Keepers' Diaries, April 2023

Select your unit:

Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Since many of our senior Ithumba orphans have gone wild, the ‘next class’ of boys are busy establishing their dominance as the new herd dynamic takes form. Jotto and Mapia are embroiled in an endless wrestling match, with small breaks for eating and sleeping. For the most part, they are evenly matched, so their bouts usually end in a draw. We had to laugh one day when Ambo and Dololo were having their own competition. Rapa, who is their elder by a year, intervened and separated the two, as if he disapproved of their petty pushing match.

On 4th April, we finally received rain. The day began with dark, heavy clouds looming overhead. Sure enough, about an hour after the orphans emerged from their rooms, the heavens opened with big, fat rain drops. Ignited by the rain, everyone was suddenly in a very playful mood. Ndiwa, Kamok, Ambo, Mukkoka, Kuishi, and Malkia led the water activities with gusto. Eventually, the rain stopped, and almost simultaneously the orphans stopped their rolling games. 

In preparation of the new Nursery graduates who are expected towards the end of the month, the Keepers decided to make some changes to the orphans’ sleeping arrangements. Ambo, Musiara, Sattao, and Mukkoka were promoted to Class Four; Jotto, Mapia, Kuishi, Nabulu, Dololo, and Malima moved up to Class Five; and our elders, Malkia, Sana Sana, and Ndiwa joined Kamok, Kauro, Rapa, and Para in the final class. 

Ex-orphans and wild elephants always disappear as soon as the rains arrive, drawn to different parts of the park that are freshly green. Thus, we were pleasantly surprised when Kinna and Yatta’s ex-orphan herd appeared mid-month. Ithumba has been blessed with a generous amount of rainfall, and other parts of Tsavo remain very dry. The matriarchs clearly know it is a good place to base their families at the moment. During one of their visits, Ndiwa decided to join them for the night, which must have been a thrilling experience for our growing girl.

Especially now that many of our older orphans are exploring their independence, we do a headcount on the way back to the stockades in the evening. We have come to expect Kamok and her group of Kauro, Rapa, Pare, Malkia, and Sana Sana to lag behind. But one evening, they managed to recruit Neshashi and Mapia, too! The wayward group lazily continued browsing in the bush until they decided to come back to the stockades of their own accord. Just like teenagers, these older orphans can’t resist pushing the envelope!

Sagateisa is known as our resident water baby, but one afternoon, she simply wasn’t in the mood. It was very hot and all the orphans enjoyed a vigorous, refreshing wallow in the mud bath. Everyone, that is, except Sagateisa! She coyly hid in the bushes while the rest of her friends swam.

Neshashi, who graduated to Ithumba a few weeks before Sagateisa, has carved out a reputation as our resident glutton. She cannot get enough, even when her tummy tells her otherwise! One day, she had eaten until she was well and truly full, but still she continued browsing. Instead of eating the grass she pulled up, she just threw it in the air and let it fall on her back.

When Wendi is around, we know trouble is soon to follow. The ex-orphan may be a mother of two, but she is still a hopeless rascal. One day, Wendi, Wema, Wimbi, Sunyei, Siku, Saba, Galana, Gawa, and Makena briefly joined the orphans as they browsed. Ever so sneakily, they made away with Sagateisa, Ndiwa, and Rapa. After a brief jaunt out in the bush, Wendi and company deposited the trio back at the stockades before bedtime.

26th April was a very exciting day, because our Ithumba herd grew by three! At 9:42 AM, the lorry carrying Nursery graduates Olorien, Lodo, and Esoit arrived from Nairobi. The doors opened and there the babies stood, waving their trunks in the air to discover all the new sights and smells of Ithumba. Naleku, Suguroi, Sagateisa, and Neshashi were brought in first to meet the new babies, who they know well from their shared Nursery days. While Naleku and Suguroi recognised their friends instantly, Neshashi was unimpressed by their arrival and ran straight into the stockades, thinking that it was a bonus milk feeding time! Shortly thereafter, Roho, Naboishu, and Larro joined the welcoming committee, followed by the rest of the Ithumba herd.

