On the morning of 21st November 2018, during a patrol of the Voi River Circuit in Tsavo East National Park, KWS rangers spotted something in the middle of a drying waterhole. Upon closer inspection, they discovered that it was a tiny baby elephant, less than a month old.
This is a scenario we have seen many times before: No doubt the calf’s family tried desperately to extract him, but when it became clear that he was hopelessly stuck, they were forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave him behind and move on in the interest of the herd. He had obviously been stuck for a good long time and was fortunate to have survived the night. There was evidence of predator spoor, but they too were probably hampered by the mud.
The rangers rolled up their trousers and plodded through the sticky mud to pull the calf out, before placing him in the back of their security Land Cruiser. The rescue unfolded not terribly far from our Voi Reintegration Unit, so they drove him there while a full rescue was coordinated. This little elephant was a fraction of the size of the orphans he is used to looking after, but Voi Head Keeper, Joseph Sauni, knew exactly what to do. He never left the baby’s side, placing him in a stockade before washing him down, keeping him hydrated and warm with comforting companionship, until such time as he could be whisked away to our Neonate Nursery for the specialist attention he would need. We named the calf Thamana, which in the Swahili language means something of value and worth.
Within an hour, our helicopter landed at Voi to take Thamana on the next phase of his journey. Given his extremely vulnerable age and circumstances, we brought him to our Kaluku Neonate Nursery, which is tailored to our most vulnerable rescues. With a rescue so young, the first months are often very fraught, but thankfully in the company of his keepers, and orphan elephant Lemeki, Thamana thrived from the outset. He did not experience the peaks and troughs that plague so many tiny milk dependent baby elephants, and instead blazed through his infancy in exceedingly good health and high spirits. His age was probably an asset in this regard, as he was too young to properly remember his family. We can count the miracle babies who sailed through without a glitch on one hand, but this buoyant little bull is certainly among their ranks.
Thamana never seemed to notice Lemeki’s aloof manner — which is a testament to his perennially sunny personality. Lemeki’s antics suited Thamana, and it made for an action packed time keeping up with her. In fact, he didn’t even seem to think that she was anything but devoted to him! In time, the duo was joined by more orphaned elephants, and he now has a wonderful friend group at Kaluku. Thamana is an elephant who gives his heart fully to those he loves, so it was not entirely surprising that he became so hooked on Joseph, who had just become an elephant Keeper at the time of his rescue. He immediately became Joseph’s shadow and, over the years, a beautiful friendship has emerged.
Thamana is a courageous, fun bull who never skipped a beat, despite all the hurdles life threw at him. He is a picture of health and happiness, with his perfectly plump belly and jovial expression. As a Tsavo elephant by birth, he will go on to reclaim his place back in the wild of Kenya’s largest National Park. In the meantime, however, his days are filled with fun and games as he grows up alongside his human-elephant family.