Keepers' Diaries, April 2021

Select your unit:

Ithumba Reintegration Unit

We spent much of April with our eyes wishfully turned to the skies, watching for signs of the customary ‘long rains’ that fall this time of year. While much of the month remained disappointingly dry, the heavens opened up towards the end and bestowed us with one big shower. We hope that more rain is on the way before the notoriously dry months ahead. 

The dependent orphans spent most of their afternoons browsing in one of their favourite areas, just west of the Ithumba Hill. This also served as a meeting place to link up with the ex-orphans. Yatta, Wendi, and their ex-orphan herd remained in the area for much of the month, taking advantage of the resources closer to home. As soon as the rain fell, however, they wandered deeper into Tsavo, off to take advantage of all the fresh pools of water dotting the ground.

Wendi’s presence is always a mixed blessing. While the dependent orphans love to play with her daughters, Wiva and Wema, along with the other wild-born babies in the herd, Wendi herself is a disruptive presence! She has always been very naughty, and age and motherhood have done nothing to reform her. Her favourite trick is to intervene when the Keepers are trying to shepherd the orphans to a different spot, coming between the group and generally causing chaos. One evening, the Keepers were preparing to escort the orphans home when something scared the herd and they scattered in all directions. They soon realized that 14 orphans — Roi, Naseku, Oltaiyoni, Siangiki, Mteto, Mundusi, Ndiwa, Malkia, Maramoja, Sapalan, Esampu, Malima, Dololo and Sattao — were missing from the group! When searching for the wayward orphans, the Keepers crossed paths with Wendi’s herd. Rather than help the situation, Wendi mischievously prevented the search party from passing, causing them to lose the trail as darkness fell. It was the first time that so many dependent orphans stayed out all at once!

What happened next was even more unexpected. Just after 6 o’clock the next morning, the missing orphans returned to the stockades, with an added spring in their step and very eager for their milk bottles and lucerne grass. However, two members of the missing group were notably absent: Dololo and Sattao. These boys (Dololo in particular) are favourites of the older, wild-living females, so we suspected they were still enjoying their company. Roi and Oltaiyoni, however, were not happy with the situation. They repeatedly raised their trunks in the air, searching for the boys and looking agitated. The Keepers understood that they were communicating and gave them the freedom to leave the herd. Both girls promptly walked off into the wilderness, on a mission to reclaim their beloved youngsters. 

Around noon, Roi and Oltaiyoni walked up to the mud bath with Sattao and Dololo in tow. It was remarkable how they understood that the truants were still far too young to remain in the bush on their own, as they still need their milk formula. The Keepers were enormously proud of the two girls, as only they could have found Sattao and Dololo so easily, navigating Tsavo and manoeuvring their way around the wild elephants in the area. After all, Wendi can single-handedly be a formidable roadblock!

The mischief didn’t end when Wendi and company departed. Towards the end of the month, Kithaka, Orwa, and Garzi were spotted from a distance, but they disappeared into the bush instead of coming to say hello. They were obviously trying to avoid detection, which the Keepers knew was a sign of trouble. Sure enough, soon after the noon milk feed, the naughty trio spirited away Sana Sana, Mundusi, Pare, Malima, and Mteto. They remained out and about for the rest of the day, even after the rest of the herd went home for the night. However, the dependent quintet was evidently not excited about the prospect of spending the whole night out in Tsavo. Around 7:30pm, the Keepers heard rumbling coming from Kanziku Road near the stockades. They called out their names, and it wasn’t long before Sana Sana, Mundusi, Pare, Malima, and Mteto emerged. An hour later, Kithaka, Orwa, and Garzi appeared from the same direction, confirming our suspicion that they had been responsible for the kidnapping. We were relieved that at least Mutara’s herd was well behaved this month and didn’t try to make off with any of the dependent orphans.

Siangiki, Olsekki, Oltaiyoni, Tusuja, Barsilinga and Naseku are in the ‘final class,’ as the Keepers say. They are the eldest members of our dependent herd and will leave whenever they feel ready. This group is given a little more free rein, coming home later at night and spending days as they wish. This freedom is important, as it allows them to form new friendships and hone their wild instincts.

Now that Barsilinga’s foot injury is fully healed, we suspect that he and his best friend, Tusuja, will soon make the transition to the wild. They spent a bit of time with Kithaka’s group this month, who Barsilinga originally went wild with two years ago, before his injured foot brought him back into the fold. Barsilinga is prudently taking this second transition one step at a time, but he latches on to any ex-orphan who happens to be in the area, spending the day in their company before returning to the stockades at night. 

