Keepers' Diaries, August 2019

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It is always typical of July and August, being the dry months, to see an abundance of wild visitors to the Ithumba area. Familiar faces of wild bulls have returned in full force during these dry season months and were spotted regularly at both the stockade water trough and mud wallow. 

Some old faithful’s have returned to the area around Ithumba so frequently over the years, growing in confidence and understanding that they would find safe drinking sources and ample food through this challenging period, they have been affectionately bestowed names by Benjamin, our Head Keeper at Ithumba – such as ‘Dad’, who fathered wild born babies Mwende and Yetu, ex-orphans Mulika and Yetu’s firstborns respectively, ‘Masikio’ who has a bent ear, ‘One Tusk’ and ‘Limpy’ as well, a bull who approached the Ithumba Unit two years ago with a horrendous cable snare around his leg and we were able to respond with our Vet, removing the snare and treating the horrendous wound. He appreciated his treatment and follow up so much, he stayed to recuperate in the area for months after, and since then comes every year with his wild friends to his second home. These Bulls have become part of the Ithumba extended family, and it is hard to believe they are wild they are so tolerant of the Keepers and the goings-on at the mud bath, having seen it all before.

Plenty of wild elephant herds stopped by the stockades or chose to stay in the area for some time, buoyed by the constant supply of water at our water troughs, but our ex-orphans also often choose this time to pay a visit to the stockades as well. First Kinna arrived without the rest of Yatta's ex-orphan herd, shortly later joined by her adopted sisters Loijuk and Lenana, and then the rest of Yatta’s herd followed towards the end of the month, including Mulika with her baby Mwende, Yatta with Yetu and Yoyo, Sunyei with Siku and Wendi. Wendi did not have her baby Wiva with her, who is three years old now, and we suspect she must be with Galana, Lualeni and Nasalot's group, who did not appear. Wendi is not a very diligent mother and is happy to leave her baby with her ‘Nannies’ now that Wiva is older and more self-sufficient. We were happy to see Vuria with this group as well, as we only see him sporadically these days and the last time was at the beginning of June, and also to note that Loijuk was heavily pregnant, and thus we expect a new wild born baby any day now.

Ex-orphan bulls Buchuma, Taita and Kenze visited at the beginning of the month and then moved on with their wild counterparts who were only just passing through. One morning when they decided to join the Ithumba dependent babies for the Lucerne grass supplement feed, one of the wild bulls followed them to find out why they were interested in joining the orphans. The wild bull could not believe it when he realized that there was very nice food being served to the orphans, and decided to take a whole bale for himself and enjoy it quietly in the corner. It was Olare and Mutara’s herds, who we refer to as our ‘junior’ ex-orphans consisting of members that are all around ten years old, who really stuck close to home for the whole month, often escorting the orphans out to browse and staying with them the whole day, right up until evening. In Mutara’s herd we have Sities, Kainuk, Suguta, Kasigau and Kanjoro, and in Olare’s Melia, Tumaren, Kandecha, Kalama, Kitirua, Kibo, Naisula and Chemi Chemi. It is so important for our young dependent babies to socialize and interact with this slightly older and wiser herd so that they may learn all they can from them to prepare them for their wild future. 

On the 15th Kilaguni and his friend Chaimu joined the orphans briefly at mud bath before parting ways moments later. This duo is inseparable which is so heart-warming and shows how the bonds our orphans make in the Nursery stand the test of time and last into their lives in the wild; ever since they moved to the Ithumba Unit together in June 2010 they have never parted, and although they might join up with other ex-orphans sometimes like Taita, Kibo, Tumaren and Naisula, they are always together. 

Turkwel used to be in Mutara’s herd before her lion attack, but these days she spends more time with the little herd Benjamin refers to as the ‘rebel herd’ - Kithaka, Barsilinga, Garzi and Lemoyian, who are all seven years old now and who continue to explore their independence, sometimes accompanying the dependent orphans and sometimes choosing to browse separately, and appearing at the stockades at night of their own accord. They are still very much partially independent, spreading their wings and discovering a life in the wild. Kithaka has been naughty ever since he was a calf in the Nursery, and any unsuspecting visitors still have to keep an eye out for his beady little eye watching them, looking for a chance to do something naughty. One day this month he waited until the Keepers were out of site and then opened the gate letting everyone in his herd out of the stockade. The Keepers heard the commotion and intervened and after finally ushering them all back in, locked the gate using a padlock. Eight year olds Orwa and Bomani have been visiting the stockades as well, sometimes in the company of this ‘rebel’ herd and sometimes just on their own.

Life therefore has been full of activity for the milk dependent babies at Ithumba this month. Faced with so many fully grown adult bulls around, the young boys in the herd like Namalok, Wanjala, Mundusi and Pare have been embroiled in wrestling matches non-stop testing their strength on one another. Kuishi has secretly been monitoring the wild herd and communicating with them without the Keeper’s knowledge. One day she decided to follow one of the wild herds out of the compound as well, but the Keepers were quick enough to intercept her and bring her back to her group. Kuishi was welcomed back by Mapia who seemed to be very concerned for his old Nursery friend who he moved to Ithumba with back in May. From that day on Mapia stuck very close to Kuishi to try and dissuade her from walking off with any other wild herds. Jotto and Ambo continue to settle into their new environment as well and even though Jotto’s gentle nature means he is sometimes picked on by some of the older orphans, his character remains the same and he always has his feisty friend Ambo by his side. 

August 2019 day to day

01 Aug

Buchuma, Kenze and Kasigau were among the wild bulls that reported for water early in the morning today. When the orphans were let out, Buchuma, Kenze and Kasigau walked up to join them to feed on lucerne. One of the wild bulls followed them to find out why they were interested in joining the orphans. The wild bull could not believe it when he realized that there was very nice food being served to the orphans. He didn’t wait any longer and bent down to eat as much lucerne as he could get. Shortly later, Mutara and her group showed up and escorted the juniors out to browse where Kanjoro engaged Garzi into a strength testing exercise. Malkia took a break from her friends and browsed by herself before later returning to join her friends. 

The afternoon was hot and the orphans decided to take a break from feeding to relax under a tree for some time until it was cooler. Enkikwe stretched his trunk to get some food from Wanjala's mouth but Wanjala totally refused to let it go and moved away to avoid being punished by Enkikwe for turning down his request. In the evening, Mutara and her group escorted the orphans back to the stockade for the night. 

Mutara and Kasigau visit the stockade

Buchuma and Kenze with the orphans

Enkikwe trying to take food from Wanjala