The Arrival of a Beloved Visitor: A Memorable Encounter with our Little Ones

Hey there!
When it comes to helping the orphans transition into their new lives, we get to know a lot of amazing wild elephants near our Reintegration Units. Some elephants just pass by and we barely get to know them, but there are others who seem to understand us and visit us every year. These elephants are not just acquaintances, they are our friends. One elephant in particular, Ndugu, was very special to us.
Ndugu, a magnificent bull, called the Kibwezi Forest his home. We named him Ndugu, which means “brother” in Swahili, because he became like a big brother to our Umani Springs herd. Our friendship with him didn’t happen overnight. At first, he would watch the herd from a distance, just a dark figure hidden in the thick bushes. But as time went on, he became more comfortable around them and started joining them at the salt licks and mud baths in the open glades. Our baby elephants would get so excited when Ndugu appeared, and eventually they built up the courage to approach him directly.

During their everyday escapades, our group of orphans stumble upon numerous untamed elephants in the enchanting Kibwezi Forest. These encounters have given rise to numerous friendships, but none are as remarkable as our bond with Ndugu. He holds a unique and cherished place in our hearts, with his calming aura and kind nature. Ndugu was never a bother to our Keepers, never raising any cause for concern. It seemed as if he comprehended the crucial role they played within our extraordinary herd.

Ndugu was not a frequent visitor, unlike other elephants who regularly scout the forest. He would stay in the forest for a few months before moving on. The Keepers and the orphaned elephants were always thrilled to see him whenever he made his usual journey back to Umani Springs. Over the years, their bond grew stronger and Ndugu would even accompany the herd to their stockades, ensuring they were safe for the night. Sometimes, he would choose to stay nearby, sometimes even sleeping outside the enclosure. Ndugu often took on the role of protector and guide for four of our orphans who started venturing out into the forest at night. Having their older friend by their side must have brought them a great sense of comfort and security.

The Umani Springs herd had the pleasure of having Ndugu with them throughout April and May, but unfortunately, he disappeared once again. Surprisingly, after being gone for three weeks, our caretakers were taken aback to see him standing by the mud bath, clearly in distress. Upon closer examination, they discovered that he had a seriously infected injury. Immediately, they contacted the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit, and Dr. Poghon promptly arrived to administer an anesthetic to Ndugu. It seemed that he had sustained the injury during a fight with another male elephant. His right ear had a hole the size of a tusk, along with a deep puncture between his scapula and an additional injury on his left shoulder. After thorough cleaning and a hefty dose of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, Ndugu managed to rise to his feet. However, Dr. Poghon was cautious in his prognosis due to the severity and infection of the injuries.

We consistently kept a vigilant watch over our companion. He stayed in the vicinity, hobbling heavily between the woodland and the clearing. After soothing his injuries with remnants of soil, he would recline on the earth or give himself a delicate coating of mud, which appeared to alleviate his discomfort. Ndugu had been present when Luggard and Enkesha progressed to Umani Springs. He observed the events intently, displaying evident curiosity towards the fresh faces, yet it was evident that he was not faring well and we could detect the infection creeping in. Nevertheless, he maintained a dignified presence, resembling a statue in the mud bath, splashing water onto his shoulders. Shukuru, who possesses knowledge of surmounting significant physical challenges, displayed clear unease for her friend and ventured towards his side to offer assistance.

She was not alone. Unfortunately, we were unable to help him further in the early stages, which was incredibly frustrating and tragic. The use of M99 to tranquilize elephants comes with a drawback – it has a revival drug that lingers in the bloodstream. This means that we cannot administer more anesthesia for a certain period of time, as the revival drug would make it ineffective and the elephant would never wake up. We have to wait a minimum of two weeks before considering any follow-up treatment. As the sun rose the following day, Ndugu was still standing in the mud bath, but soon after, he collapsed. Our team rushed to his side, filled with despair. It seemed that he no longer had the strength to stand, so we brought vehicles to assist him. Sadly, our efforts were in vain, as he took his final breath and passed away before our eyes. Ndugu’s death affected everyone profoundly. It is hard to fathom why such a magnificent companion had to meet such a senseless demise. We carried him deep into the forest, away from where the orphans usually roam, to a serene resting place surrounded by the lush trees that Ndugu adored.

We feel relieved that our orphans did not witness the passing of Ndugu. Some elephants in our Umani Springs herd have experienced the tragic loss of their mothers in front of their own eyes, and we were concerned that seeing their friend’s lifeless body would have brought back painful memories. Instead, we prefer to believe that they imagine him embarking on an exciting adventure. Elephants have a deep sense of intuition, so it’s likely they understood his suffering and accepted his fate.

Even though we only knew Ndugu for a short time, he made a lasting impact on us. Although his life was cut short, it was undeniably meaningful. Ndugu was a curious and empathetic elephant who wholeheartedly embraced our unique Umani Springs herd and dedicated himself to their well-being.

Rest peacefully, dear brother. Your absence is deeply felt, but may your magnificent spirit continue to guard the exquisite Kibwezi Forest.

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