The Joy of Welcoming a Baby Elephant to the Herd

I want to talk about the baby boom that occurred in Ithumba this year. Despite the harsh conditions brought by a severe dry season in Tsavo, these new calves brought hope and joy to the community. It serves as a reminder that even in tough times, there is always a reason to look forward to better days.
As we bid farewell to this year, I wish you all a happy and healthy new year ahead. Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to reconnecting with you in 2022.
– Sincerely, Angela Sheldrick

Ithumba’s Latest Elephant Calves
A couple of years ago, Tsavo was experiencing abundant rainfall, which resulted in a rich and thriving environment. Although some seasons are more fruitful than others, this was something entirely different. It was like we received years’ worth of rain condensed into just a few months, which led to an explosion of life. During this period, a new generation of elephants was conceived.

However, the gestation period for elephants is 22 months, and a lot can change during that time. In fact, even humanity has undergone significant changes between 2019 and now. This year, the situation changed drastically, with poor rains leading to a long and trying dry season. This has been a challenge for all creatures, including the newest elephant calves. While they were conceived during a period of abundance, they were born into a time of scarcity. Nevertheless, their existence is nothing short of miraculous.

The birth of Kaia marked the beginning of a series of miracles that occurred in October. It all began on the 17th when Yatta’s former orphan herd arrived at Ithumba, making a grand entrance with trumpets announcing their arrival. We soon discovered that Kinna, one of the elephants, had given birth to a small calf that was running by her side. We decided to name the newborn Kaia, as a tribute to the red soil of her homeland. The day held special meaning for Kinna as 22 years ago on the same day, she was struggling for survival in a waterhole. Now, she is a proud mother of two.

After serving as a dedicated nanny for several years, Naserian finally became a first-time mother just ten days ago. She gave birth to a precious little girl and named her Njema, which translates to “good” in Swahili. After being away for nearly six months, Naserian returned to Ithumba with the goal of introducing her new addition to the Keepers. The ex-orphans Wendi and Sunyei, along with their wild-born daughters, Wema, Wiva, and Siku, accompanied her. This was a reminder of Naserian’s rescue in 2004 when she was alone for a week and suffered rejection from passing herds. Severe trauma led to Naserian being stabled next to an outgoing orphan named Wendi, who comforted her on her first night. They have been inseparable ever since and are now raising their families side by side.

The older babies of our ex orphans, including Wiva (who is on the left in the picture), are now taking on the role of nannies for the female elephants who once cared for them. It’s interesting to note that Wendi’s six-year-old daughter, Wiva, has taken on the responsibility of being Njema’s head nanny. Wendi wasn’t very attentive when she had her first baby, so Naserian had played a big part in raising Wiva. Now that many of the ex orphans’ babies are growing up, they are stepping up to assist the females who once took care of them. It’s quite an incredible changing of the guard to witness.

Noah, the newest addition to our elephant family, is proving to be just as mischievous as his older brother Nusu. He was born on November 5th, making him the third calf to be welcomed into our care in just three weeks. Noah’s mother, Nasalot, has had her fair share of hardships. She lost her family to poachers when she was only three months old and spent her first few nights at the Nursery grieving and pacing. However, she eventually overcame her heartache and became one of the most nurturing orphans in our care. Despite her gentle nature, her first calf Nusu is quite the troublemaker – and it seems that Noah may follow in his footsteps.

Similar to all young calves, Yatta’s latest addition, Yogi, discovers amusement in every nook and cranny. Ithumba has transformed into a virtual infant sanctuary, with various wild elephant mothers choosing to reside in the region, recognizing its safety for delivery. With the inclusion of Kaia, Njema, and Noah, in addition to these new members, baby elephants can be seen dashing about in every direction. Consequently, when Yatta produced her third calf on the 10th of November, Head Keeper Benjamin was initially unaware of the newest addition! Yogi became his name, alongside his older siblings Yoyo and Yetu.

The family portrait of Yatta and her babies Yogi, Yoyo, and Yetu is truly remarkable. Yatta’s story is a testament to the impact one saved life can have on future generations of elephants. She was orphaned 22 years ago when her mother was killed by poachers for her ivory. Despite this tragedy, Yatta had a big heart and a natural talent for leadership. She became the founding matriarch of our Ithumba Reintegration Unit, where she guided numerous orphans back into the wilds of Tsavo.

