Ithumba’s Keepers diary has been filled with exciting events throughout the month, documenting the comings and goings of wild bull elephants now seeking out the company of the orphans on a regular basis. One bull elephant has been so consistent with his visits, that he has become a permanent fixture of our orphan herd, and has even been given a name, Rafiki. He is a formidable size, big, proud and powerful, yet so gentle and patient. He humors the young ones who could not contain their curiosity initially and had to investigate every part of him, and he looks on bemused as the young bulls stalk around him in awe, and the little orphan girls become frivolous, trying to attract his attention. They certainly have caught his attention, particularly Yatta, who he has attempted to mount on a couple of occasions this month. This is usually greeted by a scream from her as she tears off into the bush making a hurried escape.
Yatta’s group which numbers 11 of our older orphans, included in that group are the big girls, Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot – their favorite calves, Orok and Ol Malo being the only milk dependent among them. Wendi when she chooses to be, Taita, Napasha, Tomboi and Selengai. The routine is now to have the big group’s stockade door left open at night, so that they can determine their own rhythm, when to come and when to go throughout the night. Even on the nights that they spend away from the stockades in the company of the wild elephants it is remarkable how responsible the older girls Kinna, Yatta, Mulika and Nasalot remain, always mindful to bring the two little youngsters back to the stockades for their milk feeds. Often their visits to the stockades are in the company of Rafiki, who waits patiently as they go about their routine, entering the stockades to feed on the cut greens and copra cake. He has taken them under his wing and has seldom missed a day with the orphans this month. Foster parents staying at Ithumba Camp who visited the midday mudbath often were treated to more than they anticipated, with Rafiki joining in the fun, seemingly completely unperturbed by the visitors. When he does join the others in the mudbath, the little guys immediately make a hasty retreat, content to watch from the edges as their huge friend cools down in the grey colored clay mudwallow.
His lack of concern for the Keepers, tolerant to amble through the bush with them as they tend the orphans, has made us consider long and hard whether he could possibly be one of our early orphans because he seems so relaxed, even on some occasions walking into the stockades with our orphans!. While it is possible that we are misguided as to what his exact age is, in which case the only likely candidate from our orphans would be Chuma who is now 23 years old, Rafiki does appear older than that.
The presence of Rafiki has also brought in his wild bull friends, who enjoy the company of the orphans too, and of course the fresh water from the stockade trough, but they do not have the confidence to hang around quite like Rafiki does. However the presence of all these handsome big elephants has fired up our little orphan bulls, who, having watched the big guys closely, are engaging in more pushing games than usual. Tomboi, Taita, Napasha, Rapsu, Kora, Madiba, Kamboyo, Zurura, Ndomot, Buchuma, Challa, and Kenze are all very much involved in boys stuff, shoving, heaving and pushing and bashing each other, always with a side ways glance at Rafiki to subtly emulate his moves.
Despite the groups being split more often than not now, there is obviously much communication between the two. Sometimes Wendi chooses to hang with the littler group, leaving the big group to their own devices, Taita does this fairly regularly too, so there is a lot of movement between the groups. They meet up in the bush everyday at some stage but there is definitely more independence being displayed from the bigger girls particularly. Having the wild elephants around and willing to show them the ropes has helped for them to take that next independent step, slipping away from the Keepers for longer than usual, sometimes spending their nights away from the stockades. But then again there are nights when one or two of the bigger group decides to stay in.
The fresh water at the stockades in the dry season is attracting the wild elephants on a regular basis now, with them arriving both day and night and becoming increasingly use to the presence of our Keepers. Other animals come regularly and this month includes lions at night, wild dogs, cheetah along with the usual antelope, bushbuck, kudu, dikdik, among them, and of course warthogs.
Our more recent arrivals to Ithumba, Makena, Lenana and Chyulu, have settled in completely and enjoy lavish attention from Lualeni, Naserian, Loijuk and Sian. They are at one with the Ithumba routine and it is hard to imagine their nursery days now, they seem so happy in their new environment amongst their old friends. Wendi continues to entertain any visitors to the Ithumba Orphans Project; she can never resist putting on a spectacular show, always one to show off with an audience in attendance.
Tales from Ithumba fill us with awe, because when the orphan’s second relocation facility was first established at Ithumba, for Imenti initially, and then our nursery orphans began to arrive, the sight of wild elephants north of the Tiva River was rare. The wild elephants that were in the area were particularly shy, and the presence of the Keepers a huge deterrent for much interaction between them and our orphans. This has certainly all changed, and slowly but surely our 30 orphaned elephants have coaxed in the wild herds, and now Ithumba is literally swarming with wild elephants, and our young orphans are able to have regular contact with the wild herds, just like in Voi.
For those who would like to read more about Rafiki and to view photographs, please click on this link: http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/updates/updates.asp?ID=161