There has been a great deal of wild elephant activity around Ithumba during the month of February, but our orphans’ contact with these wild herds still remains elusive, although the orphans are very eager to try and meet up with their wild kin, following their scent trails, and enjoying all signs of their presence. With the wild herds coming ever closer to the Orphans’ Stockades, and following visitations from the bull scouts, we are confident that an exciting event is not far off.
The month has produced an overdose of scarey canine interludes. On the 29th January, recorded in the February Diary, some wild African Hunting Dogs (an extremely rare sighting these days) passed close by in pursuit of two dikdiks. Yatta, Mulika and Kinna grouped close, prepared to defend the orphans, but only gained sufficient courage to actually give chase when their Keepers provided the backup. Needless to say, the dogs had long vanished by the time the charge took place, but just the sight of them left the entire group extremely nervous for the remainder of the day. The African wild dogs were again seen on the 26th, when they suddenly appeared at the Stockades for a drink of water, scattering the orphans in all directions as they fled in terror. Once the dogs had drunk and left, the Keepers managed to round up all the elephants,, and calm them down by touching each and every one gently near the mouth, which is how elephants calm each other.
Several sighting of a ferrel domestic dog has also caused confusion and fear;, initially on the 13th when the older females, Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna plus the Keepers plucked up sufficient courage to see the intruder off. It again appeared on the 17th, scaring Naserian and Rapsu, who were first to spot it, and who fled to the Keepers for safety. The dog again appeared the next day, when Yatta and Mulikam reinforced by the Keepers, chased it off. Meanwhile Kinna and Mulika remained silent and very still amongst the babies, watching events closely.
Napasha who turns 4 years old this year, is showing signs of becoming much more independent having been weaned off milk. He often chooses to browse away from the others, deliberately putting some distance between himself and them and remaining behind to follow the others at leisure when they return in the evenings to the Stockades. One morning he lagged behind to scratch himself against a rock, and then took the wrong path. When he failed to find the others, he began to panic, bellowing to locate his peers, and was answered by the low rumble of Mulika, which led him to the group. When he arrived, he was treated to a very joyous reunion, as all the elephants welcomed him back, surrounding him, trumpeting with joy and “kissing” him by putting their trunks in his mouth. Being more independent obviously makes Napasha, as the Big Boy of the group, feel very “grown up”.
As usual, there is always competition as to who will lead the column from the Stockades in the mornings, to the mudbath at noon, and back home in the evenings. One of the youngsters are usually allowed this privilege, often Sunyei who competes with Madiba for the privilege. Wendi and Sunyei share duties as Mini Matriarchs of the younger set, whilst the older elephants, namely Yatta, who is the main Matriarch, assisted by Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, share responsibility for the safety and good behaviour of the group, which now numbers 17. Any disturbance brings them in a rush to the rescue, or to investigate what has caused any unusual excitement or fear. Yatta called on reinforcement from the entire herd to dispel an old bull buffalo whom she spotted hiding in thick bush and one day when Olmalo was inadvertently left behind feeding in thick bush, and her absence had not been noticed by the Keepers, Yatta immediately went to round her up and escort her back to the stockades. On the 25th Naserian, Rapsu and Buchuma were so intent on leading the way that they took the wrong route, and Yatta rushed ahead to block their passage, turn them round and put them back on the right path. All these interludes demonstrate repeatedly the extreme conscientious ness of even young female elephants.
The ex Nursery inmates, Rapsu, Buchuma, Naserian and Madiba, often joined by Ndomot, still form a very close “family” overseen by the self appointed Mini Matriarchs, Sunyei and Wendi, both of whom were Nursery Matriarchs in their time. Taita and Tomboi remain close, (and competitive) friends, who enjoy tussling together to test their strength and Rapsu has also been doing his fair share of this activity, sometimes taking on the bigger boys such as Ndomot and Tomboi, as well as Buchuma, who was the “pushy” Nursery member, but who has been much chastened by the older bulls and is now not so eager to be “pushy”.
The orphans meet many other animals during their daily excursions (besides those of the dog variety) and the younger set are usually very frightened, even of a dikdik startles them, although they are getting used to being able to charge fleeing dikdiks. Sunyei, Madiba, Buchuma, Naserian and Wendi were all very traumatised by a male lesser kudu who stepped out of the bush. They all fled bellowing, which brought Mulia and Yatta to the rescue, following which Mulika put on a demonstration of what she would like to do to any intruder who scared the babies! She knelt down, and pierced the ground with her tusks! Baboons are frequently encountered and when not in numbers, easily treed by a charge of the older set, which causes great excitement amongst the youngsters. Guinea-fowl always provide an easy target to be enjoyed by the younger elephants who join forces to charge them, forcing them into the air. This months, another canine variety – some jackals - have also reduced the entire elephant herd to nervous wrecks, for the orphans are extremely fearful of anything that resembles a dog, following the rabid dog incident of 2004.
February and March are very hot months in Tsavo, but February has had the relief of some light rain, and some cool days, which the orphans greatly enjoy because it increases their browsing time. When temperatures rise, they are forced to seek shade, and the champions at the mudbath hour are the ex Nairobi set, who obviously have yet to become fully acclimatized to the heat of the low country. But, the Ithumba orphans are all in excellent condition, in a wilderness that is pristine and filled with adventure, and where food is plentiful year round. In that respect they certainly have the edge on the other orphans based in the Voi Unit.