Yetu, Yatta’s firstborn, was only the second wild baby conceived by one of our Ithumba orphans. Now, at nine years old, she is about to become a mother herself. Yatta’s legacy lives on through her offspring, and her family portrait is a beautiful symbol of hope for the future of elephants in the wild.

Saba, the latest member of Sunyei’s family, arrived last week. Sunyei, who was rescued from a sand river hole in 2003, has come a long way since then and is now a proud mother of two living in the plains of Tsavo. To mark the birth of her seventh calf this year (and there were more to come!), we named her Saba, which means “seven” in Swahili.

Regrettably, during the dry season, some newborns did not survive, including Mumo belonging to Makena. It is important to pay tribute to the two calves who did not make it this year while mentioning the number seven. In August, Galana gave birth to a calf that appeared weak, and despite her motherly care, it died within a day. Makena’s baby, Mumo, was born a month later, and for a few days, the mother and child stayed near Ithumba until they suddenly went missing. Unfortunately, we will never know why Makena ventured into the drought-battered lands of Tsavo when she had everything she needed in Ithumba and what happened during their journey. On the third day, they returned, but Mumo’s health was already deteriorating. Although the Keepers made every effort to revive the calf, she passed away, leaving everyone heartbroken.

Makena, an empathetic elephant, did not dwell on her personal loss when Mumo passed away. Despite being highly emotional creatures, elephants have the ability to move on from tragic events. Makena found a way to cope with her grief by looking after the young calves around her instead of being reminded of her own loss. This selfless act not only helped her heal but also shows the remarkable nature of elephants.

The dry season can be a difficult period for elephants, especially for new mothers and their babies. Mumo’s unfortunate incident highlights the challenges faced by new mothers during these months. Survival largely depends on the wisdom of matriarchs, who rely on ancient knowledge and take calculated risks. The current generation of baby elephants should have been born during the rainy season, but the prolonged dry season has made it difficult for them to thrive. Recently, there was a miraculous event when Sidai and Chyulu returned to Ithumba after a year, accompanied by their calves, Sita and Cheka, and a new baby boy born to Sidai. However, it was discovered that Sidai had been hit by a poisoned arrow and needed help. The entire family appeared emaciated, suggesting they had travelled a great distance in a short time.

When Sidai reached out for assistance, we swiftly responded and the entire procedure proceeded smoothly. We managed to swiftly organize a treatment plan that took place near the enclosures while being monitored by over a dozen mature elephants. It was remarkable that there were no unexpected events when Dr. Poghon administered anesthesia and began treating Sidai. It appeared as though the other former orphans recognized that their companion desperately required aid and refrained from causing any drama. Instead, they paid attention to little Silas (Sidai’s newborn whom we named) and Sita, caring for them until their mother had fully recovered.

After traveling a long distance, baby Silas finally got some much-needed rest. Although we can’t know for sure what happened to Sidai, we have a hunch. Elephants with young calves need to be near water, and since Sidai was missing from Ithumba, she was likely at the Tiva River – the closest watering point. Unfortunately, it seems that she was hit by a poisoned arrow, leaving her with a tough decision: stay by the water source she knew or try to make it to Ithumba for help. She bravely chose the latter, embarking on a dangerous journey across the parched Tsavo plains with her newborn and two-year-old in tow. It’s an extraordinary feat for any injured elephant, let alone one with such vulnerable offspring.

The story of Ithumba’s baby bounty embodies the essence of our year. Although it was challenging and heartbreaking at times, it has left me with a sense of hope. The good news is that we now have 44 wild-born elephant calves with many more to come. These tiny creatures will eventually grow up to become the magnificent bulls and wise old matriarchs who rule over Tsavo. They will create their own families and give birth to new offspring, and the cycle will continue. None of this would be possible if their mothers had not been given a second chance years ago. As a result, by rescuing just one orphaned elephant, we are paving the way for generations of these magnificent creatures to thrive.

The babies of today will be the future giants of the plains, and there’s reason to be optimistic. In early December, our ex-orphan mothers were finally able to introduce their babies to the lush greenery of Tsavo. They eagerly disappeared into the wild, and when we see them again, they’ll have grown a bit bigger and fatter. There’s so much for them to explore in their beautiful home on the plains.

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