The main waterhole is full to the brim and overflowing, tempting even for Kauro who normally hates swimming! One day he surprised everyone when he emerged as the star of the day by returning several times to the water to have fun, even after his friends had all left the waterhole. Naseku loves to swim out into deeper water and later returns to the edge to have fun thrashing the water around with her trunk in sheer ecstasy.
It’s these easy times that are tempting some of our orphans to start exploring their independence too. It started with Kamok, Ambo, Wanjala and Tusuja walking off deep into the bush so that they missed their noon milk feed, and then later that day the same four made off with about half of the Ithumba herd! The orphans that remained were taken back to the stockades while the Keepers traced the missing group. Finally they were located deep in the undergrowth perfectly content, and taken back to the stockades; but Naseku, Rapa, Tusuja, Barsilinga and Namalok were absent. Later in the evening at seven o'clock, Barsilinga arrived back at the stockade compound and shortly after, Naseku, Tusuja and Namalok arrived all in good shape, and downed their milk bottles, before walking into their stockade to relax after a long day. Sapalan, Kamok, Tusuja, Kauro, Rapa, Enkikwe and Barsilinga are starting to show some reluctance returning to the stockades and like to sneak away from the Keepers so as to continue feeding and return back in their own time, and by the end of the month Barsilinga and our Enkikwe would sneak off most afternoons and bring themselves back, usually past 6pm. It is wonderful that the injury to Enkikwe’s leg, inflicted by lions three years ago now, isn’t impeding him and preventing him from exploring his independence. His leg hasn’t healed completely yet and he will of course always walk with a limp, but the Keepers would prefer that he stays for a little while longer so that they can keep an eye on him. We are sure this will be the case, and that he just likes to keep Barsilinga company!
On the 13th some ex-orphans led by Kinna showed up briefly at the stockade compound. The group consisted of Kinna, baby Kama, Nasalot, baby Nusu, Sidai, baby Sita, Narok, Vuria, Ishanga, Naserian, two wild elephants, Olare, Wendi and baby Wema. We had not seen Nasalot, Narok, Naserian, Sidai and the babies for some time and it was lovely to see them again! Having the ex-orphans and their wild born babies around is always helpful for our dependent-orphans, not just to play with other wild babies their own age, but to learn from those that have gone before and made the transition to a fully independent life. The next day Lenana and her little rascal baby Lapa were there too, giving Naseku, Roi, Maramoja, Kamok, and Oltaiyoni the perfect opportunity to play and interact with her little one, even if he was being a pint sized scoundrel and kept on pushing everyone around!
Our orphans are always in communication with the ex-orphan herds. We witnessed this one day when the orphans all raised their trunks processing information they had received by smell. This went on for quite some time and we soon realized that the orphans were in contact with the ex-orphans and the ex-orphans were directing them to where they were browsing.
We received the greatest Christmas present of all, early on the 18th, when Yatta’s ex-orphan herd passed by the stockade compound, heading east. The orphans briefly stopped to have some water from the troughs before proceeding on with their journey and this is when the Keepers realized that not just Wendi with her babies were among the herd, but Chyulu too, with a baby tottering at her feet! Chyulu was with the ex-orphan group that consisted of Yatta with her children Yetu and Yoyo, along with Kinna, Kama, Lualeni, Lulu, Sunyei, Siku, Sidai, Sita, Nasalot, Nusu, Teleki, Makena, Naserian, Ishanga, Loijuk, Lili, Makireti, Kilabasi, Kasigau, Chaimu, Ithumbah, Narok, Wendi, Wiva, Wema, Olare, Lenana and Lapa. We have not seen Yatta with her herd altogether for quite some time. Chyulu’s little boy we called ‘Cheka’ meaning ‘laugh’. With the arrival of our 38th wild born baby and the general jubilant mood that prevails at Ithumba right now, we thought this was the most fitting name.
Within the dependent herd the older females are still very good at watching over the youngsters. Kamok likes to follow Ambo around while Roi’s favourite is still Dololo. Sana Sana, Maramoja and Siangiki watch over Musiara and Sattao and Siangiki in particular is very attentive. One day she wasn’t comfortable with Ambo challenging Mapia to a pushing game, concerned that Mapia might be too much to handle for Ambo. She strategically positioned herself to help her Ambo incase Mapia played too rough. Fortunately Mapia handled Ambo gently, aware that Siangiki was keeping a beady eye on them and if he did something to hurt Ambo he would face serious consequences!
Dololo is still trying to establish himself amongst the bulls, and isn’t afraid to start a wrestling match with the likes of Karisa and Mapia. The bulls can be quite rough with Dololo, climbing on him and pushing him away, as they obviously feel the need to put him in his place in the hierarchy. Roi is always there ready reassure Dololo and comfort him following a tough game. Having the presence of the older females around certainly gives the younger bulls an additional level of confidence. Sana Sana punished Jotto one day for picking on Musiara in a pushing game. Buoyed by this protection Musiara confidently decided to tackle Mapia who was standing close by, but unfortunately for him he hadn’t realized that Sana Sana had moved off to browse! The going quickly got tough for Musiara and he had to abort the game.
While Roi is certainly compassionate, she can still be a little mischievous herself around milk feeding times. She likes to finish her share as quickly as possible and then pester the others for theirs. This is quite the opposite of Oltaiyoni, who the Keepers refer to as their little princess. Oltaiyoni always stops a short distance away from where the Keepers are holding her milk bottle and waits for the milk to be brought to her by a Keeper to where she is standing.
Sapalan and Namalok can never seem to be able to establish a clear winner in their wrestling games and often take a pause from browsing to engage one another in these tests of strength that last for quite some time, as they try to settle the score. Kamok and Olsekki are the same and because there is never a clear winner they constantly seem to be going at it. One day Olsekki tried to play with Oltaiyoni instead but the little princess made it clear she was not that type of girl so he moved on to look for Kamok instead as she is always up for his games! Karisa and Pare also like to play pushing games with one another too. Ukame on the other hand still has no particular favorite friend but instead is content in anyone’s company.
On the last day of the year we were greeted by ex-orphan friends Kitirua and Kandecha, who are both 11 years old now, who escorted the Ithumba orphans out to browse and stayed with them the whole day, even returning with them in the evening, before walking off into the night once more. The pregnant skies that day gave way to rain; ending the year on a high, for the sudden rain brought the browsing activities to a halt as the orphans started playing with the wet soil in absolute delight. With every raincloud, there is a silver lining. The Keepers looked on this joyful scene aware of all the challenges facing the world at the moment, but reflecting on the year of plenty at Ithumba and watching our happy orphans, those lucky babies afforded a second chance, enjoy the downpour.