Wild Elephants now come in numbers to drink at the Ithumba Stockade water trough during the dry seasons, wild elephant herds having only returned to the Northern Area since the establishment of our Ithumba Rehabilitation Centre in 2003. The wild elephants literally abandoned the 3,000 sq. mile Northern Area of Tsavo East entirely for several decades following the infamous poaching holocaust of the late seventies, eighties and early nineties and it was only the presence of our Orphans after that date that began to give them sufficient confidence to venture back.
For several years our Keeper Dependent orphans based in Stockades at night were visited by wild Bulls but only under cover of darkness, Bull Elephants being the scouts of Elephant society. Eventually one courageous bull, since named “Rafiki” (the friend – still very much in evidence, showed himself in daylight. He trailed the orphans and their Keepers for many days, joined the Youngsters at their bush mudbath, sharing it with them, and even slept for a few days in the Stockade Yard just outside their Night Stockade. Since then Rafiki has introduced many of his wild male Friends to the Ithumba water trough and he safety of the Stockade premises, several of whom have earned names by becoming so trusting of the Keepers and also other friendly human admirers, the Orphans’ foster-parents who have supported the Project and come to see their specific foster-elephant now that it has been upgraded from the Nursery. They behave very differently when within the compound, or at the mudbath venue. Visitors to the Ithumba Rehabilitation facility are based at the “Ithumba Bandas” built and maintained by the Trust, revenue from which benefits KWS.
Among the Ex Orphans regular wild friends, aside from “Rafiki”, (whom we have observed is hugely respected by all the wild Bulls the frequent the stockyard premises) drink) is the Big Tusker that fathered the wild-born offspring of both Mulika and Yatta along with another very big wild Tusker named “Mshale”, whose life our Mobile Veterinary Unit had already saved on two previous occasions and who was treated yet a third time this month. Then there is “Pembe Moja” with only one tusk, and “Half Trunk” with just half a trunk, having lost the rest to a poacher’s snare. Teenagers “Kijana” and “Mgeni” who now often travel independently of Yatta’s Ex Orphan herd, were at one time an integral part of her group, having attached themselves to the Ex Orphans now living “wild”. They have appeared frequently in the monthly Diaries over the years, but there are many others as well, in fact, too many to all be named by the Keepers. However, they are recognized by being among the other “friendly” wild visitors. Supporters of the Trust who visit the Ithumba orphans can often have the unique experience of being surrounded by over 70 grown elephants, all the Ex Orphans and their wild friends, amongst whom are huge wild Bulls. Occasionally a new “recruit” turns up, who is not naturally friendly towards the human “enemy”, but who soon takes his cue from the others. Elephants communicate with one another in many mysterious ways, and they can also can read one’s heart. This is something that is graphically demonstrated on a daily basis at the Ithumba Stockades and at the mudbath and anyone who has been there will verify this truth.
The fact that Elephants are able to differentiate as to who is friendly and who is a threat to them was illustrated at the Orphans’ Mudbath on the 13th when we were watching visiting wild Bulls peacefully drinking at the mudbath trough just a few paces from us. Suddenly a truckload of Orma tribesmen passed nearby, and instantly every wild Elephant took to its heels, fleeing in disarray whereas just moments before they had been perfectly relaxed and almost within touching distance of us.
Poaching has again become an extremely serious reality and a threat to all elephants, not only throughout Tsavo, but everywhere in Africa generally. The Northern Area of Tsavo abuts Wakamba tribal land - that particular tribe being the Masters of Poisoned Arrow Poaching. That the wild herds could abandon the area yet again due to the current poaching scourge cannot be ruled out unless the situation is addressed urgently by the Govt. Publicity has been rife about imminent more deterrent punishments soon to be enacted into law, but this has yet to happen, and the delay has resulted in a veritable poaching frenzy, with the poaching fraternity (of which there are many now that the price of ivory has risen enormously) are bent on getting what they can while they can, with sophisticated international syndicates sending it to China – the main consumer of illicit ivory. It was encouraging that a Chinese Ivory Trafficker apprehended recently at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was sentenced to a jail term, rather than just a paltry fine, but the govt. has to “walk the talk” and ensure that deterrent punishments are put in place as a matter of urgency. Unless they do this, wild Elephants could disappear from the planet within the next 15 years at the present rate of attrition.