The next morning, Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa were eager to show Olorien, Esoit, and Lodo the ropes. The three babies calmly followed instructions offered by Naleku about how and where to leave the stockade. Suddenly, out of the mist emerged ex-orphans Mulika, Mkuu, Loijuk, Lili, Lenana, Lapa, Ithumbah, Iman, Naisula, Nyx, Mteto, Esampu, and Maramoja. They had clearly returned to welcome the newcomers and help shepherd them through their first full day in Tsavo.

While we love having them around, the ex-orphans certainly keep the Keepers on their toes. On 29th April, the presence of lions in the area spooked the herd. The Keepers managed to corral the older orphans, but Esoit, Lodo, Olorien, Sagateisa, Roho, Neshashi, Naleku, and Suguroi ran off with Yatta’s ex-orphan herd. The Keepers, assisted by the Ithumba Anti-Poaching Team, gathered the missing youngsters and walked them towards the mud bath.

However, the day’s drama wasn’t over yet! 12-year-old Narok — who is not yet a mother, but clearly has some aspirations — saw an opportunity and couldn’t resist seizing it. The crafty girl played it cool and browsed alongside the dependent orphans, but she was evidently hatching a plan. When everyone was nice and relaxed, Narok suddenly trumpeted and took off for the hills. Lodo, who is fresh to Tsavo life and didn’t know any better, followed her. Despite an extensive search, on the ground and in the air, we didn’t manage to find the truants that day. It was a less-than-ideal situation, but we felt sure that Narok and the other ex-orphans would look after Lodo.

Of course, elephants always know. In the night, Yatta’s ex-orphan herd linked up with Lodo and took him under their wing. We sent in the SWT helicopter to shepherd him back home, but Lodo led our pilot in circles for more than two hours, while also managing to evade the ground teams. Eventually, he returned to Ithumba on his own accord — perhaps with a little spring in his step, having pulled off such a fantastic disappearing act!

April 2023 day to day

01 Apr

The orphans and Keepers awoke to a clear sky which they knew would mean a hot day ahead. Jotto and Mapia entwined their trunks in morning greetings soon after leaving their stockades. The orphans settled for their morning lucerne as ex-orphan Barsilinga emerged from the east, all alone, to join them. It’s nearly two years now since Barsilinga’s foot injury kept him anchored to the Ithumba dependent herd for almost a year, and it is wonderful to see him fully out and about in the wild. Ambo chose to share lucerne alongside his favourite girl Kamok this morning. They both seemed to have a long conversation, but of course we couldn’t know what they were talking about. Ambo later moved to share lucerne with Nabulu. After Nabulu had her fill, she walked down to the water trough to drink. Shortly later she was joined by Mapia, Kauro, Kuishi, Jotto, Roho, Malima and Sagateisa.

Later in the morning Mapia chose to take a break and engage Jotto in a pushing game that ended in a draw. Then Mapia moved to play with Ambo. Ambo chose to surrender, since Mapia proved to be much stronger than him. The orphans settled to browse in the Kanziku area. Shortly before mud bath time, the orphans came across a small water hole in the bush and decided to have fun rolling and splashing there before proceeding for their noon milk feed. They had their milk then walked straight back out to continue browsing without wallowing, as they had already splashed about earlier.

The orphans had a quiet afternoon and browsed calmly for the rest of the day. In the evening, ex-orphan Makireti came to the stockade compound in the company of two suitors. It seems Makireti is in season, but she wasn’t amenable to the advances of her two suitors and was trying to get away from them. She came close to the stockade wall, where the two bulls couldn’t follow her. They waited for Makireti, but eventually they got tired and left. However, they returned later in the evening in search of Makireti again.

Jotto sparring with Mapia


Nabulu and Ambo enjoying Lucerene