Keepers' Diaries, December 2006

Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It has been a truly wonderful month for our Ithumba unit- a month punctuated by rainstorms and showers right up until the end, and food and water in abundance at every turn. It has been quality elephant time. A lone wild bull visited the orphans during the night of the 31st December,, but as usual they were unable to meet up with him the next day although an attempt was made. They also followed the trail of a wild herd that had passed through their area on the 27th and although the sight of fresh wild dung made the four older elephants rumble a greeting, which brought all the others along to take a look, again, no contact was made. However, the vehicle transporting the night’s browse to the Stockade actually came across a lone one tusked Bull,(possibly the nocturnal visitor) but sadly it was too late to mobilize the Ithumba orphans to him. However, the mere fact that he showed himself is a sign that he is becoming more confident. There was high drama on the morning of the 4th when, as the orphans were preparing to leave the Stockades, two dikdiks fled right to them, obviously for protection, with 4 wild dogs hot on their heels. Confronted by the elephants and the Keepers, the dogs did a rapid about-turn, as the younger orphans rushed to their Keepers for protection, and only Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot plucked up enough courage to stand their ground, later charging in the direction taken by the dogs once sure that they were retreating! The 4 dogs again made an early morning appearance on the 19th, obviously hoping to drink from the Stockade trough, and this again triggered an impressive display of aggression from the four older elephants. The Stockade dikdiks obviously have a fraught time, because they also provide a target for the younger set to put on a display, which, on the 21st was initiated by Madiba and Buchuma. There was deep disappointment when the hole in Kora’s jaw opened up again to exude a small quantity of pus, having been closed for several months and just when we were daring to hope that his immune system had defeated the very chronic bone infection that has plagued him for so long, following the bullet wound he sustained in infancy. However, the hole again sealed after two days, and has since remained closed, so once again, we are hopeful. Kora could not be in better physical condition and we are confident that amongst the amazing spread of highly mineralized low country browse there will be Nature’s medicinal plant remedy to heal his condition.

01 December 2006

The orphans left the Stockades early with high hopes of meeting up with a wild bull who had paid them a visit the night before. Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot led the entire group in the follow up, and after a very long walk, following the bull’s tracks, Yatta decided to give up and browse instead.

02 December 2006

Having emerged in the morning, Kinna and Napasha opened up the day’s activities with a pushing game that deteriorated into a fight. Yatta, who was close by, came to Kinna’s aid and drove Napasha away. Out in the feeding grounds Napasha fed apart from the others. At 5 years old, he sometimes enjoys doing this, to show that he can be independent – clear proof that one day he will leave his human family to join up with wild bachelor peers.

03 December 2006

It was a cloudy morning, with the lush vegetation glistening with dew. Lualeni and Kora walked close to the Keepers on the way out until the orphans reached their destination when they fanned out, browsing towards the North. At l0 a.m. Kinna, Yatta, Mulika and Selengai separated from the rest of the group, but returned later to re-join them. It was a hot day, so the orphans enjoyed a very active mudbath, and at 4 p.m. they converged under the shade of a large tree to rest. Orok remained beside his new “mother”, Nasalot, who laid her trunk lovingly across his back as they dozed.

04 December 2006

There was high drama first thing in the morning when the orphans left their Stockade, when two dikdiks fled towards them, obviously for protection, because a few moments later 4 wild dogs appeared searching for their quarry. They were foiled when they came face to face with the elephants and their Keepers, so they did a quick about-turn as the Keepers prepared to drive them off with clubs. As soon as the dogs were retreating, the orphans plucked up courage to charge after them, trumpeting, with the Keepers following the elephants! Afterwards, feeling good, the orphans browsed happily throughout the day.

05 December 2006

It was a cloudy day as Yatta led her herd out to the feeding area. There is no need for the orphans to walk far in search of food, for there is abundance all around them after exceptional rains this season. They only walk for pleasure these days. Today, the browsing began very hear the Stockade. Sunyei, Galana and Ndomot visited a nearby rock for a scratch, but were startled when two hyraxes ran out from a crack. The elephants couldn’t make up their minds to run or stand their ground, but when they spotted the hyraxes running away, they put on a good show! At the mudbath, none of the elephants were interested in wallowing, since they had enjoyed many mudbaths throughout the morning in the natural puddles.

06 December 2006

There had been a heavy downpour during the night, so the orphans came out of their Stockades slipping and sliding. In the process Kinna inadvertently stepped on Wendi’s trunk, which made her bellow, which drew the attention of Yatta, who came to Wendi, and laid her trunk across her back as well as touching her mouth to comfort her. After the incident all was well and normal activities continued. The orphans enjoyed a very active mudbath, splashing and rolling in the full waterhole, when Wendi, Napasha, Yatta and Challa emerged as winners. After an afternoon feeding peacefully, the orphans were happy to make their way back to the Stockades for the night.

