It has been an action packed month at Ithumba with increasing numbers of wild elephants coming to drink at the Stockade water trough daily. All the Ex Orphans, usually accompanied by wild friends, have also been turning up on a daily basis to join the Keeper Dependent group and partake of supplementary Lucerne during this extremely dry period. (Just one rain storm fell over Tsavo during the April/May rains). On many occasions there have been over 65 elephants milling around the compound and dozens queuing up to await the arrival of the Water Bowser in the early mornings when the Stockade water trough has been emptied overnight.
Similarly wild elephants as well as our Ex Orphans and their wild attachments have been regularly attending the Juniors’ noon mudbath, amongst them the huge bull named “Mshale” who had a poisoned arrow removed by our Mobile Veterinary Unit recently. He is always accompanied by a number of bull “askaris” who dominate the water trough at the mudbath venue, rank taking precedence within Elephant Society. The wild born babies of Yatta and Mulika are very relaxed amongst the elephant melee at the mudbath, little “Yetu” (Yatta’s baby) playfully engaging both Suguta and Olare with outspread ears before running back to her mother and tiny Mwende strolling nonchalantly beneath large wild elephant bellies and between large elephant legs!
Ololoo has been Lualeni’s chosen Junior until the arrival of Ex Nursery elephants Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau diverted her attention somewhat. Since their arrival on the 17th she has been focusing on them and has been guilty of hijacking them on several occasions. On the day that Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau were due, the Ex Orphans were at the Stockade compound as usual early to share the Juniors’ Lucerne handout. Afterwards they accompanied the Juniors on their way out to browse, but only for a short distance before turning back and returning to the Stockade compound, where they unusually hung around, obviously yet again anticipating the imminent arrival of newcomers from Nairobi, despite never having known Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau who were on their way. This mysterious elephant perception witnessed time and time again amongst our Ex Orphans is one of the great elephant mysteries which we humans can only explain by telepathic communication between the elephants and their human family. There can be no other logical explanation, because with regular monotony it happens every time Nursery elephants are moved from Nairobi to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Station, and even on one occasion when the Ithumba Keepers were unaware of a change in plans! (One has to climb a huge rocky outcrop at Ithumba in order to get mobile signal).!
Daphne and Angela were at Ithumba when the truck carrying Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau drew in soon after l0 a.m. on the 17th . they counted 67 highly charged elephants milling around the yard – wild elephants drinking at the Stockade trough, others awaiting their turn, all the Ex Orphans plus their wild attachments, and the Junior group who had been returned so that the new arrivals could be absorbed into their Keeper dependent group. For the new arrivals it was an elephant welcome that overwhelmed poor Makireti, who ran around fearfully bellowing, trailed closely by Wendi, Lualeni, Kinna and a host of other Ex Orphan females bent only on comforting, but whose attentions she and the other two newcomers found somewhat daunting! Ishanga and especially Kasigau were not quite so traumatized, obviously remembering their previous wild life more clearly than poor Makireti. Having taken their milk, they mingled within the melee, even joining the wild elephants at the Stockade water trough.
Once things had quieted down, Lualeni and Rapsu escorted the Junior group along with the newcomers out to browse nearby and remained with them until it was time for them to return to the Stockades for the night. There the three new arrivals had to familiarize themselves with the live hot wire protecting their enclosure. Having been used to the cooler climes of upcountry Nairobi the three Ex Nursery orphans initially found the heat of Tsavo uncomfortable and on several occasions had to resort to drawing up stomach water reserves in order to spray behind their ears and cool down At such times they found the noon mudbath a Godsend, and on one occasion, un-noticed by the Keepers, Lualeni managed to sneak them away. This embroiled the Keepers in an intensive search until they were located some 2 kms. away, closely guarded by Lualeni from the mudbath venue being closely guarded by Lualeni! All were rounded up and returned to join the rest of the group who were waiting at the mudbath. The very next day the three newcomers were amongst 22 wild elephants plus all the Ex Orphans at another crowded mudbath, but on this occasion they came when called.
Young Ex Orphan bulls Kamboyo, Kenze, Orok and Meibai were absent from the Ex Orphan herd when they showed up at the Stockades during the morning of the 11th. They turned up at 1 p.m. in amongst “Mshale” and four other wild bulls, no doubt enjoying the company of role model Big Boys. “Hero Worship” is very normal for young male elephants who like emulating role model elders, especially magnificent monuments such as Mshale who has huge tusks and who has been a regular visitor to the Stockades this month, always accompanied by several other large bulls.
It did not take Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau to settle into the Ithumba routine, enjoying the morning Lucerne and taking a drink before leaving the compound for the bush each morning. Unusually on the 20th they had the run of both the water trough and the compound to themselves, Ithumbah and Ishanga holding a bundle of Lucerne in their trunks and taking it behind some large boulders in order to be able to eat it at their leisure without competition from others! By the 23rd Makireti new the ropes so well that it was she who led the way to the noon mudbath venue whereas usually it is either Kandecha or one of the more established girls such as Chaimu, Melia, Suguta, Tumaren, Murka, Olare or Naisula. Kandecha, Kibo and Kilaguni continue to engage one another in the favourite sport of young elephant boys – strength testing competitions.
By month end Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau were very relaxed amongst the wild elephant herds that share their days. According to the Keepers they seem to prefer the company of the wild elephants above that of their Keeper Dependent peers. On the 29th they left the mudbath in amongst a wild herd, amongst whom was Big Boy Mshale and his satellite bulls. The Keepers did their best to try and induce a return, but they resolutely refused, and ended up spending the entire night out – their first initiation in this respect. The three were found the following morning in amongst the wild herd who had been joined by Lualeni, Rapsu and a few of the other Ex Orphans. At that day’s noon mudbath Makireti, Ishanga and Kasigau were quick to introduce themselves to three wild elephants who turned up, but on this occasion they responded when the Keepers called them back obviously understanding that a wild walkabout comes at a price – foregoing their milk! But, they couldn’t be happier now that they have settled at their new home.