That the older Ithumba elephants, namely Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika, Kinna, Napasha, Tomboi, Taita, and sometimes Wendi and Buchuma, separate from the youngsters, leaving them in the care of their Human Keepers in order to be able to travel further afield, has become routine, as illustrated in this month’s Diary. Sometimes the older elephants head out into the bush on their own immediately after being let out of their Night Stockades, at other times they wait to escort the youngsters out into the feeding area of choice, and then leave them to move further afield on their own, sometimes meeting up again either to, or from, or at the mudbath, and sometimes returning to the Night Stockades late at night, long after all the youngsters. There are days when the entire herd spends time together as a unit, moments relished by Yatta’s favourite calf, Olmalo, as well as Kenze and Orok who adore Nasalot while Selengai remains glued to Mulika. Wendi sometimes has difficulty deciding which group to be with; whether to go with the older orphans, or remain with the younger set, so she shares time between the two. Kenze and Orok share the coveted position of being Nasalot’s twin “favourites”, but this occasionally breeds jealousy between the two youngsters, as is illustrated in this month’s Diary. However Nasalot immediately takes steps to break up such disagreements, and no doubt has the ability to convince both that they are equally loved.
Because the older elephants are so eager to be away on their own without the Keepers or the youngsters who are still Keeper dependent, there must obviously be a very strong incentive for this to happen, for female elephants, and especially the Matriarchs, would naturally never leave younger family members unattended. Firstly, it illustrates the very touching trust the older females have in their Keepers, confident that their precious “babies” are being left in safe custody. Secondly, we believe that the main attraction is the ability to be able to fraternize with wild elephant friends further afield, who do not like to be near humans after years of persecution from poachers in the past. We are pretty sure that this is the incentive and that contact with wild elephants has now, and is regularly being made, by the older group. However, as was illustrated within the Voi Unit whilst Mweiga was alive, they will keep in regular touch with Home Base as long as there are younger elephants there who are still human dependent.
What is clear with all these comings and goings, and rendez-vous between the two groups as and when they want to meet up, is that there is a good deal of very subtle communication going on between the elephants which is hidden to human comprehension. Whenever the older elephants decide to go their own way and leave the youngsters behind, there is no sign of distress from any of the youngsters, which would not be so had they not been informed of what was going to happen! At such times the ex Nursery Mini Matriarchs who now hold sway amongst the younger set, come into their own and take charge, namely Naserian, Sian and Sunyei all of whom played a key role in the Nursery, but who now are very proficiently aided by Galana, Sidai and Loijuk, all of whom came into the Nursery older, but in an emaciated condition from milk deprivation, and were therefore too feeble to assert authority there.
It was a red letter day for the orphans, (and especially Wendi, who has always been exceptionally fond of human company), when some Samburu Warriors, all dressed in their tribal finery, spent a couple of days with the Ithumba elephants, walking with them in the bush, eager to learn more about our Orphans’ Project. Some of the tribesmen are from a community in Laikipia who have rescued orphans in the past, and who have a vested interest in the project. They have also established their own ele-friendly conservancy in the North. Wendi trailed them wherever they went, and put on all her old party Nursery tricks to entertain them, standing on her head, then sitting on her bottom and throwing her trunk in the air, wrapping her trunk around them and generally being “Wendi”. The young bulls also provided hilarity amongst the Warriors by putting on strength and rank testing displays for them. All had a wonderful time, whether human or elephant! Because Wendi came in as a brand newborn, and like Imenti was reared in the Nairobi Nursery from the day of birth, she has always viewed humans with deep affection since she had no memory of her elephant mother or family. However, at the same time her genetic memory does not fail her, and she is now first and foremost an elephant just like all the others!
As usual, it is a coveted privilege to be the Leader of the group, and the youngsters, both male and female take turns in this respect. Yatta usually brings up the rear of the column to ensure that no-one is left behind and all are present and correct. Kamboyo features prominently, because he is the Time Keeper of the Unit,, always conscious of what should be happening when, especially when it is time to begin the move to the milk and mudbath venue, or time to begin the return journey back to the Stockades in the evening when he nudges his Keepers to give them the hint that they must begin moving!
Encounters with other species include panic generated when two dikdiks rushed past the younger set, sending them all scurrying back to their Keepers with ears out, and also when a couple of warthogs did the same. A barking baboon at the mudbath alarmed the group, but on this occasion Rapsu and Tomboi showed their mettle, and charged into the bush to see off the intruder. When they began trumpeting and knocking down bushes in a display of elephant aggression, immediately the Big Girls ran to the rescue, but by this time the baboon had long gone! The croak of a frog from behind a rock near the mudbath triggered a hurried exit and retreat, while the presence of a turtle in the mudwallow occupied Lualeni and Loijuk for a long time as they did their best to extract it by kicking it with their hind legs. When this proved unsuccessful, the elephants took a dustbath instead! Apart from these few interludes, it has been a peaceful and happy month for the Ithumba orphans, the wild dogs obviously having taken themselves off for a while. Like their Voi counterparts, they are teaching us humans so much about their sophisticated social networking, the bonds that bind them together as “family”, the trust and love they have of their Keepers and their individual personality traits, disagreements, and affiliations with one another which mirror everything that takes place in a human family.