Keepers' Diaries, December 2018

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Our Reintegration Units within the protected Tsavo Conservation Area bridge the gap between infancy and independence for our orphaned elephants; a journey that does not happen overnight, but takes many years, and one that is dictated by the needs of each individual.  

The orphans choose their own time to sleep away from the comfort of their night stockades and garner a more independent life under the mentorship of our ex-orphans and the wild herds, but like one’s own children, this independence takes time to take seed and grow. Our Ithumba Unit is a wonderful mix of ex-orphans now living an independent life, but still visiting their human family and the dependent orphans from time to time, and the little milk/Keeper dependent orphans who still require their milk bottles, their human family, and the safety of their stockades at night.  Presently at Ithumba we have 24 dependent orphans still on milk, with over 65 living a more independent life in the North of Tsavo, graduating from our Ithumba Unit - and now nine wild born babies born to our Ithumba raised female orphans. 

The rains in December continued to fall resulting in a glorious varied array of vegetation for the orphans to feed on. As typical of December and January however, the days can still get very hot, and the orphans sought shade under trees in the afternoon and resorting to small pools left over from the rain to splash behind their ears. We noticed a change in the orphans’ behaviour as well; there was no longer such a scramble to find the best vegetation but instead they were happy to share from the same shrubs and bushes, and spend more time relaxing and playing.  

It was a good time to take advantage of the green season and move the big girls from our Nursery to Ithumba, Sana Sana, Malkia and Ndiwa, with plenty of vegetation around and all the waterholes replenished. They joined their old Nursery friends at the Ithumba stockades on the 4th December, after making the journey in our special customized translocation lorry. They were first met by their old friends Mundusi, Esampu and Mteto. Esampu bellowed loudly in excitement and joy at meeting her friends that she last saw in May. Nothing can compare to the sound of an elephant rejoicing the arrival of an old friend! Mteto greeted Malkia while Ndiwa tried to find out if Esampu still remembered her. The three new arrivals had no difficulty in adjusting to their new routine as they followed the lead of their old Nursery friends, and savoured their company. They weren’t too sure about the cold mud-bath water to begin with, but they soon learnt to savour their swims to cool down as the temperatures soared. It has been so lovely to watch them adjust to their new home, and see how happy they are, seamlessly slotting into Ithumba life as if they had been there for months. 

Early before dawn on the 12th, ex-orphans Tumaren, Melia, Kandecha, Kalama and two wild elephants showed up at the stockades and decided to wait until daybreak so as to meet the new arrivals. After the orphans had their early morning milk, Sana Sana led the way out, but upon seeing the ex-orphans, she stopped in her tracks and let Maramoja take over; she was not used to these over-familiar and much larger elephants! Tumaren and Melia interacted with the orphans briefly and after introducing themselves to Malkia, Sana Sana and Ndiwa, they left again. As time progressed this month Sana Sana became more emboldened and brave in her new surroundings, and was happy to lead the elephants out in the morning too.

On the 17th we were visited by another ex-orphan bull, 14 year old Challa, who we had not seen for nearly a year! He and another wild bull showed up at the stockade compound in the early morning before the dependent orphans headed out for the day. Challa looked very well and waited patiently for the dependent orphans to come out to see if there was anything that he could share with them. Challa was comfortable and briefly shared lucerne pellets with the orphans. Namalok and Wanjala stood close to Challa with their trunks outstretched in awe of his size and clearly they were communicating asking him questions! Shortly later, Challa left with his wild friend. It is always so heart-warming to receive these random visits by our old babies who remember their home and human family, as they come to check in from time to time. Seeing Challa looking so well and healthy after such a long absence is comforting too. 

Last month, our rebel girl Laragai continued to resist being shut into the stockades at night, and this month she ran off on the 12th with the ex-orphans Murka, Naisula and Kitirua and was not seen for the rest of the month, although we are sure she is fine and happy in their company. She left Kithaka, Barsilinga and Garzi behind and initially they were quite confused about what to do during the day, without their leader Laragai, but they soon settled into a routine. They decided to stick with the dependent orphans during the day, and we can still shut them in at night without the disruptive influence of Laragai. Barsilinga was quite naughty with the youngsters however, and was prone to shoving them around a bit, until disciplined by the Keepers. 

From the 26th Narok’s herd chose to visit the dependent orphans every day. That is not their style however and we wondered what their agenda was, to keep so close to home for so many days in a row. We thought they might be prospecting to see if any of the dependent orphans were ready to join them in the wild, the most obvious candidates being Kithaka, Barsilinga and Garzi since Laragai left them behind. At first these three didn’t react but then after a few days they decided to lag behind in the afternoon, and then leave with Narok’s group before the others returned to the stockades at night. They never fully left with Narok’s herd however, returning to the stockades a few hours later around 7pm to be shut into their stockade in the compound. 

On the 20th, Mutara’s group, consisting of herself, Sities, Kanjoro, Kainuk, Turkwel, Suguta and Kibo, visited the stockade at night. It was the first time Turkwel has visited since she returned to her Mutara’s herd in the wild, after recovering with the dependent orphans in the stockades for four months after her lion attack and having her tail amputated. Throughout that time Mutara’s herd never gave up on her or forgot her, and they would visit regularly over the weeks and months to check on whether Turkwel was ready to re-join them or not.

We are delighted with Sapalan’s progress recently. Having been quite dull for some time and then battling a bout of ill health in October, after receiving medication he is now very active and much more interactive with the herd, so whatever had been plaguing him seems to have been knocked on the head thankfully. He is still good friends with Enkikwe, whom he bonded with when they used to find themselves together at the back of the herd as they all browsed together throughout the day.

December 2018 day to day

01 Dec

It was wet in the morning following 5 mm of rain received last night. The orphans left the stockade early as usual, led by Maramoja, and went straight out to browse. Barsilinga came back in the morning to join up with the dependent orphans, but left shortly later to link up with his group. Following the November rains the light vegetation has now started turning green. The orphans concentrated on feeding on the new shoots which are so tasty. 

Later on, Kamok, Lemoyian and Siangiki decided to have fun by rolling on the ground. The three orphans resumed browsing when they felt that they had done enough playing. At mud bath time, the orphans only had their milk then returned back to the bush. The orphans settled to browse in the Kanziku area and had a quiet afternoon as they concentrated on browsing without any major observation. 

In the evening only Kithaka from the ‘rebel group’ decided to join the dependent orphans on the way back to the stockades. Kithaka joined Lemoyian, Olsekki and Siangiki in the stockade for the night. 


Kamok playing

Olsekki chewing on a branch