Ithumba is a veritable jungle at the moment, having benefited from exceptional rains this wet season. For our orphans this is a time of celebration as food, water, mud and all things that elephants love are abundant. Our Ithumba Relocation Unit was formed in June 2004 and now at eleven and a half years old is home to over sixty seven hand-raised elephants. 17 of these are still Keeper and milk dependent orphans, returning daily to their Night Stockades. This month a number of our independent ex-orphans, now living normal wild elephant lives, have remained close to home with the exception of big boys Kora and Kamboyo and Olare’s group - a herd of younger elephant orphans in the process of establishing their independence at the tender age of six years old. Currently in this group are 16 orphans - Olare, Chaimu, Melia, Tumaren, Naisula, Murka, Kilaguni, Kalama, Kibo, Kitirua, Kandecha, Chemi Chemi, Makireti, Kasigau, Ishanga and Kilabasi; a mix of males and females who are all close ex-nursery friends and who have formed their own bonded herd. In the dry season they tend to morph into different groups, and mix with the older independent ex-orphans, but at the moment they appear to be together and throughout December have not returned to the stockades for a visit. This is not unusual since last year this group followed the same pattern during the wet season.
The older independent orphans, often led by the oldest orphans at Ithumba Mulika and Yatta, Kinna and Nasalot, have stayed close to home. They have probably chosen to remain close because of baby “Wiva”, born in October 2015 to ex-orphan Wendi. Yatta’s herd of 32 elephants now consist of Yatta and her calf Yetu, Mulika and her calf Mwende, Nasalot, Kinna, Wendi and her calf Wiva, Galana, Sunyei, Sidai, Lualeni, Loijuk, Lenana, Chyulu, Makena, Ithumbah and Lenana and Meibai along with bulls Napasha, Tomboi, Taita, Rapsu, Madiba, Buchuma, Orok, Challa, Kora, Kenze, Kamboyo, Zurura, and Ololoo.
The 1st of the month began well with a healthy rain shower to further top up the dams and waterholes, all of which are now full of water thanks to the further exceptional rains experienced towards the end of 2015 which have transformed the region into a veritable Garden of Eden with every bush and shrub adorned with heavily perfumed flowers and creepers attended by colourful butterflies and dragonflies and the air filled with the scent of wild sage. This has transformed this normally arid landscape into a picture-book Heaven on Earth and, for our orphans, fun filled days. Their midday mudbath waterhole has been transformed into a deep lake, having been fortuitously dredged just prior to the onset of the rains, as was the Ithumba dam, now both are brimming. For “water babies” Bongo and Mutara, this is Utopia further enhanced by the presence of mud wallows everywhere out in the bush.
Every baobab is in leaf, the Acacia Tortilis canopy- thick, and each and every Delonix tree in full bloom with magnificent peach and white coloured blossoms. Trees in leaf provide plenty of shade from the soaring humid temperatures at this time of year. The distinction between the dry and wet seasons in Tsavo is, indeed, extreme.
Mutara has developed a new trick, surreptitiously opening her Night Stockade door despite the enclosure being electrically protected. During the early hours of the morning on a number of occasions she has accomplished this Houdini act and managed to let her fellow stable mates out. Once out, they do not venture far, still being needy of their Keepers, their milk and their younger friends, but it seems to satisfy the older ones knowing that they can browse whenever they wish.
This month Bongo lost one of his tusks – the one that was damaged when he first arrived with us. The nerve running through the tusk was obviously dying because the tusk became loose and eventually dropped out completely. The Keepers retrieved it and handed it in to the Kenya Wildlife Service authorities, so Bongo is now left with just one tusk. Thankfully when the tusk fell out he appeared to be in no pain. This month mischievous Kithaka has taken to molesting the dung beetles, kicking them off their dung balls and even scattering them and their dung balls with his flailing trunk! He can be seen looking for them around the deep waterholes, barely putting a foot in the water, since, unlike Bongo, Kithaka is averse to cold water! His friends, Barsilinga and Lemoiyan take their cue from him and also seldom choose to wallow in the deep waterholes, happy to slip and slide on the muddied verges instead!
Three inches of rain fell overnight on one occasion during a huge thunderstorm and the next day the area was underwater – conditions savoured by the elephants, but which were heavy going for the Keepers. Madiba, Orok and Taita (big handsome wild ex-orphan bulls) have been spending more than usual time with the dependent babies, enjoying some serious swimming sessions with them during the midday mudbath. The babies are cautious at such times since the bulls are big and strong and fairly rambunctious. The dependent young bulls love these encounters with the older independent bulls.
It seems that Nasalot is in demand with six wild bulls paying her a great deal of attention towards the end of the month. Hence, perhaps we can expect another wild-born baby in two years time (while nature needs two years to make an elephant, it only needs 9 months to make a human!)
The Keepers daily entries highlight many more individuals’ antics from the Ithumba Unit.