April has been a somewhat uneventful month for the Ithumba unit, with just one wild herd of elephants passing by the Stockades in the dead of the night of the 20th. Desperate to make contact when the orphans left the Stockades in the morning, the older females led the orphans, following the wild herd’s tracks, lifting their trunks to test the air every now and then, but to no avail, because the wild elephants were out of range. This is the second occasion that wild elephants have visited the Stockades during the night, so no doubt the word will be passed around!.
An obvious privilege and great treat for any baby elephant, is to be the leader of the group. Either on their way out into the bush from the Stockades in the mornings, or to the mudbath at noon, and back home again in the evening, the smaller members of the unit vie for this privilege, and all are allowed ar turn. However, as the biggest Boy in the group, Napasha has had morethan his fair share of this privilege, but Tomboi and Wendi come a close second, and even little Olmalo and Selengai, (the babies of the unit) have sampled this treat for the very first time.
This month’s Diary endorses the very strong attachment Yatta has for little Olmalo, as well as Mulika’s special relationship with Selengai, the other “baby” in the group. Both these calves enjoy the extra protection and tenderness from these two older cows. Yatta will often stand next to Olmalo as she is taking her milk at noon, making sure that greedy Napasha keeps his distance, and once the baby has finished, gently leading her away to feed close by her side. Similarly, Selengai is seldom far from Mulika, whilst Kinna is becoming more tolerant of boisterous Napasha, even allowing him to appear the victor of an intense shoving match, which she could easily have won, something that made him swell with pride.
The Ithumba unit as a whole is a very close and cohesive little herd and I am sure will remain so for life. All watch out, and care for each other displaying extraordinary responsibility for children so young, bearing in mind that the oldest member of the group and recognised Leader, Yatta, is just short of 6 years old (the equivalent of a 6 year old human, but so much more caring and wise!). Because the bush is so thick, there are times when one or two members find themselves left behind or separated when the others move on, and then just a low rumble or a bellow stops all the elephants and their Keepers in their tracks. Often one of the older females will respond by immediately returning the lost member – an example being when Nasalotwent back to retrieve Selengai on 19th. On another occasion Wendi ran to the Keepers for protection having been frightened by a fleeing lesser kudu that bounded by, and Yatta returned to comfort and reassure her. Napasha, Tomboi and Taita were very proud of themselves when they plucked up sufficient courage to gang up and together see off a noisy troupe of baboons that were disrupting the tranquillity of their feeding grounds. However, dikdiks are no longer viewed as a threat that needs attention, although Nasalot saw one off on the 5th. Encounters with other species, besides the usual baboons and the ubiquitous dikdiks, were some warthogs who came to enjoy the orphans’ mudwallow and were allowed to do so since rain during the previous night had provided puddles and mud everywhere which the orphans could enjoy.
It comes as no surprise that the Diary records the intense heat at this time of the year just prior to the onset of the rains, which have driven the orphans to seeking shade early on in the day. However, with food so plentiful, this is not a hardship, because they don’t have to go far to find it, and can afford the luxury of resting in the shade during the heat of the day. So far, the expected April/May rains have been disappointing, with just one heavy downpour during the night of the 5th, and thereafter only mention of “drizzles”. We hope this means that the rains are just late, and will not fail entirely.
For many months now, Napasha proudly holds his own bottle of milk, curling his trunk around it, and tipping it up at the right angle to ensure that every last drop goes down the hatch, something Tomboi has been desperately trying to emulate. At last Tomboi has managed, and according to the Diary, he “danced” with joy, throwing a foreleg back and forth delightedly to attract everyone’s attention to the feat! He and Taita remain firm friends; Wendi is independent and as self sufficient as ever, seeing herself as a Matriarch in the making. Napasha provides endless entertainment for all, including Kinna, who keeps him in order, whilst Olmalo and Selengai enjoy the special status of Matriarchal “favourites”.