Keepers' Diaries, December 2022

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Our Ithumba family got a bit bigger this month, with the arrival of a brand new wild-born family! In the early hours of 5th December, Naisula, Olare, Loijuk, and Lili arrived at Ithumba with a tiny baby in tow. Naisula had clearly given birth earlier that evening and wanted to share the joy with her human-elephant family. The group spent the night outside the stockades, waiting for everyone to wake up so the baby could make her grand debut.

First thing in the morning, our ‘baby obsessed girls,’ Maramoja, Malkia, Esampu, and Mteto made a beeline to the baby to introduce themselves. As a first-time mum, however, Naisula is quite cautious and did not permit the girls to have full access. In honour of her nocturnal arrival, we have named Naisula’s daughter Nyx, after the Greek goddess of the night.

Although the month began with a joyous arrival, we also suffered a tragic, sudden loss. In early December, Oldepe became unwell and stopped eating. We sent in two vets to examine him, but they were unable to establish a diagnosis. Everyone rallied around Oldepe — the Keepers stood by his side day and night, his fellow orphans checked on him diligently, and even visiting ex-orphans like Teleki offered their support — but it was to no avail. On the morning of 7th December, Oldepe succumbed to his mysterious illness. We take comfort in the fact that he passed peacefully, surrounded by his loving Keepers. 

While elephants feel emotions keenly, they are adept at turning the page and focusing on the present. Roho and Neshashi certainly mourned the loss of their good friend, Oldepe, but their first month in Ithumba was still filled with joy and new friendships. 

Larro quickly adopted Roho as ‘her’ baby. She doted on him at the Nursery, and she is clearly eager to repeat the experience at Ithumba! One day, Roho unwittingly settled to browse close to Kamok. Everyone collectively held their breath, aware of how bad tempered Kamok is towards youngsters. Much to our surprise, however, the older girl stretched out her trunk and touched Roho, investing her to feed next to him. Perhaps Kamok is changing her ways!

We are realising that Neshashi is a very greedy girl. She loves to lead the orphans out into the bush each morning, even if she doesn’t quite know the way. Enter friends like Ndiwa, who shadow the younger girl and make sure she doesn’t lead the herd astray. Neshashi is obsessed with all the fresh greenery and spends her day moving from shrub to shrub, eating as much as she can.

The ‘late-night gang,’ led by Oltaiyoni, now spend their nights outside the stockades — and it seems they are recruiting more members to their team! One evening, they whisked Mundusi and Enkikwe away just before it was time to go to bed. The boys had a thrilling night out in the bush and returned to Ithumba just before dawn. The Keepers found them sleeping outside the stockades, just like teenages who had enjoyed a late night! 

Once a notorious rapscallion, it seems that Rapa is embracing a new mentorship role within the herd. Naboishu is very eager to establish his strength and often invites Rapa to wrestle. At three years his senior, Rapa could easily win, but he never uses his full might against Naboishu, instead giving the younger boy the opportunity to learn. 

All the boys are eager to establish their strength, it seems! Dololo had a pushing game with Jotto and suffered a humiliating defeat. His feelings hurt and his pride bruised, Dololo went off in search of someone he could defeat. Dololo set his sights on Mukkoka, but the younger boy prudently declined his invitation, realising he just wanted to vent his anger on someone. Later, Dololo got his revenge by jumping on Mukkoka’s back in the mud bath. Luckily, kindly Kauro was nearby and came to Mukkoka's rescue.

After all the recent rains, the main waterhole has transformed into a spectacular pool. The month was dominated by some spectacular wallowing sessions, usually led by Nabulu. Musiara famously loves to swim, and we often saw Malkia, Malima, Maramoja, and Mteto standing patiently at the water’s edge, waiting for their beloved boy to exit the pool.

Mid-month, we welcomed a visit from many of the ex-orphans. Yatta, Loijuk, Naisula, Olare, Kandecha, Kasigau, Galana, and all their babies showed up. Esampu, Mteto, Ndiwa, Malkia, and Maramoja were very interested in getting to know baby Nyx, but Nyx was frightened of so many new faces and opted to hide beneath her mother. 

This also marked the first time Neshashi and Roho got the opportunity to play with wild elephants. Roho struck up an immediate friendship with Yatta’s baby, Yogi, and they had a wonderful time playing. When it was time to leave, Neshashi and Roho were reluctant to join the orphan herd. Luckily, they will have plenty more opportunities to foster these wild friendships!

Later in the month, Naboishu approached Sana Sana for some advanced training in pushing tactics. It seems Sana Sana is the go-to instructor these days! After going through a series of rigorous training techniques Naboishu decided to test his acquired skills against Roho. Roho, who is also a tough boy, defended himself defiantly.

On Boxing Day, we had a visit from ex-orphan Melia and her baby, Milo. Milo got into the small mud bath but was unable to get out. As the Keepers prepared to help him, Melia gave him a solid push and showed him the way out. Later in the day, Mteto and Esampu dodged the Keepers in order to spend the afternoon with Melia and Milo. Perhaps still smarting from their lacklustre experience with Nyx, they seemed eager for some baby time!

18-year-old Challa paid us a visit at the end of the month. After catching up with his human-elephant family, he even joined the orphans in the mud bath. Roho and Neshashi were a bit scared of him, because he is so big, but Challa is a friendly bull and everyone wallowed together without incident.

Later, Wendi arrived at Ithumba with Yatta, Lenana, Naserian, Galana, Naisula, Ithumbah, Kilabasi and all their wild-born babies. Maramoja ran up to Ithumbah, hoping to interact with her baby, Iman. Ithumbah is a very chill mother and was happy for the younger girl to spend time with Iman. Wendi remains her mischievous, rather wayward self. Her youngest baby, Wimbi, is a very smart young girl and determinedly shadows her every step. If she wasn’t so demanding, Wendi might forget to care for her entirely! 

We will always remember December as the month that Enkikwe, Karisa, Sapalan, and Mundusi fully transitioned to the wild. Many of the older Ithumba dependent orphans had been waiting for the rains to arrive in order to take this step, and the recent showers finally presented their golden opportunity. Kamok and Kauro don’t seem quite ready to transition from our care, but we know their moment will come soon, too. Also of note was Kithaka's departure. After spending several months convalescing at Ithumba as his hurt leg healed, he finally felt ready to re-embark upon his wild life. We couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end to the year than these new opportunities for our Ithumba orphans.

December 2022 day to day

01 Dec

Oldepe, who isn’t feeling well, slept standing the whole night. In the morning, he just drank half a bottle of milk then refused to take any more. Oldepe left the stockade with his friends from the Nursery, Neshashi and Roho. Outside the stockade Malkia and Sana Sana kept Oldepe company and walked with him together out to the bush. The two girls seemed to understand that Oldepe wasn’t feeling well and needed attention and love, which they were ready to offer.

Teleki joined the orphans out in the bush and he had the opportunity to meet the new arrivals. Neshashi, Oldepe and Roho seemed uninterested in Teleki's company however, and so moved further away. Teleki understood that they are still babies. Maramoja picked Roho to spend some quality time with feeding and bonding with. Neshashi, who is slowly settling down, kept moving about meeting everyone in the group. Oldepe was feeling the heat and didn't skip any water hole he came across to help cool himself down. Teleki stayed to accompany the orphans browsing for the entire day.

At mud bath time, the orphans had their noon milk feed and then walked back out to the bush to cool themselves down in the various small waterpans that have popped up everywhere. The orphans settled to browse east of the Ithumba Hill and the rest of the day remained quiet as the orphans concentrated on browsing.

Oldepe and Roho

Neshashi browsing