Keepers' Diaries, August 2020

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Despite being in the grips of the dry season, the orphans at Ithumba remain in high spirits because of all the social activity and interaction going on with older ex-orphans around and huge numbers of wild elephants, interacting with them daily. The dependent orphans are greeted every morning by at least one group of ex-orphans be it Barsilinga, Kithaka, Lemoyian and Garzi, or Mutara’s herd comprised of Sities, Suguta and Turkwel. Kanjoro seems to come and go from this herd, sometimes teaming up with Kilaguni, another bull a year older, who wanders around on his own if not with Kanjoro or with his best buddy Chaimu. Both bulls are water-lovers and will mud bath even on a cold day, when none of the other orphans find a mud bath appealing in the slightest! 

Of course the most exciting ex-orphan appearance this month was on the 22nd when Lenana appeared from the bush at dusk, accompanied by her large ex-orphan herd, and a tiny baby tottering between her feet, as she proudly strode towards our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. Kinna, her baby Kama, Sunyei, baby Siku, Loijuk, her baby Lili, Ishanga, Tumaren, Kalama, Chemi Chemi, Makena and several wild elephants accompanied Lenana and her new born baby boy to the stockades for a celebration! The excitement was heard, and felt, throughout the compound as all the elephants rumbled and trumpeted, sharing the joy of a new born baby; of course, nothing is more exciting and satisfying to our Keepers than the sight of a wild born baby born to one of our ex-orphans, hand-raised and reintegrated back into the wild. We named the little bull ‘Lapa’ meaning ‘moon’ in Samburu, and Lenana and the rest of her herd stayed very much in the area for the rest of the month, linking up with the dependent orphans to browse and frequent the mud bath as well the next morning, which was a thrill for the dependent babies. It didn’t take long for us to realize that even at only a few weeks old, little Lapa is another rascal, similar to Nasalot’s baby Nusu, throwing his weight around.

We saw a few other ex-orphans this month, including Tomboi, Zurura, Challa and 12 year old Meibai, as well as other familiar faces such as wild bulls ‘Dad’ and ‘Kijana’; as such frequent visitors they have been bestowed names by the Keepers. The dependent orphans are always fascinated meeting these older impressive bulls, particularly those as striking as Dad with his magnificent tusks. Dad has fathered a number of our wild born babies including Mwende and Yetu. One day Namalok walked to where Dad was standing and tried to engage him in some sort of communication, but Dad was totally indifferent to this small boy. Namalok eventually gave up and walked away. Kainuk and Tusuja also walked and stood close to where Dad was standing and again Dad didn't engage – sometimes bulls don’t have time for small babies and just want some peace! Olsekki and Tusuja are obsessed and completely enamored with the wild bulls, sometimes lagging behind to stay a little longer in their presence to simply admire them. 

Olsekki has been taking advantage of having some of the older orphans around, like Meibai and Kanjoro, to learn new wrestling tactics from them as well. Despite being a few years younger, Olsekki has slightly thicker and bigger tusks than 10 year old Kainuk. He got a surprise however when he attempted to challenge her one day, as Kainuk swatted him aside with her trunk like he was just a bothersome fly, and it seemed he might have learnt a lesson about respecting his elders! Having Mutara and her herd around mean that there are some older females present to put an end to any mischievous behaviour within the dependent group, usually instigated by the young bulls. The females don’t tolerate long pushing games, which is quite a revelation for the likes of Tusuja and Lemoyian. Tusuja wasn't happy about Kainuk putting a stop to one of his wrestling matches one day and turned to face Kainuk square-on. Kainuk ignored the younger boy and stood firm in her adopted older-sister role. Tusuja protested by trying to push Kainuk but Kainuk remained resolute, leaving Tusuja no other choice than to surrender and walk away. The young bulls in the dependent herd remain the most playful and easily distracted from their browsing activities: Jotto can normally be spotted sparring with Pare, Ambo, Wanjala or Rapa. Karisa, Sapalan and Namalok are always trying to out-do one another as well. Mapia is becoming a tough little bull too and even though Ambo is older than him, he is hard-pressed to win a pushing game against Mapia! He likes to test his strength against some of the other older bulls, like Galla, as well. Since he was little, we always knew from his size and shape that Mapia would develop into a big, strong bull, such a sharp contrast from the emancipated drought victim that arrived on our doorstep. 

Mutara’s herd of females remain completely besotted with the littlest Dololo in the dependent herd, and always walk to greet him in the morning as he exits his night stockade to escort him out for the day, or even for his noon milk feed and mud bath. Sometimes they will just patiently stand to the side as he finishes his bottles. Sites and Suguta seem the most smitten with little Dololo and still follow him everywhere. Their love and attentiveness might be rubbing off on some of the younger dependent orphans too; Maramoja, is slowly learning to be a good nanny as well, and likes to look after Musiara, patting him and making sure he is okay, and escorting him into the shade on hot days as well. Roi sometimes follows Suguta and Sities when they are with Dololo to learn a thing or two about how to take care of young ones too. This doesn’t detract from her occasional naughty behaviour around milk feeding time however; Roi still has a habit of trying to steal extra milk bottles at the noon mud bath – but she doesn’t always make her target and she sometimes snatches an empty one, much to her disappointment! 

August 2020 day to day

01 Aug

Soon after leaving the stockades the orphans split into two groups. One group headed for lucerne while the other settled for acacia pods dropped by monkeys. Kilaguni, who has become a lone ranger, joined the dependent orphans for some lucerne in the morning and later, walked with the orphans out to browse. Wanjala had brief pushing game with Kuishi and later played with Rapa. Sana Sana played with Malima while Tusuja tackled Mundusi. 

It was a bright sunny day and the orphans concentrated on browsing right up to mud bath time. Soon after taking their milk bottles, most of the orphans headed for wallowing and later went for soil dusting to dry their wet bodies. Namalok and Tusuja enjoyed climbing on their friends while they lay on the ground. As the orphans were getting ready to leave, one wild bull showed up and was later joined by two more. Karisa and Tusuja were the last ones to leave the mud bath and slowly walked to catch up with the others. Later in the evening, the orphans attended a roadside mud bath before heading back to the stockades. 

Orphans enjoying acacia pods

Karisa, Namalok and Olsekki dust bathing

Karisa and Tusuja having a drink of water