Keepers' Diaries, April 2019

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

This month was scorching hot as we all waited impatiently for the rains to break. We were surrounded by not only our ex-orphans but wild elephant families and bulls as well, all choosing to remain close to home and happy for the full waterhole that we top up; here all the elephants can savour lengthy sessions bathing. One day the elephants managed to drink a record 40,000 litres of water! But the water troughs around Ithumba are just some of the water points topped up by the Sheldrick Trust throughout Tsavo.

As the rains took so long to come, we decided to create a new mud bath area for the orphans not far from the stockades, where there was still plenty of food for them to browse on. The Keepers also decided to walk the orphans to a new area where they had not been to browse before, further down on the lower Kalovoto Lugga area, with plenty of vegetation. The orphans settled to browse close to the Keepers and browsed as one group, and didn’t scatter out due to fear of getting lost; they never strayed further from where they could hear the Keepers talking. They appeared to enjoy their new browsing area enormously. 

The ex-orphans were steadily visiting the stockades in the morning as well to share lucerne with the dependent orphans. With some of them like Yatta, Kinna and Galana still breastfeeding, they need all the supplements they can get in the dry season as well. Sometimes even the wild bulls would come to investigate what the tasty vegetation all the orphans were eating was all about, not minding the presence of the Keepers at all.  The wild elephants learn the routines and very quickly become an extension of the Ithumba set up, totally comfortable with the Keepers and loving their interaction with the 63 plus wild ex-orphans living amongst them. 

On the mornings that the ex-orphans decided not to visit, the orphans were delighted to have some peace and quiet without having to side-step around their seniors or deal with their roguish little children either. One day Nasalot’s little rascal baby Nusu tried to engage Garzi in a pushing game. Garzi didn’t understand why little Nusu would believe they were even close to being equal in strength, and pushed Nusu gently away. Nusu should watch out as not many bulls would handle him as gently as Garzi did! Esampu was happy to find that Galana’s baby Gawa has grown and is about the same size as her now, and they enjoy playing together. Esampu is playing with all the wild born babies, and one day went from playing with Yoyo to Gawa and finally ended up with Kama before walking off in a different direction to the ex-orphans to browse for the day.

Orwa, Narok and Bomani’s little trio visited the stockades and teamed up to browse with the orphans a handful of times this month as well. Sixteen year old ex-orphan bull Buchuma visited only once and very briefly, while big boy Tomboi visited only twice, once with a wild herd of elephants which had a young calf. Ex-orphan Mulika who is normally with Yatta’s herd, and her baby Mwende, have still not been seen this year, but it seems they remain with ex-orphans Sidai and Ololoo who have been absent as well. Because of the favourable conditions last year with excellent rainfall throughout the region, many of our orphans have remained away for long periods. This is how it should be and is quite normal once they grown in both age and confidence. 

Olare and her herd consisting of Tumaren, Melia, Kandecha, Chemi Chemi and Kalama all visited the stockades for lucerne a few times this month as well, but they are a group who choose to spend long periods away.

On the 4th of the month we had a very light drizzle which succeeded in lowering the temperature a little, but the main rains did not fall until late into the month, around the 24th. Last year they had already begun by the end of March, but we are hoping more will fall soon, and that we will be blessed with adequate rainfall despite them arriving later than usual. Predictably, as soon as the rain fell the ex-orphans and wild elephants dispersed, leaving the dependent orphans in peace and quiet at last. The orphans enjoyed digging at the moist soil with their short tusks, and throwing the cool, wet soil onto their backs, relishing the muddy conditions.

We have been watching little Sana Sana recently as she loves leading the dependent herd around, despite only being three years old; whether it’s out of the stockades in the morning or to the mud bath at noon for their bottles. Sana Sana was only nine months old when we rescued her, already having been mauled by a hyena without the protection from her herd. Having been one of the most maternal older females at the Nairobi Nursery for some years, it is no surprise to us that she enjoys leading the herd still, despite many of them being much older than her; because of her gentle nature, it is testament to her character that they are also willing to let her!

Kithaka and Barsilinga are two older bulls we have had our eye on as well, as they continue to flit between spending time with the dependent orphans and browsing more independently as well, along with Garzi and Lemoyian. Rescued just a few months apart and only a few weeks old, these two bulls have been inseparable since being brought up together at the Nursery. They are the perfect example of the life long bonds that our babies form in the Nairobi Nursery and carry forward into the new lives they carve in the world. 

New friendships can also be forged once at the Reintegration Units too. One example of this is Sapalan and Enkikwe, who out of circumstance have grown a special bond because Sapalan being a quiet orphan tends to walk slowly, and Enkikwe’s limp which also causes him to walk at the back of the herd has led to time together browsing away from the others, and as a result their friendship has grown stronger, and they enjoy each other’s company enormously. Sapalan is a polite orphan who rarely initiates a fight, which is good for Enkikwe as well who is not strong enough for any robust pushing games yet.

Rapa made us laugh this month. This spunky little bull is never shy of taking advantage of an opportunity to show off his strength, even when he can’t quite claim all the credit. One afternoon at the mud bath, a wild bull blocked two buffalos from the water hole until all the elephants had quenched their thirst. The buffalos left immediately after they had had enough water. When Rapa saw the buffalos walking away, he pretended to be chasing them by following them. He then returned full of bravado, trumpeting and stamping his feet, as if he personally had seen off the two buffaloes who dared to disturb their mud bath trying to deceive but impress the rest of the herd with his tricks! 

April 2019 day to day

01 Apr

Yatta brought her group to the stockade early in the morning. When the orphans were let out, the ex-orphans joined them to feed on lucerne. Several ex-orphans like Kinna, Chyulu and Galana were greedy and carried more than their share away to eat on their own. Naseku and Galla showed brotherly and sisterly love by politely sharing the little that had been left behind by the ex-orphans. Sana Sana tried to pick some lucerne close to Ithumbah, but changed her mind as she didn't know how Ithumbah would react. 

As soon as the lucerne feasting was over, the ex-orphans headed west while the juniors headed south. It was calm out in the bush with the orphans concentrating on browsing and wishing for the rains to come soon. The temperature escalated to the extent the orphans start walking to the mud bath early before eleven. Fifteen wild bulls were present at mud bath. The orphans used one side of the mud bath to cool themselves down while the wild elephants used the western side. Naseku emerged as the most playful one in the water, as Rapa quit the mud bath to chase some warthogs who were having a good time waiting for their turn in getting into the mud. The warthogs ran away only to come back when all the orphans had vacated the mud bath. In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse in the upper Kalovoto area until five o'clock in the evening when Sana Sana led the first group back to the stockade. 

Orphans and Ex Orphans feeding on Lucerne

Galla and Naseku sharing Lucerne

Naseku playing in the water