Keepers' Diaries, August 2014

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The highlight for the month of August was on the 14th when Napasha strolled nonchalantly out of the bush towards the stockade water trough to quench his thirst. The Keepers stared open mouthed and hugely relieved because Napasha had been absent and had not been seen for eight months.

The highlight for the month of August was on the 14th when Napasha strolled nonchalantly out of the bush towards the stockade water trough to quench his thirst. The Keepers stared open mouthed and hugely relieved because Napasha had been absent and had not been seen for eight months.

He disappeared with wild friends and Buchuma all those months ago, but Buchuma returned without him which caused concern. This behaviour is quite normal for older elephant bulls, as they attach themselves to wiser and older male companions and wander exploring afar a field, for bulls are the scouts of elephant society. But eight months is a long time and we were longing for his return to know for sure that he remained safe. And so it was that he arrived home , looking fit and majestic, as if he had never left. Benjamin immediately called Angela and Daphne to share this wonderful news. He has remained very much part of the ex orphans group ever since his return.

Another welcomed visitor this month was Yetu and Mwende’s handsome dad. A magnificent wild bull with great presence. He visited the orphans and his kids this month on a couple of occasions, in fact this whole month has been punctuated with wild visitors almost every day, sometimes numbering as many as 60. Our dependent orphans relish these interactions, plucking up the courage to hangout with them, and of course every encounter is an important learning curve. We have a mother with her young calf becoming a regular companion of the orphans too, although sometimes her petulant wild baby can irritate the juniors, and when they retaliate they can get into serious trouble. On one occasion the calf was knocked down three different times by various orphans, and amazingly his family did not retaliate on this day, obviously realizing that their kid needed the discipline that was dished out this day and that he too was learning valuable lessons.

At Ithumba we remain with three distinct groups, the young dependent orphans, or juniors as Benjamin calls them, who return to the night stockades every evening, consisting of 16 namely Kanjoro, Mutara, Shukuru, Sities, Turkwel, Kainuk, Bongo, Laragai, Narok, Vuria, Garzi, Teleki, Ziwa, Orwa and Bomani.

Then we have Suguta’s herd, which are older semi independent elephants, who feel they have graduated from the stockades and the constant company of their Keepers , but still remain dependent on food supplements and milk from time to time, and this group also consists of 16, namely Melia, Kilaguni, Chaimu, Tumaren, Kibo, Olare, Kitirua, Kalama, Chemi Chemi, Kasigau, Kilabasi, Makireti, Kandecha, Muraka, Naisula and Ishanga

Then we have the independent ex orphans, who still choose to remain in the orbit of their younger friends, wild friends and keepers, and return from time to time as and when they choose. Their rhythm is entirely their own, and they are prone to extended absences. The ex-orphans consist of 32 at present and are the following: Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot, Kinna, Napasha, Wendi, Taita, Tomboi, Sunyei, Galana, Madiba, Naerian, Rapsu, Buchuma, Challa, Sidai, Orok, Kora, Lualeni, Kenze, Loijuk, Kamboyo, Zurura, Lenana, Makena, Chyulu, Meibai, Ithumbah, Ololoo, and wild born babies Yetu and Mwende.

Lualeni has been peeling off with her own musketeers who consist of bulls usually, including Madiba, Rapsu, Orok, Ololoo, Tomboi. She loves to lead a splinter group.

This month's dramas have included Teleki being kidnapped by Suguta’s group on the 25th, and the Keepers having to mount a search for the still milk dependent calf, eventually finding him blissful in the company of the older elephants deep in the bush. Then on the 28th Bongo and Kanjoro dodged the Keepers and went missing. This created quite a stir but they were eventually found together browsing in the Kalovoto area close to nightfall then the Keepers marched them back to their night stockades only arriving at 6.00pm.

The mudbath at midday is enjoyed by many, with Bongo the greatest water baby of the group, and Orwa the most reluctant. The wild herds often join the dependent babies at this time, as do Suguta’s group and the ex orphans too. Sometimes the company of the bigger elephants causes the juniors to get rather shy and retiring, and at other times they pluck up the courage to be part of the action. Now in the peak of the dry season getting out of the waterhole can be challenging if exited from the wrong side due to the drying caked mud, as Vuria discovered by getting stuck.

On another day there was great drama at the midday mudbath time when a warthog fell in the water trough and was unable to extract himself due to the slippery and deep concrete sides. Luckily for him this mishap was spotted by the Keepers who managed to rescue him and hoist him out before he drowned.

Kilaguni has suffered from constipation this month requiring the Keepers to assist him on a couple of occasions. The hyena wounds inflicted when he was orphaned have caused excessive scar tissue around his rectum which causes problems for him from time to time. Towards the end of the month this seemed to have corrected itself once Epsom Salts was added to his milk and for the latter half of the month he appeared very comfortable and passing stools quite normally.

Ziwa is definitely weaker than the rest, and at Ithumba this always becomes more apparent with the dry seasons biting, the challenging long distances the orphans travel in search of food and the heat. That said, he loves the company of the wild elephants and is very bold in their company. Sabachi too has lost condition this dry season so has been enjoying as much supplementary food as he wants, with extra milk available, Lucerne, diary cubes and copra cake. Sometimes he returns to over night at the stockades so as to enjoy the extra treats, and sometimes he turns up at the midday mudbath time for an extra milk bottle. This is all determined by him where and when he feels like the extra’s on offer as he remains very much a part of Suguta’s partially independent herd.

August 2014 day to day

01 Aug

The orphans settled for lucerne soon after leaving the stockade while ten wild bulls were drinking water at the stockade water trough. Bomani took some time to scratch on a nearby rock, as the rest of his friends continued enjoying the lucerne. Mutara led the way out into the bush, but she led them to a dry and barren place so the elephants struggled to find food. Almost all the plants have shed their leaves and now the orphans were feeding on the barks of trees instead. The peak of the dry season is a challenging time for all the wildlife of Tsavo. For the rest of the day, the orphans spent a lot of the time browsing, Garzi and Vuria stayed together and browsed alongside one another until they all walked to the mud hole. It was a cold day so none of the elephants played in the mud and instead they concentrated on the serious business of feeding.

Garzi and Vuria browsing together

Wild elephants taking water