It has been a very special month for the Ithumba unit – the first time that they have been able to fraternize with wild elephants during the hours of daylight. The first contact took place on the 4th, un-noticed at the time by the Keepers, who were sitting under a tree at a distance, leaving the elephants to wander at will within the thick bush. When it was time to return, the Keepers called the elephants, but only the youngsters appeared, so the Keepers mounted a search for the others and were astonished to come across Yatta’s group surrounding 3 wild elephants. However, as soon as the elephants got wind of the humans, they fled, leaving the orphans looking bewildered! Then on the 6th, as the orphans were returning in the evening, Yatta’s group of older orphans were being trailed by 4 wild bulls. The Keepers hurried on ahead to allow the wild elephants to catch up with the orphans, hoping that they would return to the Stockades with them, but an hour later the orphans turned up without their visitors.
On the 22nd, whilst heading towards the Ithumba dam, the orphan encountered a lone wild bull, but again as soon as he detected the presence of the Keepers, he vanished.
Then on the 25th three wild cows and a calf came to take water at the Stockade trough late in the evening when the orphans were already in their Stockades. The wild group spent three hours at the Stockades before leaving.
As usual, the Diary is filled with Pushing Tests of strength, and interesting anecdotes that reinforce the caring nature of the older elephants. Yatta, who is particularly close to Olmalo, having always chosen Olmalo as her special baby, was quick to discipline Sidai who pushed Olmalo against a tree, making her bellow. When Yatta and the older elephants arrived to determine the cause of Olmalo’s distress, Olmalo indicated the culprit by pointing her trunk towards Sidai, who was then driven out of the group narrowly missing having her tail bitten by Kinna in passing. She was then forced to spend time in isolation, something that is the usual punishment meted out to offenders.
Again Sunyei has been up to her usual pranks, pretending to have encountered something truly sinister by running past the group at speed trumpeting as though afraid and heading for the Keepers for protection. This caused chaos amongst the others, all of whom followed suit, bellowing with fear as they rushed to their Keepers. In fact, all Sunyei had seen was a harmless dikdik, which did not surprise the Keepers, who know her antics well. There was another moment of chaos at the mudbath when Yatta and Napasha charged some warthogs who were at the mudbath, causing the pigs to flee through the rest of the elephants, who, in turn took to their heels. As the warthogs increased speed in order to escape, those orphans who were ahead of them obviously thought they were being charged, and likewise increased pace. It took the Keepers some time to round them all up and restore order! Then on the 16th a lion came to drink at the Stockades, and roared before leaving, which left all the orphans very tense the following morning, huddling close to their Keepers for protection. However, after the noon mudbath, things returned to normal.
It has taken the wild elephants a long time to pluck up the courage to actually make contact with our orphans during daylight hours. Previously, they were visited only by bulls and always under cover of darkness, but then the cow herds began to appear in the Stockade compound, again still under cover of darkness. In time, the wild elephants will understand that the humans that are with the orphans are friendly, and we can anticipate more frequent interaction with the wild community as the wild elephants become less fearful. Elephants have very long memories, so the dark days of the poaching holocaust of the late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, which drove every elephant out of the entire Northern Area of the Park, are obviously very much still alive in the memory of Tsavo’s elephants.