07 December 2006

As the Stockade Gates opened in the morning, it was raining, which pleased the orphans. They enjoyed skidding and bumping into one another playfully. They had no need of a mudwallow today, having enjoyed this activity on numerous occasions. In the evening, the vehicle carrying the night browse for the elephants came across a one tusked lone bull, possibly the one who has been visiting the orphans during the night. However, it was too late to mobilize the group to go and meet him.

08 December 2006

Sunyei led the column out this morning, and once in the feeding area, Nasalot, Sunyei, Rapsu and Orok enjoyed a charging and trumpeting game out of sheer pleasure. Rushing around knocking down small bushes in their path. As usual these days, the babies were not interested in mud wallowing after their noon milk feed, but headed out again to feed.

09 December 2006

Having been let out in the morning, Madiba and Buchuma enjoyed a game of hide and seek. At l0 a.m. Ndomot and Tomboi had a joyful pushing match which ended when Napasha intervened to push the two away. Later on, Napasha remained behind when the rest of the herd went for the mudbath, arriving just as they were all about to leave.

10 December 2006

Again, it rained the entire night, but the sky was clear by morning. At l0a.m. Sunyei and Buchuma challenged Wendi, but Yatta intervened, the contest being unfair with two against one! It was hot by noon, so the orphans enjoyed a prolonged mudbath, while a light afternoon shower prompted soil bathing before retiring for the night.

11 December 2006

Sunyei led the orphans out, and they all enjoyed a peaceful day of feeding and a brief mudwallow at noon.

12 December 2006

Yatta, Kinna, Mulika, Napasha and Selengai waited outside the youngster’s Stockade to watch them take their morning milk feed, after which they escorted the babies out to the feeding area. Then the group split into two, one led by Madiba and Sidai, whilst the other group was led by the Matriarch, Yatta. Light showers again prompted soil bathing, which was greatly enjoyed by Challa, Sidai, Kora, Lualeni and Madiba, who remained behind to indulge themselves when the others moved off. The five rejoined the rest later for their noon milk feed.

13 December 2006

Heavy rain fell during the night, and continued into the morning as the orphans left for the feeding area. There some scratched themselves against rocks. When the sun broke through, the orphans enjoyed rolling on the ground, warming their bodies. Later Ndomot and Sunyei had an altercation over a tree branch that Ndomot had plucked, and when he realized that Sunyei was serious in wanting it, he ran off with it as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving Sunyei confused.

14 December 2006

Tomboi and Rapsu had a busy time today, trying to mount one another to determine their rank status. Only the milk dependent elephants turned up for the mudbath, the others having decided to remain. In the evening, the orphans browsed along the Kalovoto stream that was flowing, so some enjoyed playing in the stream while Sunyei, Madiba, Lualeni and Kora split from the others to come close to their Keepers.

15 December 2006

Challa led the group out this morning where Yatta teamed up with Kinna, Nasalot, Wendi and Orok whilst Mulika, Selengai, Galana and Rapsu formed a separate group, and the smaller babies formed their own closer to the Keepers. In the evening Nasalot and Napasha engaged in a tussle which ended as the Keepers approached to keep order.

16 December 2006

Water running freely from the hills is an everyday occurrence these days in Ithumba, so the elephants don’t have to walk far to slake their thirst. Out in the field, Kinna and Napasha resumed their tussle, but Yatta intervened, pushing Napasha away.

17 December 2006

Kora and Sunyei led the group out to feed today. At 11 a.m. Buchuma knocked Ndomot down, so this prompted a pushing match between the two. In the evening Taita and Sunyei had a wonderful pushing play, which was eagerly watched by Olmalo, until Sunyei slipped and fell, allowing Taita the advantage of trying to mount onto her. The Keepers warned Taita not to try.

18 December 2006

Rapsu and Buchuma welcomed the new day with a pushing contest. The orphans enjoyed feasting on the variety of browse, and after the milk feed, the babies enjoyed joining the older elephants in the full waterhole. They thoroughly enjoyed bathing, and when they had all had enough, Kora led them out of the water and back to the feeding fields.

19 December 2006

As the orphans were having a drink from the Stockade trough, the usual 4 wild dogs emerged to create tension. Yatta, Mulika, Kinna and Nasalot charged and trumpeted to chase the dogs off, as the babies retreated to the Keepers for protection. The wild dogs left, and order was restored after the orphans had settled their nerves. At the mudbath only Napasha, Rapsu, Kinna and Yatta participated in the wallowing, while the rest just watched from a distance.

