The Northern Area has benefited from much more rain that the Southern part of the Park, so the vegetation was looking rich, with all the greens of nature’s palette when Robert Carr-Hartley and Daphne Sheldrick arrived to host the V.I.P.’s from Nairobi “branding” of Tsavo on the 9th. It was a treat indeed to spend two nights in the Trust’s newly built Guest Camp which is, in fact, a donation from the Trust to KWS and the beginning of opening up the Northern Area to tourism. All the elephants were looking wonderfully well, and we got an enthusiastic welcome from both elephants and Keepers when we called on them in the evening at their Night Stockade. The next morning dignitaries from KWS, the N.G.O.’s and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment flew in and having inspected a Guard of Honour mounted by Rangers, officially opened the Guest Camp before inspecting the Orphans’ Stockades, the Tracker Dog Section at the Park Headquarters and the mountain of snares collected by our Ithumba de-snaring Unit. They then went to the mudbath, and were overwhelmed by the orphans, (the Ministry officials never having had contact with an elephant before) who greeted them fondly. The Permanent Secretary, who was the Guest of Honour, fed Wendi her bottle, and was thrilled to be able to do so. Everyone enjoyed watching the orphans as they enjoyed a soil bath, since it was too cold to wallow, before flying to Voi for the main “branding” ceremony.
A highlight for the Ithumba orphans was the arrival of Naserian, Rapsu and Buchuma on the 15th. There was definite recognition by those that had shared Nursery time with the newcomers, whilst the older elephants were overjoyed to have more elephants in their little herd. The only newcomer who had not met any of the established orphans, was Rapsu, but he immediately felt quite at home, since the vegetation of the Northern Area duplicates that of his birthplace, Meru, and since the bush was in full leaf, he could not have been happier. Having arrived in the Nursery as a starvation case, he immediately set about packing his paunchwith much more nutritious fodder than Nairobi Park could produce. Ndomot was very happy to see his old pushing mate, Buchuma, again and Wendi and Sunyei immediately took all three into their particular care, steering them gently away from the hot wire of their Night Stockade whenever they approached it. Nasalot is the Big Nannie who sleeps in the section of the stockade partitioned for the babies, and has chosen Madiba as her favourite. Yatta decided that Rapsu could be in with the older orphans next door, since he is, in fact, a little bigger in body than Galana with tusks of a similar length.
The Ithumba elephants have all had a wonderful festive season with an abundance and huge variety of browse at every turn, puddles to play in and softened red earth to roll in. Taita and Tomboi who are best friends, and enjoy throwing their weight around, have been kept in line by the older females who do not tolerate any bullying of youngsters, and respond to a cry for help instantly. The Keepers have also been keeping an eye on them to instil good behaviour and prevent any intimidation of the newcomers. From the Diary, it is very evident that Sunyei and Wendi are the Junior Matriarchs, who always feature prominently, but Yatta is the Leader of the entire group, assisted by Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna. Both Wendi and Sunyei are the Junior Matriarchs, and also the pranksters (like Mweya) ,who enjoy playing tricks on the others. Napasha is in the process of being weaned off milk, and feeling somewhat short-changed at the milk feeding times as a result, being given only boiled barley and water in his bottle! Soon even this will be removed, as he graduates from infancy to childhood.
This month the Ithumba unit have had fun chasing off baboons, and dikdik, and on one occasion Sunyei ran into a ground squirrel and inadvertently lifted it into the air with her trun, after which she was pretty traumatised. But from the Diary it is obvious that the confidence of the Ithumba unit is growing, and Rapsu is becoming a popular sparring partner for Taita and Tomboi.
All the Ithumba elephants could not be healthier or happier, the only drawback being the lack of interaction with wild herds, but given time, we are confident that this will come about. This month there was excitement from the older members of the group when they encountered fresh tracks of a wild herd, but that is the nearest they got!