Keepers' Diaries, December 2008

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The vegetation at Ithumba was lush, and the natural waterholes full with water, so the orphans enjoyed playing in the many natural waterholes and the Kalovoto normally dry river running as a small stream for the first half of December. However towards the middle of the month the rains had long gone, the vegetation turning yellow and the smaller natural depressions rapidly drying out again, heralding the onset of the next hot, dry season. January, February and March are the hottest months of the year which are always challenging for elephants, who have no sweat glands and need access to water and shade to keep their temperature stable. . This month has seen a lot of very interesting to-ing and fro-ing between certain members of both the Junior Keeper Dependent group of orphans and the Senior now Keeper independent group of older elephants led by Yatta, (the main Matriarch) as well as Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, the 4 older orphans brought up from Voi to oversee the youngsters. For the first time, on the 4th, Rapsu opted to join Yatta’s Senior Group while Wendi chose to remain with the Juniors for a few days r and r. Yatta had joined the youngsters at their noon mudbath, spent the afternoon with them, escorted them back to the Stockades in the evening, and taken Rapsu off for his first nocturnal adventure as a Senior, leaving Wendi behind. Wendi then rejoined Yatta’s group when they visited the Stockades next on the 6th, but Rapsu decided to remain as a Big Boy

The vegetation at Ithumba was lush, and the natural waterholes full with water, so the orphans enjoyed playing in the many natural waterholes and the Kalovoto normally dry river running as a small stream for the first half of December. However towards the middle of the month the rains had long gone, the vegetation turning yellow and the smaller natural depressions rapidly drying out again, heralding the onset of the next hot, dry season. January, February and March are the hottest months of the year which are always challenging for elephants, who have no sweat glands and need access to water and shade to keep their temperature stable.
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This month has seen a lot of very interesting to-ing and fro-ing between certain members of both the Junior Keeper Dependent group of orphans and the Senior now Keeper independent group of older elephants led by Yatta, (the main Matriarch) as well as Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, the 4 older orphans brought up from Voi to oversee the youngsters. For the first time, on the 4th, Rapsu opted to join Yatta’s Senior Group while Wendi chose to remain with the Juniors for a few days r and r. Yatta had joined the youngsters at their noon mudbath, spent the afternoon with them, escorted them back to the Stockades in the evening, and taken Rapsu off for his first nocturnal adventure as a Senior, leaving Wendi behind. Wendi then rejoined Yatta’s group when they visited the Stockades next on the 6th, but Rapsu decided to remain as a Big Boy

However, on the 7th, Yatta returned again to the Stockades in the evening escorting Rapsu back, who was probably having second thoughts. She remained long enough to see him settled back in his usual Night Stockade enjoying a rapturous welcome from all his little friends, who had obviously been missing him. Rapsu appeared happy to be back.

Yatta’s group joined the Junior set at their noon mudbath on the 9th, but on the l0th Napasha, who is normally part of Yatta’s Senior group, emerged alone from the shrubbery as the youngsters were on their way to the noon mudbath. Thinking that perhaps Yatta and the others were behind and would be following, the Keepers hung around for a while, but then realized that Napasha had obviously traveled alone. He spent the day with the Juniors, enjoyed the mudbath with them, fed with them throughout the afternoon, and returned with them to the Stockades, nut then left on his own heading eastwards, probably to join up with Yatta’s group somewhere out in the bush or else meet up with wild friends. Napasha was born in November 2002 and is now 6 years old which is quite a young age for a bull to be so confidently independent.

Yatta’s group was not seen again from the l0th until the 14th, when they turned up at the mudbath to join the Youngsters. However, the Juniors, led by Galana, then left the Seniors at the mudbath and made their way to browse around the slopes of Ithumba Hill. The same happened the next day. Yatta’s Senior group was absented themselves again for the next 3 days (on the 16th, l7th l8th) but met up with the Youngsters at the mudbath once more on the l9th, when the same pattern followed – the Youngsters heading off and leaving the Seniors at the mudbath. It is obvious top us that all this is pre-determined through either telepathy or infrasound, because normally the youngsters would enjoy spending time with the Seniors particularly when vegetation is plentiful and there is no urgent need to forage further afield. Silent decisions of this nature are frequently recorded in the Keepers’ Diaries.

Yatta and her group were waiting at the Stockades very early on the 20th, when both Wendy and Tomboi chose to spend a few days with the Juniors. Yatta’s group was again at the Stockades first thing on the morning of the 21st, and again Rapsu decided to upgrade his status and leave with them, while Tomboi and Wendi decided to stay put, rejoining the Senior group again on the 23rd when Yatta again arrived early at the Stockades. This time Rapsu decided to remain as part of the Senior Group and has spent the rest of the month that way.

Wild bulls came to drink at the Stockade trough only on two occasions this month. On Christmas day, two came at 7.30 p.m. and on the 29th eight turned up to have a drink in the evening. However, signs of the wild community returning en masse were everywhere by mid month, and as the remaining waterholes dry out, there will undoubtedly be more pressure and activity at the Stockade trough.

The 26th December (Boxing Day) was a day we will never forget, for Napasha returned with Yatta’s group with an arrow imbedded in his face. At first the Keepers thought he must have been pierced by a stick or thorn, but closer inspection revealed that it was, in fact, a poisoned arrow, although very little of the actual poison had penetrated the skin. Naturally, the Keepers immediately informed us, and we in turn informed the Deputy Director in charge of Security in Nairobi, since apparently all KWS personnel at Ithumba were absent over the Christmas period, with only a Radio Operator manning the Headquarters. KWS responded by sending more Rangers from Voi to patrol the area and from our side we warned the community that the Trust would withdraw its support if that community persisted in poaching. (At the moment the Trust supports 4 Community schools along the Northern Boundary, supplying them with desks, sporting equipment, Field trips into the Park in our Bus, stationery and books).

Napasha was taken to the Stockades, where the Keepers were able to extract the arrow which had penetrated about 3 inches into his cheek. They cleaned and dressed the wound, and were told to keep him under very close surveillance in the Stockades in case the poison took affect. For the next two days he was with the Juniors and remained at the Stockades, but most fortunately, suffered no serious side affects, apart from a sore face, which the Keepers were able to clean and dress twice a day. On the 28th he was allowed to rejoin Yatta’s group again when they turned up at the Stockades to collect him.

Thanks to our US Friends and public support the Trust will shortly have its own Supercub Surveillance aircraft. We also already have Thermal Imaging Equipment, so more intensive surveillance over Tsavo will become possible aimed at assisting the Kenya Wildlife Service to keep a closer eye on Tsavo’s elephants and ensure that poachers are kept at bay. With Chinese Middlemen Buyers actually in the country, and the price of ivory to a poacher having risen from K. Shs. 300/- per kilo to K. Shs. 5,000/- no elephants are entirely safe either Kenya, or for that matter, elsewhere in Africa.

December 2008 day to day

01 Dec

After a very wet, rainy night, Sian and Lualeni were first to leave the Night Stockade in the morning. After the usual Stockade Games (Lualeni and Kora scratching themselves against the Unloading Bay, before Kora left to engage Ndomot in a friendly pushing bout), Galana led the group out to browse. However, most of the morning was spent playing in the rain puddles and mud, so there was no desire for the usual official mudbath today. Yatta’s group was absent all day.

Kora crossing the road

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