Keepers' Diaries, April 2009

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The anticipated Easter rains never materialized, so most of the month has been extremely hot and dry, forcing the younger members of the Keeper dependent group to resort to drawing out stomach water to spray behind their ears in order to cool themselves down. Apart from just a few drizzles of rain which served only to settle the dust during the month, there was only one heavy rainstorm that fell during the night of the 26th, which filled natural depressions with water and brought on a late flush of greenery to relieve the drought situation that has bedeviled the entire country this year. Rain always leaves the orphans very happy, enjoying playing in the fresh mud and the puddles and sweet rain water trapped in rocky depressions..

The anticipated Easter rains never materialized, so most of the month has been extremely hot and dry, forcing the younger members of the Keeper dependent group to resort to drawing out stomach water to spray behind their ears in order to cool themselves down. Apart from just a few drizzles of rain which served only to settle the dust during the month, there was only one heavy rainstorm that fell during the night of the 26th, which filled natural depressions with water and brought on a late flush of greenery to relieve the drought situation that has bedeviled the entire country this year. Rain always leaves the orphans very happy, enjoying playing in the fresh mud and the puddles and sweet rain water trapped in rocky depressions..

There have been interesting exchanges amongst the various orphaned groups, with Wendi seemingly establishing a splinter Sub Senior group that is sufficiently confident to leave Yatta’s main gaggle of Seniors (numbering some 16 in all) in order to travel independently and keep in frequent touch with the Junior set throughout the month. Into her Splinter Sub- Senior group she has recruited Sunyei, and Galana,(both Junior Matriarchs from the Keeper dependent group, plus Madiba, Ndomot and Rapsu, who has been coming and going between the two groups for sometime now. She also has on occasions Tomboi, Napasha, Taita and Buchuma with her who are usually established members of Yatta’s Senior independent group of ex orphans.

Wendi’s new recruits have spent most nights out this month but usually also accompanied during nights by Yatta’s group of Seniors, who meet up with Wendi and the new recruits back at the Stockades in the evenings, once the Keeper dependent orphans have settled into their Stockades for the night. Then Wendi’s group of new recruits is often either waiting outside the stockades first thing in the morning for the Juniors to join them, or join up en route to the feeding grounds if they miss the morning rendez-vous, usually remaining with the Keeper dependent group for the entire day, sharing the noon mudbath with them, and walking back to the Stockades with them in the evenings to meet up with Yatta and the older elephants for the night out. All this obviously takes place with Yatta’s full approval, understanding that the new recruits are still anxious to be with their Junior friends.

On one occasion (on the 9th ) Nasalot detached herself from Yatta’s group to come with Wendi’s group and wait outside the Stockades for the Youngsters to emerge in the morning. She spent all day with them on that occasion, meeting up with Yatta in the evening at the Stockade compound. Probably she had been sent by Yatta to check on Wendi’s leadership of the newest recruits!

On the l0th Yatta’s entire group plus that of Wendi was there to greet the youngsters in the morning and amongst them on this occasion was a teenaged wild bull who accompanied them to their selected feeding grounds before peeling off. He rejoined them again later as they were feeding out in the bush at 3 p.m. and walked back to the Stockades with them in the evening to return the Youngsters to their Stockades for the night.

However, aside from Wendi’s appearances, this month there have only been a few days when Yatta has not joined up with the Juniors, either at the Stockades first thing in the morning, or out in the bush or at the noon mudbath, peeling off at a time of her choosing without any ado, sometimes leaving some of her group along with Wendi amongst the Juniors, and collected them again in the evening back at the Stockades. There are days when Yatta and her entire group spend all day with the Juniors; other days when only Wendi’s splinter group joins the Youngsters, and several days following the heavy rainstorm when neither group joined the Juniors, who were left with just their Keepers for company. On one occasion Tomboi popped out of the thickets alone to join up with the Youngsters who happened to have some wild friends with them on that occasion. The wild friends had joined them after the mudbath, and needed a drink, so all trekked back to the Stockades to drink at the trough. Once the wild friends had taken their fill, they peeled off, while the Juniors headed out in the opposite direction with their Keepers, who had been trailing the convoy.

