For the Ithumba elephants, it has been a wonderful month, with plentiful water and vegetation at every turn following reasonable rains in the North. Each day is greeted with unbridled joy and happiness, and is an adventure that reinforces friendships, and the caring and compassion of the older females who oversee all the youngsters and their Keepers so proficiently. Ithumba is a prime example of human/elephant cooperation. Again illustrated is the fact that the orphans now often choose to split into two separate groups in the evenings, so that the older elephants and those with them can remain independent of the Keepers and return as and when they like long after dark, leaving the Keepers to escort the youngsters back earlier. The older elephants feel that they are more likely to meet their wild friends if their human family is not with them. Naserian seems to be taking charge of the youngest set, and this month Kora and Kamboyo have played leadership roles taking the youngsters to and from the mudbath and milk venues. Kamboyo and Zurura have settled amazingly well, and are very much part of the team now.
There was anxiety on the evening of the 30th as the youngsters were returning and took fright at something unseen by the Keepers. Olmalo and Rapsu fled towards the Kalovoto watercourse, whilst the others ran to their Keepers for protection. By nightfall, the Keepers had been unable to locate the two missing orphans, so they decided to return to base with the others, where Yatta and her splinter group were already ensconced, but without Sunyei. Now there were 3 missing members of the Ithumba group – Rapsu, Olmalo and Sunyei, who had been in Yatta’s splinter group! When they had not shown up by 7.30 p.m., the Keepers opened the Stockade Gates to allow Yatta out to continue the search and she immediately set off taking Nasalot and Buchuma with her. Thirty minutes later Yatta and Nasalot returned, but without Buchuma, so now the Keepers were faced with 4 missing members of the unit! However, at 8.30 p.m. Buchuma returned with the three other missing orphans, Rapsu, Olmalo and Sunyei, amidst enormous applause from the Keepers and, as the Keepers say, “congratulations” from all the elephant members of the unit, especially Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna who were delighted to have all their family present and correct again. Well done Buchuma! The next night, after this scare, the entire unit clocked in early for the night! One is left wondering what exactly happened to make Yatta decide to entrust the search to Buchuma and how he managed to locate Sunyei, who was not with Rapsu and Olmalo, unless, of course, she had found them out in the bush, bearing in mind that elephants have night vision that is only as good as our own. It is such incidents that make the Diaries during the Rehabilitation phase of our Orphans’ Project so immensely intriguing and educational, teaching us many aspects of elephant behaviour not previously witnessed firsthand.