An important event involved the Ithumba elephants this month. For the first time they made contact with wild elephants. This took place on the 21st shortly before ll a.m. as the Keepers were resting under shade in thick bush and when they suddenly heard a commotion. Thinking that it was probably just the usual dikdik alarm, they didn’t pay much attention, but when they managed to get a view, were astonished to see a large wild cow and her calf in the midst of our group. Kora, Lualeni, Naserian and Buchuma lost their nerve and began fleeing back to the Keepers, followed by the wild cow and the other elephants. The Keepers took to their heels, and upon reaching a clearing in the bush, looked back to find that the wild cow had peeled off taking with her Kinna, Mulika, Selengai, Yatta, Nasalot, Orok and Buchuma! The Keepers and the youngsters with them proceeded to the mudbath as usual and an hour later Yatta turned up, with the missing group all present and correct! This was a red letter day for the older elephants, who have been very eager to make contact with their wild peers, who remain extremely uneasy about anything involving dreaded humans. This will change with time and so the 21st February was an auspicious day for the older members of the group. The next day Yatta, Olmalo, Buchuma, Mulika and Selengai again followed the footprints of a wild herd, but were unable to catch up with them. Again on the 25th Yatta made another attempt, eager to make friends, but again the wild elephants proved elusive and on the 13th it was Nasalot and Orok who trailed the footprints of a wild herd.
February/March are the hottest months in Tsavo, so the orphans have often had to seek shade early in the day. However, the countryside remains lush after exceptional rains, and showers fell again on the 4th and l8th, with a thunderstorm on the 27th which scared the group who clusters around their Keepers until the noise subsided. After every shower of rain, there is happiness and fun, playing in the puddles and rolling in the dampened earth. This month, the orphans have indulged in chasing the clouds of butterflies that soar around them as they move through the thickets and which they have obviously found somewhat irritating. The rivalry between Rapsu and the seasoned Nursery “Pusher”, Buchuma” is chronicled in this month’s Diary, with the conclusion that Rapsu has the edge on Buchuma since he has slightly longer tusks. Buchuma has always enjoyed testing his strength against the other boys, Ndomot being a prime target during their Nursery days. He and Ndomot still enjoy shoving bouts, as do Madiba and Ndomot.
It is the policy of the Trust to circulate the Elephant Keepers so that they all do time in the Nursery, the Voi Unit and at Ithumba. It is interesting that Wendi immediately noticed a new face amongst the Ithumba Keepers, and having closely inspected him, turned and swiped him with her tail to show her displeasure. This attracted the attention of Yatta, Selengai, and Tomboi who threatened expulsion of the new Keeper, but calmed down when the other Keepers shielded him. By the next day he had been accepted as “belonging” within the human family, but this does illustrate that the orphans recognize individuals and don’t just group humans generally as friends that can be trusted. But for the intervention of their loved Keepers, the outsider would probably have been expelled gently (by elephant standards). It is also interesting that the four Big Girls, namely Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna seem to have decided that 6 year old Napasha is getting a bit too big for his boots, and ganged up against him. However, Napasha, who is big for his age, and a force to be reckoned with, was not deterred and seemingly gave a good account of himself.
The Ithumba unit often split into separate groups, Wendi or Sunyei usually taking the younger set to feed apart from the older elephants, who are usually taken by either Yatta or Nasalot (always accompanied of course by little Orok, who is Nasalot’s special baby still. However, it would appear that Kinna is also becoming extremely attached to him and making a bid to share the affection he lavishes on Nasalot. Olmalo remains the favourite of Matriarch Yatta, who will never leave her unattended, and Selengai enjoys the privilege of being Mulika’s chosen one. After having split into separate groups that become isolated in the thick bush of Ithumba, the orphans always invariably regroup again, without the help of their Keepers, indicating that they keep in touch with one another even when apart.
Kora has never really relished water, and has devised a trick of fore-shortening the wallowing time at the mudbath. Rushing out of the water, he dashes off into the bush as though alarmed by something, and the others then abandon the mudbath to investigate the cause of his concern! However, they will soon get wise to his tactics, as they have to Sunyei’s mischievous false alarms!
On the 5th, 5 wild dogs again came to drink at the Stockade water trough, fortunately soon after the elephants had left. Other wild encounters that have led to heightened adrenalin have been a flock of vulturine guineafowl, whom Rapsu, Sidai, Naserian, Orok and Buchuma saw off, and some dikdiks, which are always good for some excitement.
Yet again, the support the group give one another, in a very human way, is illustrated when Madiba found himself stuck in the mud on the 14th, and his friend Ndomot came to help him to his feet. He again got stuck on the 19th, and this time Wendi tried to help him up but was defeated. Sunyei then came in to help, and using her head and legs between her and Wendi managed to extract Madiba from the grip of the mud. Madiba has always been a water baby.
On the 16th the Ithumba elephants were again led to the large “Imenti Waterhole” which now resembles a lake. En route, they had to pass through a field of white Ipomeoa blossoms which obviously harboured a scent that scared them because all tried to turn back. However, having been coaxed forward by their Keepers, they capitulated, but Yatta was very nervous whilst bathing in the waterhole, constantly raising her trunk to test the wind. Possibly, a lion, or the wild dogs had passed through the meadow of flowers ahead of them to account for their reluctance.
The Ithumba unit have enjoyed many foster-parent visits this month, the Ithumba Camp becoming a favourite venue for their supporters. Wendi particularly loves an audience, and has always been an extravert, showing off on such occasions, and paying special attention to visiting guests. It is interesting that she differentiates between the visitors who come to see the orphans, and the new Keeper, who was not so popular as a member of the human “family”!
Kora’s jaw has again opened periodically to exude a little pus, before closing again but it doesn’t seem to bother him in any way, or interfere with his eating. This is probably a condition that he will simply have to live with, because all the experts agree that there is little that can be done, ruling out surgical intervention as being far too risky.