Because there has obviously been some rain showers elsewhere in the vastness of Tsavo, fewer wild elephants have come to drink at the Stockade trough this month. 2 wild bulls came at 6 p.m. on the 3rd, 2 on the 15th, one on the16th and 5 wild elephants joined Yatta at the Stockades during the evening of the l8th. On the l9th an elephant bull without a tail plus his friend came for a drink and were joined by others later in the evening.

With Galana and Sunyei now elevated to Wendi’s Splinter Group of Sub Seniors, which is obviously a step to being elevated to a Senior within Yatta’s group, Naserian has become the main Junior Matriarch of the Keeper dependent youngsters, ably assisted by Sian both of whom do a good job keeping the boys in order. Zurura and Kamboyo are long-time sparring partners, as are Kenze and Kora, but such bouts are often interrupted either by Kora or the Junior Matriarchs if they degenerate into becoming more serious.

An interesting event happened just after the big rainstorm on the 27t when Yatta took a lot of the Juniors from their Keepers, (despite the Keepers repeatedly trying to call their charges back again). Only Naserian, Loijuk, Lualeni, Kora and Kenze obeyed the Keepers’ summons, but the rest willingly accompanied Yatta towards the Imenti waterhole area. Those who had remained with the Keepers were returned as usual to the Stockades at 5 p.m. and then at 7 p.m. Sian brought the others back to the Stockades, independently of both Yatta and Wendi, who were probably not far away at the time but who did not appear on that occasion.

On the 24th Yatta returned to the Stockade with her group at 4 p.m. which was earlier than usual, and her favourite, Ol Malo, was missing from the group, as she was once last year. Yatta loitered at the Stockades long after her group had decided to leave, obviously waiting for Ol Malo’s return, but eventually she too, gave up and decided to follow the others. Half an hour after Yatta’s departure Ol Milo did turn up, escorted by a wild bull –according to the Keepers the same wild bull friend with whom she spent a day away last year. Having taken a drink from the Stockade trough, the bull then departed leaving Ol Milo behind to be reunited with Yatta, who turned up again a while later! The reunion was a highly charged emotional event.

Other wild visitors to the Stockade water trough this month have been the small pack of resident wild dogs. Four turned up for a hurried drink during the morning of the 5th, 3 returned to drink on the 14th when Wendi and Galana, who were waiting at the compound for Yatta to meet them. The two orphans attempted to drive the dogs away, but the dogs refused to go until their thirst had been quenched,, so Wendi and Galana had to back down. Then on the 26th 3 dogs again came to drink, and disappeared in a cloud of dust giving chase to a hapless dikdik who unwisely appeared whilst the dogs were drinking. Whether or not they got the dikdik could not be established.

Unfolding is the fact that as long as there are Keeper dependent youngsters at the Stockades, the older elephant orphans will be returning periodically to keep in close touch with those they regard as “family” members, but will continue to recruit older orphans who have been weaned off milk into the Senior group. Bonds of family and friendship are everlasting ties that are enduring and strong in elephant society. Our orphans regard themselves as one large family, irrespective of their origins and will remain that way for life. During their gradual rehabilitation process they establish friendships with members of the wild community, illustrated by Ol Malo’s escapades and the wild friends who regularly now travel with the orphans, or who meet up with them when they come to drink at the Stockade trough or join them at their noon mudbath, tolerating the presence of the human Keepers as unusual additions to the orphaned family. All these factors contribute to the success of our Rehabilitation Programme of which we and all who have supported us can be exceedingly proud, since this is the first time it has ever been accomplished. To be able to save an infant elephant as a newborn, replace its lost elephant mother and family with a family of dedicated Keepers who steer the youngster into childhood, adolescence and eventually adulthood with compassion, care, understanding and love, brings the ultimate reward of being loved by an elephant for life and being able to share in the joy of their motherhood when grown in the case of the females, and being greeted with affection by magnificent ex orphan bulls who tower over them, and could kill them with just one swipe of a trunk. Would that all humans could be elevated to this status in the elephant brain! But for those of us who are privileged to have been, it is surely the ultimate reward that enriches our lives and makes us better people.

April 2009 day to day

01 Apr

It was a clear morning as the Juniors left their Night Stockades, joining Yatta’s group who were drinking at the trough. Sian led the entire group out into the bush to browse along the slopes of Ithumba Hill. At noon Kamboyo led the way to the mudbath, which all thoroughly enjoyed because it was a hot day. Later they rested under shade until temperatures fell, when they resumed browsing until it was time to return in the evening.

Kamboyo scratching

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