Lissa was born in Tsavo in 1986, and was found abandoned and alone near Mackinnon Road when she was almost 2 years old, obviously a victim of the poaching that was rampant during the latter half of the seventies, eighties and early nineties. Known as the years of the “elephant holocaust”. Armed Somali poachers invaded Tsavo following the death of David Sheldrick, and poached elephant carcases were found on a daily basis throughout the Park. One of these, near Mackinnon Road, was obviously the mother of this calf.
She was spotted by Lissa Ruben, who orchestrated her rescue – hence this elephant’s name, “Lissa”. At the time she was pathetically emaciated, and had a back leg that had obviously been broken in infancy, and had healed mis-shapen, all too obvious in view of the gaunt appearance of this calf, who had practically no flesh on her bones. Because of the age of the calf, she was able to be handed over directly into the custody of the then elephant Matriarch, “Eleanor”, who nurtured and took into her care all the orphans that were brought in aged two and older during those tragic years.
Lissa immediately bonded with Eleanor, and was with her until Eleanor became pregnant in the early nineties, handed over her adopted family to a wild friend, the cow given the name “Catherine”, and left to have her baby far from the possibility of human intervention, obviously fearful that her human family might take it from her. (Female elephants who do not have an intact blood family of their own, are very prone to trying to abduct young calves in order to build one, and Eleanor herself had been guilty of this with the first-born of another elephant named “Mary”, who was within her unit. Since Eleanor was not raised through the Nairobi Nursery, unlike others that were, she did not understand how Daphne came to have so many elephant babies, and thinking in elephant terms, feared that they, too, must have been abducted!).
Following the departure of Eleanor, and also Mary and her calf, who left the group once she recovered her calf, the Matriarchal duties of the orphaned family were taken over by a young cow called “Malaika”, who had been reared from early infancy in the Nairobi Nursery and later died in childbirth aged l0, surrounded by her human family – the Keepers. Thereafter “Emily” took control of the still dependent orphans, but Lissa continued to keep in touch with them, and their Keepers, returning periodically to either share a mudbath, or spend time amongst them out in the bush. She is therefore a permanent part of the orphans’ extended family, sharing her time between the wild herd of Catherine, and our orphan unit.
Lissa gave birth to her first calf in mid January 1999, when she was 14 years old. She returned with her newborn calf, and an ex orphan named “Mpenzi”, who was the “Nannie” and proudly showed the new baby to the keepers and the other orphans, before leaving again. We gave the calf the name “Lara”.
The next time Lissa returned, the calf was trailing a wire snare from one back leg. Fortunately, the noose was not tight, but it needed to be removed. Being wild-born, the Keepers could not catch up with the calf, but Lissa obviously understood what needed to be done, for she walked calmly into the Stockades, and continued quietly feeding, paying no attention to the terrified bellows of her baby as the Keepers pursued it around the Stockades in an attempt to capture it. Eventually, the other orphans were brought in. Immediately, they surrounded the calf, who was pinioned in their midst, which enabled the Keepers to crawl beneath the surrounding elephant bodies and remove the snare from Lara’s leg. Lissa, was then reunited with her baby, and all was well once more, as they walked calmly off together back from whence they had come.
On the 22nd November 2002, Lissa returned to the base of Mazinga Hill in the vicinity of the Stockades, along with a large herd of about 50 wild elephants, all in a great state of excitement. Sensing that something unusual was about to happen, some of the Keepers climbed onto a huge rock, and from this vantage point, they could see Lissa in the midst of the wild group, obviously in labour, lying down and getting up at intervals. After a while, the baby was born as she was in a squatting position, and amazingly, a huge bull barged through the attendant cows, and immediately mated poor Lissa. (Apparently, the hormones released when a birth is imminent, and during the birthing process, closely resemble those of a cow in estrous. In a natural elephant family, the cow about to give birth would leave with a few close adult female relatives to seek a secluded spot, protected by her adult female family).
After Lissa’s second baby was born, the excitement within the herd was intense, with trumpeting, rumbling, and elephants milling around the mother and her baby, trying to encourage the baby to its feet. When things quietened down again, and the baby was moving on wobbly legs, Lissa and Mpenzi took the new calf under shade, and the other elephants began to disperse. The Keepers were able to see that her second baby was also a female and we have named her “Lali”.
Lissa, Lara and Lali remain regular visitors to the still dependent orphans. Hence, the tragic little orphan from Mackinnon road, with the mis-shapen hind leg, is now a healthy, healed and very successful elephant mother – one of the Trust’s proudest success stories.