Every elephant rescue brings its own set of challenges. This particular rescue, however, tested the limits. For this baby, being orphaned was just the first hurdle. In the days that followed, she faced floods of biblical proportions, a night marooned amidst swirling waters, and a sojourn in an aircraft hanger — and survived it all with a quiet determinism.
It all began the afternoon of 2nd April 2018, when the KWS Community Warden alerted us about an orphaned baby elephant in Meru National Park. She had been found on her own, separated from her family in a suspected incident of human-wildlife conflict. Just days old — too young to know fear — she happily followed the KWS rangers who found her. When our plane landed on Kinna airstrip, she was already waiting for us, flanked by her rescuers.
We named the baby Kindani, after a lovely river that flows through Meru National Park, so she would forever have a connection to her homeland. Now, it was time to bring her to her new home — and this is where things got complicated. At the time, Nairobi was experiencing almost daily storms, receiving as much as three to five inches of rain in a single deluge. Across the country, rivers were threatening to burst their banks and in Nairobi, cars were getting washed off the road. The Nursery was sodden and cold, rain soaking every corner of the compound. These were fraught conditions to bring a new rescue of such a vulnerable age.
We formulated a plan to transport Kindani to the Nairobi Nursery for just one night, before taking her to our Kaluku Field Headquarters in Tsavo the following morning, where conditions were warm and dry. The flight to Nairobi only took an hour and, upon her arrival, Kindani was promptly tucked into a stable with a warm bottle of milk. She was restless throughout the night, unsettled by the rain hammering on the roof of her bedroom, but the Keeper by her side visibly reassured her.
Over at Kaluku, meanwhile, our team was busy preparing a room for Kindani. At the time, there were no elephant stables there, but we made do with a stable we had built for orphaned antelope. The following morning, our helicopter arrived early to transport the tiny bundle to Tsavo. She was whisked south in the company of two of our most experienced elephant Keepers, who would remain at Kaluku to care for her. Daphne was delighted with this solution, knowing full well that the conditions in Nairobi would spell disaster for a new rescue.
Daphne passed away just days after Kindani’s arrival, leaving everyone heartbroken. Things were further complicated when the Athi River, which runs through Kaluku, burst its banks one night. Kindani’s stable and the staff quarters were engulfed by water. Thinking quickly, the Keepers brought her to the Sheldrick family's Kaluku home, which sits on much higher ground. Kindani spent the night safely ensconced in Daphne’s bedroom while water churned outside, turning the house into an island that was fully inaccessible for nine hours. By morning, the flood waters had receded enough for a tractor to access the marooned trio.
While Daphne certainly would have approved of giving her bedroom to Kindani, we needed a more fitting place to house an elephant while we rebuilt her stable. So, we created temporary accommodations in one of our aircraft hangers. Given all the disruption, Kindani’s condition deteriorated quickly, culminating in a bout of pneumonia. Keeping focus amidst the chaos was hard to do, as everyone grappled with the aftermath of the flood and the grief we all felt in Daphne’s passing. However, our team was incredible and went far beyond the call of duty, never giving up on Kindani.
Miraculously, following a few days of complete collapse, our little girl turned the corner. After two weeks, we had resurrected her stables from the flood damage and she was able to return. She was soon joined by two other orphaned elephant babies, a girl named Kinyei and a boy named Bondeni. They became an inseparable little group, spending their days taking long walks along the Athi River and playing underneath the doum palms. Kindani was the undisputed leader of the group, but without the take-charge personality of so many mini-matriarchs. Quite the opposite, she emerged as a very earnest little girl, happiest when quietly browsing alongside her two sidekicks. Misheck, one of her Keepers, remarked how she is one of the cleverest elephants he has ever met.
Because of her very challenging early months, Kindani remained small for her age. By 2020, however, we knew she and her two friends were ready to move up to our Nairobi Nursery. From a social standpoint, it was time for her to expand her circle and develop more friendships that will form the basis of her wild life one day. On a more practical level, Tsavo had become very dry and hot — no longer ideal conditions, given the lack of browse for a growing elephant — while Nairobi remained lush from favourable rains.
Thankfully, the move was very peaceful. The convoy left Kaluku at midnight on 3rd September. By dawn, Kindani, Kinyei, and Bondeni had arrived in Nairobi. It took Kindani a little time to acclimate to life at the Nursery, but her early days here were smooth sailing compared to her introduction to Kaluku. For someone as passionate about browsing as she is, the Nursery must be paradise, a constant buffet of grass and green shoots. Although she had grown used to being the mini matriarch of her little herd, Kindani happily sat back and enjoyed being babied by all the older girls. In the weeks that followed, these blossoming friendships brought an extra spring to her step. Our earnest little girl is certainly content in her new home.