Keepers' Diaries, December 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

In Ithumba, the month began with an orphan coup. Several ex-orphans reported to the stockades early in the morning, including Ithumba and her daughter, Iman. As is typical of young babies, Iman was surrounded by heavy security, in the form of Ithumbah’s ex-orphan friends-turned-nannies.

In these situations, the dependent orphans rarely have the opportunity to access the coveted baby — but Kuishi, Esoit, Suguroi, Naleku, and Suguroi had a plan! The girls got together and overwhelmed Iman’s nannies, managing to force their way closer to the little girl. They had a lovely (and hard-won) moment with her, until Ithumbah came over and collected her daughter. 

Naleku is the most enthusiastic aspiring nanny. One morning, Yatta, Yoyo, Yogi, Wendi, Wema, Wiva, Wimbi, Makena, Mwende, Mala, Mulika, and Mkuu escorted the orphans out to the bush. Naleku saw an opportunity to look after Mala, who is just a few weeks old. To the Keepers’ surprise and delight, Mwende granted her this privilege. When the ex-orphans decided to part ways, Naleku doggedly tried to remain by Mala’s side. At long last, the Keepers managed to retrieve Naleku from the group of ex-orphans.

We were treated to visits from many ex-orphans over the course of December. The junior ex-orphans seemed to come with ulterior motives — they wanted to recruit their dependent friends to join them in the wild! One morning, Enkikwe and Sapalan were standing outside the stockades, ready and waiting to greet the dependent orphans as they emerged from their bedrooms. We later witnessed Enkikwe having a private conversation with Dololo and Sattao, perhaps trying to encourage them to experiment with their independence. While his suggestion certainly gave them food for thought, both boys returned to the dependent herd.

Larro continues to be a relentless milk thief. The Keepers are usually two steps ahead of her tactics, but one memorable afternoon, she managed to outwit them and steal an extra bottle. 

On the morning of 6th December, there was an unusual air of excitement about Ithumba. The orphans didn't even bother feeding on lucerne, instead running among the bushes, bashing and trumpeting. We often find this to be the case in anticipation of an noteworthy event — it’s as if the orphans know what is coming! On this day, the excitement was due to the imminent arrival of three graduates from the Nairobi Nursery. Just before 9:00 AM, the lorry bearing Ahmed, Taabu, and Tingai pulled into the stockade compound.

Bondeni, Kinyei and Kindani, who were the last graduates from the Nursery, were the first to meet the new arrivals. Then, the rest of the herd joined the greetings. Roho spotted Tingai and walked over to him to introduce himself to him, placing his trunk on Tingai’s back as a show of affection. It was a happy, convivial day, as friends old and new mingled. 

Two days later, the second group of Nursery graduates arrived — Kitiak, Elerai, and Rafiki. The newcomers were warmly welcomed into the herd. In the evening, Tingai, Taabu and Ahmed confidently led the trio into their shared stockade. They were only two days into Tsavo life, but they already had the routine down pat!

But then, on 10th December, the graduates’ story took an unexpected turn. As the orphan herd was quietly browsing, a group of lesser kudus sprinted by. This caused panic amongst the elephants, who scattered and ran. The Keepers called out everyone’s names, as they tried to gather the orphans and restore calm. Kinyei, Kindani, Bondeni, Olorien, and Esoit came back, followed by their older friends. However, Kitiak, Elerai, Rafiki, Tingai, Taabu, and Ahmed continued running towards Lesilau dam, with the Keepers in hot pursuit. 

This was no small task, given the dense vegetation. While the elephants moved easily through the landscape, it was significantly more difficult for the humans attempting to follow them. The chase continued for nearly three hours, until the Keepers lost them and relied on tracking their footprints alone. The search continued until dusk, but with no luck.

At first light the following morning, the search for the missing six continued. The SWT Aerial Unit joined the mission, with both a fixed-wing and helicopter crisscrossing the northern sector of Tsavo. Pilots flew most of the morning and afternoon, as the team continued to look on the ground. However, the area is teeming with elephants and the landscape is more like a jungle, making it difficult to discern the wayward orphans.  

Closer to home, Roho brought some levity to things. He initiated a delightful wallowing session, lifting everyone’s spirits and even bringing a smile to the stressed Keepers’ faces. 

As they ambled out of their bedroom the following morning, Bondeni, Kinyei, and Kindani wondered why their neighbours, the six missing graduates, were absent. Intrigued, they went over to investigate their stockade — and discovered branches set aside for the young ones still inside. The trio decided it would be a shame to let such treats go to waste and, joined by Roho, they enjoyed an opportunistic feast. 

We have been witnessing some budding friendships among the Ithumba juniors. Olorien seems to be forging a bond with Kinyei, while Lodo has been singling out Kindani. Kuishi remains utterly devoted to her darling Esoit. 

Towards the end of the month, Dololo, Musiara, and Jotto made it clear that they are ready to embark upon the next phase of their reintegration journey. Accompanied by Rapa and Enkikwe, they started spending nights away from the stockades. Of course, this is a gradual process, and the boys linked up with the dependent herd in the morning. Mukkoka was very intrigued to hear all about their nocturnal adventures, while Sattao gave them a wide berth — perhaps he did not want to be coerced into a night in the wild!

Despite daily search efforts, we did not manage to track down the six missing orphans this month. We are confident that wherever they are, they are doing okay, because there is so much vegetation and water around! As they have not been spotted from the air either, we are hopeful they have joined up with some of our ex-orphans, making it harder to spot six younger elephants on their own. 

The year ended with a heartwarming note. En route to the mud bath, the orphans stumbled upon a bush mud bath and found sheer delight in the impromptu wallowing opportunity. Kuishi looked so happy and was having a great time as her favourite Esoit climbed all over her. Olorien led the way to the midday milk feed, where the herd enjoyed another short wallow. For the rest of the afternoon, they quietly concentrated on browsing, enjoying the peace and quiet. 

December 2023 day to day

01 Dec

Kithaka, who we haven’t seen for a while, showed up to join the orphans for lucerne this morning. Kuishi and Dololo went to drink water from the stockade troughs before rejoining their friends. Shortly later, the ex-orphans showed up. Baby Iman, who is one and a half years old, was there with her mother, ex-orphan Ithumbah, and was clearly the centre of attention. Kuishi, Esoit, Suguroi, Naleku and Suguroi got together and overwhelmed Iman’s nannies, overpowering them and managing to force their way in closer to Iman. The dependent orphans tried to encourage Iman to follow them, but Ithumbah caught up to them and blocked her baby from following them out.

The orphans made their way to the Kone area where they settled to browse. Musiara decided to walk down to the dam and walk through the water. Bondeni and Kindani got down on the ground and had some fun rolling. Kithaka followed the dependent orphans for a while and after a brief interaction with Olorien, he took a different direction and walked away. Kuishi teamed up with Esoit to browse while Naleku and Larro helped each other to peel tasty bark from a tree.

As they browsed and slowly walked along, the orphans were making their way to the mud bath.

After having their bottles, Kinyei, Bondeni and Kindani were the first ones to get in the water. The rest of the herd soon joined them and they all had a lot of fun splashing about. Musiara and Sagateisa were the last ones out and they left the water charging and trumpeting with excitement.

Later in the day Bondeni and Esoit had a strength testing exercise which Kinyei interrupted. We believe she wanted them to concentrate on browsing rather than fighting and messing about. Naboishu played with Musiara while Dololo played with Mukkoka. In the evening, Olorien led the way home for the night. 


Olorien checking in Kithaka

Naboishu plays with Musiara