Mpenzi is one of the 15 orphan baby elephants rescued by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), whose names adorn our Elephant London Dry Gin miniature bottles.. Mpenzi was found alone near the Tsavo East National Park Headquarters at Voi, in Kenya, at about 8 months old. The name “Mpenzi” means “Darling” in Kiswahili.

Mpenzi was very dehydrated and weak, obviously having been without her mother’s milk for many weeks when she arrived at the DSWT’s nursery. On arrival, the older orphans were taken to her, and they immediately surrounded her affectionately, and walked her back to the Night Stockades as part of their group. Taking cues from the other orphans, Mpenzi took  milk from the bottle. Another older orphan, Malaika, seemed particularly fond of Mpenzi and instantly fussed over and “mothered” her.

Mpenzi thrived with the orphans until almost 2 years old when an older Matriarch “Eleanor” of a wild herd coaxed her away from Malaika. Mpenzi spent time away with that wild herd, but eventually she decided that her adopted orphaned family were more ”family” than the wild herd with whom she had travelled. This was not surprising in view of the fact that she spent only 8 months with her own family and had been with the orphans for l6.

Upon her return to the wild herd, Eleanor, and the other females in her group, spent a great deal of time “working” on Mpenzi to persuade her to bond with them, rather than with Malaika. They even forewent spending time with the wild elephants during the rainy green festive wet season in order to woo Mpenzi from Malaika. Having succeeded, Mpenzi joined the herd – and Malaika never forgave Eleanor, harbouring an ongoing resentment. Mpenzi, after joining the wild herd had her two wild-born calves, the first of which arrived in January 1999 and the next in January 2004.

Female elephants normally remain as a united family for life, but the orphans, who have lost their natural family, are always desperate to try and create a replacement unit of their own. There is therefore quite a lot of competition amongst orphaned females who tend to hijack calves away from others, something that promotes animosity and strife which would normally be unknown in a unit where all members are closely related, and the age structure defines rank and dominance.

Photo credit and text: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust