It has been a particularly challenging month for our Ithumba Orphans, since the rains which should have broken in mid October came so late – the first meaningful shower falling on the l7th to relieve what has been one of the longest droughts on record in that part of the Park. More rain fell sporadically thereafter to bring on a green flush of vegetation which was greatly enjoyed by the Keeper Dependent group who are still anchored to the Stockades at night. Yatta’s Ex Orphan Group came to the Stockades on the lst to partake of the Junior Orphans’ Lucerne handout, but thereafter were not seen until the end of the month, although a splinter group comprised of Rapsu, Kora, Lualeni and Madiba turned up briefly for a quick drink at the Stockade trough on the 4th and another Splinter Group led by Galana and comprised of Loijuk, Challa, Tomboi, Kenze, Meibai, Sidai, Madiba, Kamboyo, Sunyei and a wild Junior Bull checked in again on the 26th intermingling with the Juniors for about half an hour before Galana led her Ex Orphan group off again. The same ten Ex Orphans turned up again the next day just as the Juniors were about to leave, but again did not linger.
Yatta and 20 of the Ex Orphans were not seen until the 30th, following their appearance at the beginning of the month. They came from a westerly direction and with Yatta was Mulika, and their respective babies, Yetu and Mwende, Kenze, Taita, Ithumbah, Galana, Kinna, Zurura, Chyulu, Wendi, Orok, Nasalot, Makena, Buchuma, Tomboi, Kamboyo, Meibai, Sunyei, Lenana, Loijuk, Sidai, Challa and a wild Junior Bull attachment. Absent from the group were Kora, Lualeni, Naserian, Madiba, Rapsu and Napasha but as Kora, Lualeni, Madiba and Rapsu had been seen earlier, only Napasha and Naserian have remained absent all month. This is an enormous worry in view of the current level of poaching within the Park and the country generally, which has never been worse. We pray that they are safe.
Meanwhile the Junior boys daily indulge in the favourite sport of adolescent male elephants – Pushing Matches, challenging one another to test dominance and strength and sometimes engaging one of the Big Girls as well, mainly Kitirua, Makireti and Suguta. Whereas Kibo holds the No. 1 slot in terms of the best and strongest “Pusher”, Kilaguni has long enjoyed being a close runner up along with Sabachi, but it would appear from this month’s Diary that Ololoo has now been able to overpower both Kilaguni and Sabachi. Ololoo is also fondest of water, and seldom misses a chance of the mudbath. Meanwhile Kasigau and Chemi Chemi are practicing their Pushing skills hard. Pushing matches often end up with the victor trying to mount his opponent, which is never popular, being a significant indicator to all onlookers! Such things do not go un-noticed amongst growing elephants of both sexes!
The Big Girls of the group take it in turns to lead the Juniors out to browse in the mornings and back to the Stockades in the evenings, sharing Matriarchal duties but Kandecha remains the Time Keeper who signals the march to the milk and mudbath venue round about noon. Once the rains broke bush mudbaths took preference over the usual artificial black cotton gooey mudbath with the Orphans making the most of puddles and mudholes elsewhere, feasting on the first soft green shoots that sprout out of previously parched vegetation in response to rain almost overnight.
We are deeply grateful to Geri Bauer and others who have shouldered the expense of the Lucerne supplement that has kept our Orphans healthy despite the challenges of a very long drought season. And it was an enormous relief and a New Year celebration to see 20 Ex Orphans return safe and sound at the end of the month. We now pray that Napasha and Naserian are likewise.