20 December 2006

The orphans made a brief stop at nearby rocks to scratch themselves, until Kora and Challa left forcing the others to follow. At l0 a.m. it was very hot, so the elephants took a rest under shade, when Kinna kept touching Orok, watched carefully by Nasalot. On the way to the noon milk feed and mudbath, a buffalo was disturbed, which ran off crashing through the bush, as the Keepers and their charges stood motionless, listening to the animal’s progress through the bush. When the buffalo was some distance away, the orphans put on a charging and trumpeting display as they ran to the mudbath with their Keepers following.

21 December 2006

Having left the Stockade in the morning, Madiba and Buchuma chased off 2 dikdiks that were enjoying the morning sunshine. This attracted Ndomot and Rapsu who provided back-up, charging and knocking down bushes long after the dikdiks had vanished!

22 December 2006

Today, Yatta led her herd to the slopes of Ithumba Hill which was covered in mist. Just before 11 a.m., Ndomot and Madiba had a joyful game, intertwining trunks as they pushed against one another. The day turned chilly, so none of the orphans felt inclined to wallow.

23 December 2006

It was a cool day as the orphans headed out to feed. Buchuma and Madiba enjoyed a pushing game as Sunyei sat in front of the two boys, raising her trunk in the air, like a referee.

24 December 2006

The Keepers led the orphans out early as usual, and the orphans enjoyed gamboling amidst the thickets, expressing their joy at having so much to eat. At l0 a.m. Ndomot, Buchuma and Kora enjoyed displaying their attacking skills by knocking down small bushes, charging and trumpeting joyfully. Since it was a hot day, they all enjoyed a prolonged mudbath.

25 December 2006

Christmas Day, and both elephants and Keepers left the Stockade in a joyful mood, and with high spirits as another year draws to a close. It drizzled with rain throughout the entire day, which kept the temperature pleasant.

26 December 2006

Buchuma and Tomboi began the morning activities with a charging game, running around the thickets. Later Madiba and Ndomot were enjoying a pushing game, which was interrupted by Napasha.

27 December 2006

The orphans headed westward feeding along the rocky hills and following the fresh trail of a wild elephant herd, which had passed through at dawn. When Yatta, Mulika, Kinna and Nasalot came across fresh wild elephant dung, they rumbled a greeting, which drew the attention of the entire group, all of whom arrived to take a look. At 11 a.m. the orphans trundled to he mudbath, eager to cool off and drink. There they enjoyed a prolonged wallowing session, the young ones enjoying scratching their bodies against those of the older ones. The hole in Kora’s jaw opened up one day to exude a very small quantity of pus, and sealed itself again after two days. He is doing fine.

28 December 2006

It had rained throughout the night, so the orphans entered the feeding grounds with anticipation. Soon after leaving the Stockade, Sunyei, who was leading the group, encountered the usual four wild dogs. She trumpeted loudly and began to charge which drew the attention of the big females, Yatta, Kinna, Nasalot and Mulika, as well as Napasha, the biggest boy. All hurried forward in unison, and together chased the dogs away. Later, there was a disagreement between Sunyei and Nasalot because of Orok, whom Sunyei was trying to entice him away from Nasalot. This prompted Wendi to join in who sidled up to Orok and tried to push him to Sunyei. Orok himself remained blissfully unaware of the rivalry over him. In the evening, on the way home, Yatta and her group peeled off from the others to follow fresh footprints of a wild elephant, but since it was getting late, they soon gave up.

29 December 2006

Yatta led the orphans out in the morning, where they spent time charging around trumpeting out of sheer joy, bumping into one another, and rolling in the wet soil. At mudbath, all the orphans bathed, except Orok, Lualeni, Kora, Naserian and Sidai, but everyone soon quit the mudbath when Orok bellowed from the nearby bushes. Led by Nasalot, they rushed to attend to whatever was troubling Orok. He was calmed down by Nasalot and Kinna whilst all the others surrounded him to try and get a chance to caress him. The cause of his fear was 2 baboons, who made themselves scarce when the entire group gave chase. In the afternoon Lualeni, Kora and Orok decided to feed away from the others, overseen by Nasalot, who was not happy to feed apart from Orok, whom she adores.

30 December 2006

Just before ll a.m., Tomboi, Buchuma, Challa and Wendi enjoyed a soil hat at the entrance to a warthog burrow. Tomboi tried to climb on Wendi, who was lying down, but the Keepers warned him. Since it was cloudy, all the orphans opted out of a mudbath. In the evening Challa had a lesson in pushing skills from Selengai, but Taita and Tomboi interrupted the action.

31 December 2006

Early in the morning Buchuma and Tomboi enjoyed a pushing match in between rushing around the thickets joyfully. Later on Madiba and Ndomot challenged each other, but Wendi came in to part the two boys. All enjoyed the mudbath, except Kora, who decided not to go in.