Our precious Ex Orphans, lovingly afforded a second chance of life having passed through the Nairobi Nursery, have also been targeted, possibly just out of spite, since none have ivory worth speaking of. Mulika and Challa were amongst last month’s victims who had to be immobilized to have arrowheads removed from their bodies, and this month it was the turn of Ex Orphan Galana, along with “Pembe Moja”, Big Tusker “Mshale” and another un-named Bull who happen to turn up for a drink at the Stockade trough with an arrow. “ Pembe Moja” and the other wounded Bull were treated by our Mobile Veterinary Unit on the l0th, and Galana and Mshale on the 13th. We were present on this day, having just overseen a cable snare being removed from the foot of a wild bull near the Trust’s Field Headquarters on the Athi/Tsavo boundary and also having heard that Mulika had developed a large swelling beneath the site of last month’s arrow wound. We were anxious to be at hand when the Vet treated these two very precious Ex Orphans.
Galana had already been treated at the Stockades prior to our arrival, and it was whilst we were awaiting the arrival of the Ex Orphans at the mudbath venue that we noticed that Mshale appeared with yet another suspicious looking wound on his neck just behind his ear.
We were told by the Keepers that all the wild Elephants as well as the Ex Orphan herd had appeared unusually nervous, and in fact the Ex Orphans did not return to the stockades to drink for three full days prior to Galana returning arrowed. When they did come back, all were looking hollow, and were extremely thirsty. The Vet was summonsed back to Ithumba yet again for Galana, who was immobilized within the stockade yard when the Ex Orphans came to drink that morning. Mulika was amongst the Ex Orphans when they came to join the Juniors at their noon mudbath, so she was darted there. As she succumbed to the immobilizing drug and collapsed, all the Ex Orphan females rushed to help her up, one emitting a desperate and heart wending scream, but nevertheless were sufficiently trusting of their human Keepers (despite now living wild) that they were obedient to remain milling anxiously a few paces away to allow the Vet to do his work. A visiting wild Bull, however, was not so accommodating, threatening to charge, so he had to be kept at bay by being charged himself by a Landrover. Luckily, he took the hint, and also kept his distance.
Gallons of pus and a large slab of necrotic flesh were removed from Mulika’s under belly, after which the resulting void was thoroughly washed with saline and packed with Green Clay, leaving an opening at the bottom for drainage. Having then been given a long acting anti-biotic injection, she was then revived, and instantly surrounded by all her relieved peers who ushered her away. In the meantime Yatta had taken custody of Mulika’s wild-born calf, little Mwende as well as her own, and removed them from the action. Big Tusker Mshale was then darted and he took to his heels, eventually collapsing near the road to the Ithumba Camp. Meanwhile, assuming that he might fall on the wrong side, and have to be turned, the Trust’s tractor was on stand-by, but fortunately was not needed. As it turned out, his arrow had not penetrated the flesh and must have fallen out. So once the wound had been cleaned and dressed, he too was revived and went on his way.
Since then, the Ex Orphans have been at the Stockades almost every day, usually turning up in time to share the Juniors’ Lucerne handout, and always accompanied by hordes of wild elephant friends, on one occasion as many as 35. Since being arrowed, Galana, Mulika and her calf have enjoyed an extra ration of Dairy Cubes whenever they are at the Stockades, since we were anxious that Mulika’s milk flow might again be affected. Thankfully, all seems well - the wounds of all who were treated have healed well and Mwende seems O.K. along with her mother enjoying the cubes as a supplement to keep her healthy.
The Junior Keeper dependent orphans have enjoyed a great deal of interaction this month both with the Ex Orphans and wild Elephants. The Ex Orphans have only missed being with them on about 2 days this month, joining them if not at the Stockades to share the Lucerne pile,, then at the noon mudbath or out in the bush. On the 2nd some of the Ex Orphans managed to pull of a “snatch” of eight Juniors – namely Kanjoro, Murka, Makireti, Kandecha, Sities, Kainuk, Kilaguni and Kilabasi to spend “time out” with them. However, faithful Lualeni remained behind with the rest, escorting them to their noon mudbath and meeting up again with the hijacked eight out in the bush later at 2 p.m. On the 26th Suguta, Chemi Chemi, Melia and Sabachi managed to sneak away from the others on their way back to the Stockades in the evening, but turned up at 7 p.m.
Lualeni has long been the interface between the Seniors and the Juniors, opting to join them and spend time with them, still besotted on Ololoo. Sometimes she comes alone, and at other times with one of the Ex Orphan bulls, Kora being her particular friend. However, this month on the 25th it was Ex Orphan Naserian who took her place and spent the entire day with the Juniors.
Three wild dogs have come to drink at the Ithumba stockade water trough this month on two occasions during what has been an action-packed month. On the 7th two wild cows came to drink, one of whom was tuskless, as was her daughter – a lucky elephant indeed.