Keepers' Diaries, December 2021

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

December began on a peaceful note. When the rains arrive, ex orphans and wild elephants tend to vanish. They know that Tsavo has transformed into a delicious, green buffet, so they are eager to travel further afield. This brings about a nice change of pace for our dependent orphans, too. The Ithumba herd enjoyed quiet mornings, browsing on lucerne without any competition or bother from other elephants.

Nabulu was particularly excited to feast on the fresh greenery. She graduated from the Nursery in June, when it was already quite dry. This is the first time it has rained since she arrived in Ithumba, so all the new shoots must be a delicious novelty.

The lack of wild visitors created a peaceful environment, but the orphans always find their own dramas. One morning, Sapalan ran into trouble with Kamok when he inadvertently stepped on some lucerne that the older girl had her eye on. Kamok pushed Sapalan hard, making him yell out loud. Our little bull was annoyed by Kamok's unbecoming behaviour, since this was not the first time she has pushed him without proper cause. 

Another day, Kauro and Mundusi had a pushing game in which Kauro emerged the winner. To add insult to injury, he then climbed on poor Mundusi while the other orphans were watching. Mundusi couldn't handle the embarrassment brought about by his defeat, so he quickly joined the junior boys.

As we are always reminded, elephants can be quite sensitive. On two occasions this month, a lesser kudu ran past at high speed. This worried the orphans, so they hurried over to the Keepers until they had determined that no threats were lurking about. The third run-in with a kudu unfolded a bit differently: During a peaceful browsing session, Esampu spotted a lesser kudu and trumpeted at him. The male kudu stood his ground, prompting Esampu, Mundusi, Rapa, Dololo, Sattao and Mteto to charge at it. They are full of bravado when they know nothing dangerous is afoot!

While wild visitors were few and far between this month, Yatta and her ex-orphan herd made an appearance a few times. On the 8th, the orphans met up with Kithaka, Barsilinga, Tusuja, Kilabasi, Yatta, Yoyo, and baby Yogi. The girls were delighted to have little Yogi in their midst, especially Naseku, Roi and Esampu, who jostled for the opportunity to nanny him. While Yatta was in the area, all the members of Class Five save Naseku refused to sleep in their stockade, choosing instead to remain with Yatta’s herd.

We received more rain mid-month, which was a very welcome surprise. This created all sorts of delightful puddles to play in. Rapa and Malima sipped from the sparkling pools that had collected on the rocks around them. The orphans love drinking rainwater, as it tastes quite sweet.

Amidst all the rainy fun and games, Esampu suffered an embarrassing gaffe. Despite walking as carefully as she could, she slipped and fell in the mud. Sattao and Dololo, who were following closely behind, witnessed her humiliation. Our iron lady evidently felt that they were laughing at her, because she wheeled around and confronted the two boys. Dololo and Sattao ran away and hid behind some of the other orphans, so as to avoid Esampu’s notorious temper.

Despite Esampu’s suspicions, the orphans always look out for one another. We constantly see examples of this. For instance, Mundusi has been making a nuisance of himself by challenging everyone who crosses his path. However, Kauro always plays with him gently, knowing the younger bull just wants to showcase his strength. One day, Ambo was feeling a bit dejected after losing a game to Mapia. He sought out Malkia, who took him through a training session to better face off his fellow bulls. Ambo was delighted to receive this one-on-one session and ran off, swinging his trunk in excitement. Another day, little Musiara got distracted while browsing and nearly got left behind. He let out a loud, worried trumpet, which sent Malkia rushing over to collect him. 

On the 19th, Nasalot, Nusu, baby Noah, and Makireti briefly visited the orphans. Malima, Nabulu, Wanjala, Mundusi, Malkia, Mundusi, and Sana Sana surrounded Nasalot and her children, admiring how fast Noah is growing. Nasalot allowed the orphans to interact with her calves for a good while, before heading west with her loyal friend and nanny, Makireti, by her side. 

The next morning, ex orphan Challa briefly greeted the orphans outside the stockade compound. Wanjala, Mundusi, Rapa, Dololo, and Kauro considered leaving with Challa, but they reevaluated after realising they didn’t know how far the big bull would walk or when he might return to Ithumba. Instead, they returned to their friends, who were walking off to browse for the morning.

