; a baby elephant strengthening the bond between the wild herds of Tsavo and the orphaned elephants of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Ithumba Units second wild-birth was sealed twenty-three months ago between twelve year-old Yatta and a young wild bull of twenty-six years. Yetu, which in Swahili means ours was born on the 19th January 2012 and is a beautifully wild and healthy addition to a growing herd of elephants bridging the gap between the human and animal worlds. She is not only a symbol of hope for the future of elephants in an increasingly hostile human-world but a sign of balance between nature and mankind.
Yatta's story, like all the orphans rescued by the Trust, had a sad and cruel beginning. She was found in September 1999 in Tsavo East National Park below the Yatta Plateau when she was just one month old. She had been bellowing for hours walking around the body of her dead mothered who had been slaughtered by poachers for her ivory. Yattas distressed calls were heard by a labour gang working nearby who instigated the rescue operation to get the tiny baby to the Nairobi Nursery for care. For a long time Yatta was troubled with weakness, periodic stiff joints and sometimes complete collapses as well as a host of other ailments. Yet after several years of loving attention and medical treatment Yatta improved considerably growing in strength and overcoming the trauma of her loss. So in February 2001 it was decided that Yatta, along with Kinna and Mukwaju, was to be moved to Tsavo to begin her reintegration process into the wild herds of Voi. After 2 successful years at the Voi Unit, Yatta was chosen to move to the new Ithumba Rehabilitation Stockades to support, teach and care for the younger orphans translocated there from the Nairobi Nursery. Yatta was chosen because of her deep maternal instinct as well as her natural position as a leading matriarch and since her arrival at Ithumba she has been a valuable and much loved mother, friend and tutor, successfully integrating with wild herds, whilst forming strong bonds with the orphans. After several years the time came for Yatta to be mated and the young wild bull who found her and fathered her calf is also the father of Mwende, Mulikas calf born only two months before Yetu. And so it is that Mwende and Yetu are half-sisters born from a wild father and a human-reared mother. On the morning of Yetus birth a group of ex-orphans gathered at the Ithumba stockades for several hours, including Mulika and Mwende, Wendi, Kinna, Selengai, Nasalot, Taita and Ithumbah. This excited yet anxious group knew of Yattas impending labour and were en route to help with the delivery. Sensing the anticipation in the air the Ithumba Keepers knew an event was to take place yet were unsure of Yattas whereabouts having not seen her for a couple of days; and so it was that between midday and midnight on this special day in January that Yetu was born in the presence of her new family, the ex-orphans and their wild friends. Before sunrise on the following morning Yatta along with her birthing partners arrived at the Ithumba Stockades proudly presenting their bundle of joy to their human family.
Amazingly calm yet visibly exhausted Yatta introduced Yetu to the Keepers who walked amongst the herd as if they were elephants, touching and caressing the new baby girl as if she too were human.
Yatta and her baby remained at the stockades, waiting for the orphans to be released for their daily walks into the surrounding wilderness until at 8.30am when all elephants, orphaned, wild, young and old moved forward in unison with the baby sheltered between their huge bodies into the bush. Over fifty elephants had appeared that morning to greet and support Yatta and her baby, celebrating the birth with much trumpeting and rumbling, showering Yetu in trunk-kisses and gentle embraces. The party moved slowly and softly through the bush, wild bulls joining the celebration walking tentatively alongside the Keepers.
The orphans, excited to get to their morning milk-feed and mudbath, led the way, Yatta, Nasalot, Kinna and the other protective nannies shading Yetu from the harsh African sun following leisurely behind. On this rare day this beautiful parade of elephants, rescued from all corners of Kenya and each with their own remarkable story of survival, courage and growth walked together with their wild friends, in harmony with their human family, reflecting not only trust and love but the delicately evolving symbiotic relationship between animal and mankind, which is so vital for the future of all wildlife. Having received word of the birth from the excited Keepers, Robert Carr-Hartley and company were immediately en-route to Tsavo to join the celebration and document this truly special event. Greeting Benjamin, Ithumbas Head Keeper, they soon caught-up with the herd and the other Keepers in the bush near the mudbath. First to welcome them was Wendi who led them deep into the bustling crowd of huge bodies, flapping ears, flailing trunks and stomping feet. And there, only hours old encircled between her mother and doting nannies was Yetu, her pink petal-like ears fluttering back and forth against the heat of the morning, her trunk reaching up delicately yearning for the comfort, reassurance and love all elephants need to survive. Nasalot along with Galana, Sunyei, Kinna and Selengai never strayed far from the baby, only a trunk-reach away, whilst the younger orphans frolicked and the older ex-orphans and wild elephants browsed and mingled in the shade of acacia trees. With total trust Yatta guided Yetu forwards calmly greeting her human well-wishers, showing no hesitation or anxiety, wanting her baby to be a part of her extended human family.
And so together, both elephants and humans move forwards, walking one by one through the narrow vegetation corridors created by hundreds of elephants over many years. Yetu, still unsure on her tiny feet, trotted awkwardly in-between her mothers large heavy strides, Yattas great feet never so much as touching the tiny fragile calf. Immerging from the thick bush the party arrives at the mudbath, the orphans already gorging on their morning milk handfed by the Keepers, whilst the ex-orphans and the wild elephants charge excitedly towards the cooling water and thick fresh mud. What unfolds is a scene of pure joy with an atmosphere that is so blissfully peaceful yet so wildly spirited and playful. Mud hails from the sky, flying from feet and trunks that fling it excitedly every which way covering everything in its wake. A soft orange haze fills the air from the fine red soil kicked up by charging feet and the sounds of joyful elephants plunging into the water echoes far and wide. Elephants frolic all around, some immersed in the depths of the dam, some paddling at the edges, others rolling in the mud or rubbing themselves on the trees, whilst Yatta guides her daughter through the revelry introducing her to water for the first time.
Yetu, although sleepy and heavy-eyed, bravely trots forward into the rippling edge and timidly splashes around mimicking her mother as she flicks her floppy trunk through the water and sinks to her knees in the mud. The older elephants having submerged themselves in the pool head for the soil mound where red earth is thrown into the air and clings to their wet bodies. Yatta follows suit and lazily flicks the earth over her shoulder and onto her back, Yetu standing beneath her getting showered from above, the fine baby hairs on her head and back shimmering with the red soil of Africa. Mulika brings her daughter Mwende over to Yatta, Mwende older and more solid and leggy than her half-sister. The two babies play delicately, shyly touching each other with their trunks and flapping their ears coyly, looked over all the while by Yatta and Mulika who tower proudly above.
Overwhelmed with all the excitement and hungry from all the activities Yetu seeks her mother and gently suckles, her head titled back and her trunk resting on Yattas belly, whilst Kinna and Nasalot stroke her adoringly never letting her out of their sight. After feeding Yetu sits clumsily, laying down in the shade of her family on the cool earth, struggling not to fall asleep as Yata wearily leans her head on Sidai, her eyes hazy with exhaustion. Together the elephants decide to move on, the heat of the midday sun forcing them into the cooler depths of the trees and one by one the orphans move ahead following their wild friends and the ex-orphans, their skin blackened by the water, bronzed by the mud and reddened with earth. As Yatta follows her extended family, Yetu follows her footprints in the soil, the footsteps she will follow and slowly grow into as she leads a uniquely wild life.