On the afternoon of 29th November 2021, one of our ranger patrols took a rather unique turn: Instead of chasing down poachers and following up leads on illegal activities, the team were diligently shadowing a baby giraffe!
Earlier that day, we had received reports of a tiny giraffe who was (rather unsuccessfully) trying to pass herself off as a zebra. There were no other giraffes in the area, and as her survival instincts kicked in, she latched onto a passing herd of zebras. All signs indicated that she was an orphan, but to be absolutely certain, our SWT/KWS Burra Anti-Poaching Team was put on her trail.
By late evening it was clear the baby giraffe was without a mother. While the zebras gracefully accepted her presence, she made an easy target for predators, particularly Tsavo’s infamous lions, who were as it turns out not terribly far from her location. Dusk was fast approaching, and if she was to survive the night she’d need help, so KWS requested a rescue take place.
There is no easy way to rescue a giraffe: Vulnerable as she was, even an infant giraffe has plenty of kicking power. The undertaking took plenty of mettle on the part of our team. While they drove slowly alongside the orphan, our Field Works Manager leapt out of the vehicle and, with one decisive action, successfully restrained her.
Twiggy, as we named her, was rescued in the Ngutuni area in Tsavo East National Park. With darkness encroaching, we brought her to our Voi Reintegration Unit, which was just across the Voi River, and immediately plied her with a bottle of milk, which she drank without hesitation. Given her eagerness, we can only imagine how long it had been since her last meal. Over the following week, the Voi Keepers set about acclimatising their new charge. Always wary of flailing legs, they used height to their advantage and perched atop a bunk in Twiggy’s stockade. After a few brushing sessions, she was putty in their hands. As we quickly discovered, this was a giraffe who loved to be pampered.
Now that Twiggy had settled down, we had to decide where to ultimately raise her. Voi was less than ideal, because older elephant orphans tend to be pushy when an interloper enters the fold. We wanted Twiggy to grow up with plenty of friends, in an area also frequented by her own kind. This led us to our Kaluku Neonate Nursery, located in the heart of the Tsavo Conservation Area. Twiggy would be surrounded by a menagerie of fellow orphans, and when the time was right, could join the thriving population of Maasai giraffes who call that area of Tsavo East home.
And so, Twiggy said goodbye to her new friends at Voi and flew off on her next chapter. She revealed herself to be an extremely cool customer: There were no dramatics throughout the 20-minute flight to Kaluku; she just quietly took everything in with her wide, brown eyes.
The Kaluku Keepers had prepared a feast of cut greens for Twiggy, including extra helpings of her favourite thorny acacia branches. Her stockade setup was the same design as at Voi, so everything felt wonderfully familiar. After her week among the Voi orphans, Twiggy was also very accustomed to sharing her space with elephants. In fact, she was probably relieved to find that this herd was a far less daunting size.
Little Rokka was absolutely delighted to have a new neighbour — and such a novel one, at that! From the outset, they spent most evenings chatting in the wonderful way of animals. Of course, being such a fiery elephant, Rokka couldn't resist a few naughty antics. She became convinced that Twiggy had a better stash of greens and made several attempts to sneak into her stockade. On the rare occasion that she was successful, Twiggy just stood by as Rokka tucked into her branches.
Apollo, the black rhino, was the only orphan who was less than welcoming. Rhinos are territorial by nature, and while he has no issue with the rest of the orphan menagerie, the addition of a giraffe was a step too far in his estimation. Apollo, whose stockade is across the way, resorted to snorting grumpily whenever he caught a glimpse of Twiggy.
We gave Twiggy a generous adjustment period within the sanctuary of her stockade. Giraffes have a strong flight drive, and we wanted to ensure she wouldn’t bolt into the vast Tsavo wilderness. However, we needn’t have worried: The first day she was let out, Twiggy stuck to her Keepers like a clinging vine! Now that she has fully adjusted to her new home, she confidently scoots around everywhere. On most of her excursions, she is trailed by Mkubwa the buffalo, Susu the eland, Kwale the hartebeest, and of course, Scooter the warthog.
Herds of Maasai giraffes live just a few kilometres away. In the fullness of time, Twiggy will join their ranks. For now, however, she is utterly content to be part of our Kaluku menagerie. After a day of adventures, she eagerly returns to her bedroom. Her Keeper sleeps in a raised bunk in her stockade, and Twiggy likes to check on him at night by poking her delicate head through the mosquito net. We are all enchanted by this brave, unflappable little giraffe.