While Lenana and her baby, Lapa, are usually part of Yatta’s ex-orphan herd, they formed their own little splinter group this month, consisting of Ukame, Kalama, and Lemoyian. Ukame has appointed herself Lapa’s ‘head nanny’ and takes her role very seriously. She never exhibited much of a maternal side as a dependent orphan — in fact, she was known as a rather moody girl — but it seems that she has finally found her place. Lapa loves the attention, and the little rascal can usually be found running around with dutiful Ukame hot on his heels!

Much to our surprise, Lualeni and her baby, Lulu, spent most of April roving entirely on their own. Of course, they were never really alone, as they often linked up with the dependent herd. One afternoon, the orphans suddenly diverted off course. The Keepers found them converging upon a mud bath where Lualeni and Lulu were relaxing! It was clear that Lualeni had summoned them to join her. Before becoming a mum herself, she was a notorious kidnapper of the dependent orphans. This incident, coupled with Lualeni’s historic behaviour, led the Keepers to wonder if she was trying to lure some dependent babies into a herd that she could lead as the matriarch. By the end of the month, however, Lualeni had reunited with Wendi, so it seems her matriarch aspirations are on hold for the moment.

Quite a few bulls visited the Ithumba mud bath this month. They are always an awe-inspiring sight for our orphans, who must feel very diminutive by comparison. Olsekki has always been particularly starstruck by these chaps. He is the first to welcome them or greet a newcomer, those who are taken aback by the sight of our eclectic human-elephant family! Ex-orphan Challa visited a few times, while Tomboi arrived at the beginning of the month with Wendi’s herd.

Growing bulls love to fight, but it’s all in good fun. These face-offs help them gain respect and establish dominance within their herd. Six-year-old Karisa is always gentle with the youngsters, so Musiara and Sattao like to play with him and garner new skills. Pare and Mapia aren’t quite so forgiving, and the young bulls often leave their games disappointed. Mundusi is another enthusiastic wrestler, so we weren’t too surprised when he woke up one morning with a limp. The Keepers couldn’t find anything physically wrong with his leg, so he likely sprained it during one of his sparring matches. Fortunately, it cleared up within a few days. 

While the boys are happy to endure the occasional sprain in exchange for their fun and games, the older females try to curtail wrestling matches before they become too boisterous. Oltaiyoni used to be matriarch of the Nairobi Nursery, so everyone knows that she will put a stop to rowdy behaviour. In fact, all the older girls — Oltaiyoni, Roi, Siangiki, Naseku, and Kamok — watch the games with a beady eye, quick to step in if they think one of their beloved younger babies is being treated harshly. The latter three are particularly fond of Ambo, and they even take turns looking after him. With all this attention, it is no surprise that Ambo always seems to have a smile on his face. He is a jovial little bull; we love to watch him walk about, swinging his trunk from side to side in happiness. 

We remain optimistic for more rain, but in the meantime, we are still in a good position here at Ithumba. Despite a few dramatic moments this month, all the orphans are happy and well. We just have to keep our eye out for mischievous Wendi!

April 2021 day to day

01 Apr

Tusuja and Wanjala had a brief strength testing exercise soon after leaving the stockades. Tusuja wasn’t keen on taking the pushing game too far and so decided to quit, leaving Wanjala wondering what to do next as he clearly wasn’t in the mood for browsing quite yet! Malima and Sattao settled to share food from the same shrub before parting ways. Malima later joined Musiara in scratching on some rocks they had come across. 

The sky was clear and this left everyone wondering, as we have always known this time of the year to be a time of rain! Perhaps we will have to wait a bit longer as climate change seems to be changing everything. The vegetation is still a little green from the rain we randomly had a few weeks ago, so the orphans are still happy, and they still get their supplements. 

Ex-orphan Kilaguni joined the orphans on the way to the mud bath and later joined them for the afternoon to browse. Later the dependent orphans met with the senior ex-orphans in Yatta’s herd and they browsed together until three o'clock when Ishanga decided to take the orphans for a roadside mud bath when the temperature became so unbearable. 

When it was time to return to the stockades, Siangiki, Olsekki, Oltaiyoni, Tusuja, Barsilinga and Naseku decided to stay for longer with the ex-orphans and returned back to the stockades later after they had enough interaction with their seniors. The five orphans are in the ‘final class’ and are trying to gather as much information as they can before making their final decision on when to seek their independence.

Wanjala and Tusuja sparring

Malima and Musiara scratching