With all this greenery around, many of the orphans are expediting the weaning process. On several occasions some of the orphans had to be reminded that it was time for milk bottles! Galla, Ndiwa and Rapa didn't even bother coming for their milk one day, as they teamed up with Siangiki, Roi, Oltaiyoni, Olsekki and Naseku, who are fully weaned off milk now.

On the other hand, other orphans remain fully milk obsessed. One day, Sapalan devised a clever plan to check for any leftover milk. While the Keepers were enjoying their lunch, he ‘tiptoed’ over to the milk truck, walking very carefully so as to avoid detection. His quest was completely ruined by Maramoja, who thought the Keepers had invited Sapalan to have an extra bottle. This sent her jealously running over to claim her share too. When the Keepers stood up to see why Maramoja was approaching, they found Sapalan sheepishly reaching into the back of the truck!

Because December was wet and chilly, the orphans avoided the main mud bath most days. Towards the end of the month, however, they decided to hazard a swim. Jotto, who was hesitant about getting into the water, got a rude shock from Sana Sana. She had been observing how he was avoiding getting wet and decided to put an end to his silliness. Just as Jotto approached the water’s edge, she tiptoed from the side and knocked into him, so that he fell flat into the pool like a log!

The end of the year is a good time to revisit our rooming arrangements, as some orphans are further along in their reintegration journey than others. For quite some time, Barsilinga, Tusuja, and Galla have been experimenting with a wild life, and it seems they have finally taken the plunge. Because they no longer sleep in a stockade, we promoted Kamok, Kauro and Enkikwe to Class Five, while Mteto, Karisa and Mundusi moved up to Class Four. Jotto, who had been causing an uncharacteristically ugly scene in the evenings by bullying Sattao and Dololo, earned himself a ticket to move up to the next class, where that behaviour won’t be tolerated. 

We woke up to a wonderful gift on Christmas morning, in the form of rainfall. This was an unusual treat; for many years now, our Christmases have been green but dry. We received another gift a few days later, when ex-orphans Yatta and her kids, Yetu, Yoyo, and baby Yogi; Kinna and her daughters, Kaia and Kama; Nasalot and her boys, Nusu and baby Noah; Naserian and little Njema; along with Galla, Teleki, Naisula, and two junior bulls showed up briefly at the stockade compound. In a wonderful, full circle moment, our ex orphans’ wild-born babies outnumbered all the other visitors!

The month ended as peacefully as it began. The melody of Tsavo's birds filled the air, and the orphans appeared to be walking in tune to their songs.

December 2021 day to day

01 Dec

It was a cold and quiet morning as the babies looked active and excited for their milk feed. They all started taking up position ready for their bottles before the Keepers were even ready yet. They lined up and each got his or her share, and then walked down to the lucerne feeding area.

The orphans enjoyed the lucerne supplement food provided by the Keepers in peace and quiet again, as there were no ex-orphans or wild elephants around today. Barsilinga, Tusuja and Gala did not appear last night and didn’t pitch up this morning either. We had Oltaiyoni, Roi, Naseku, Siangiki and Olsekki with us, and even though they are weaned off milk, they are still coming back in most nights.

Out in the bush, it was very cool. The orphans were enjoying the weather. They were busy browsing without it being too hot and having to seek shade. Some, like Esampu and Jotto, enjoyed feeding on the fresh green shoots sprouting on the trees after the rain. Siangiki was browsing with Ambo, while Naseku was busy playing in a muddy pool she came across. Dololo and Jotto started playing and rolling on the ground together. The rest of the group found a small mudhole and started playing in it, splashing about. Kamok was digging down on the ground with her tusks, digging up some nice cool soil to play with. Rapa enjoyed relieving an itch on a nearby tree and then the orphans started to make their way for their noon milk bottle.

When the orphans arrived at the mud bath, it was drizzling, and no one wanted to swim. They all just had their milk bottles then walked back out to the bush to continue browsing. No other animals were at the mud bath either.

Out in the bush, all the orphans were all busy finding something to eat. The Kalovoto river was flowing with a bit of water, as it is a seasonal river and now that we have had some rain, it is flowing lightly. Some of the orphans crossed over and browsed on the other side before crossing back. Later, the orphans walked back home to the stockades for their evening bottles and to go to sleep for the night.

No other wild animals visited the stockades today either; it was very quiet. Barsilinga, Tusuja and Galla didn’t appear this evening either, but we are sure they are well and with the ex-orphans, enjoying their time in the wild now that it has rained and the conditions are less harsh.

Esampu feeding on fresh green shoots

Kamok playing

Naseku playing