It has been an action packed month for the Ithumba Keeper Dependent Juniors. Seldom a day has passed this month that the Ex Orphans have not turned up at the Stockade compound with wild friends to interact with the Dependent orphans and share their Lucerne handout; sometimes arriving in Splinter groups as they did on the 1st when just 15 came and Kinna was being hotly pursued by two wild suitors. (At 13 it is time she conceived her first wild-born baby who we look forward to welcoming in 2 years time!) The following day only Tomboi and Challa came in the morning but the entire Ex Orphan herd was back in the evening, as usual these days, accompanied by a host of wild hanger-on friends, which has been the pattern of late. If not meeting up at the Stockade compound in the early mornings, they often turn up at the noon mudbath venue, or else link up with the Juniors out in the bush. We are thankful that the Ex Orphans have been so diligent about coming to share the supplementary feeding of the Juniors, because at least we know they are all present and correct at a time when the poaching of elephants is totally out of hand.
We are concerned about Tano, who is finding conditions too challenging at Ithumba; having difficulty keeping pace with the others reluctant to wallow along with the others as was the case with other orphans who were ailing. Instead she stands on the periphery of the wallow and splashes water behind her ears to cool herself down, even when it is intolerably hot, which it is at this time of the year. (We may return Tano to the Nursery where she can be under closer surveillance, and possibly relocate her instead to the Kibwezi Forest along with Murera and Sonje.)
While Tano seems to be struggling, it hasn’t taken long for Ex Nursery main Matriarch Mutara (along with Chaimu, Tumaren and Murka) to lead the Junior group out to browse in the mornings, or to and from the noon mudbath and when it is time to come back in the evenings. Shukuru and Kanjoro have also adapted well and are settled as has Kilabasi. Makireti has taken a shine to a wild 6 month old calf whose family have been regular visitors to the Stockade water trough. She enjoyed playing with this baby until the mother warned her off. Shukuru, Tano and Kanjoro were not shy to share the mudbath water trough with some huge wild Bulls who have been regular visitors. Kilaguni, Sabachi, Kibo, Kandecha, Chemi Chemi, Kasigau and Ololoo are focused on their usual Pushing Strength Testing bouts, occasionally even taking on the bigger girls. Kilaguni always used to be the dominant “Pusher” but is being challenged by Ololoo although he can usually count on back-up from his best friend, Kandecha and sometimes even Kibo when the chips are down! Ololoo is building in confidence and is a force to be reckoned with.
Ex Orphan Lualeni, who has long acted as an Ex Orphan/Junior go-between, came alone to be part of the Junior group as they browsed out in the bush 5th. She spent all day with them, accompanying them to their milk and mudbath venue where she demonstrated wallowing skills, and escorted them back to the Stockades in the evening after the afternoon browsing session where they met up with the family of Makireti’s favourite 6 month old wild calf. On the 7th it was Ex Orphan Naserian who brought Big Boys Kora, Challa, Kamboyo, and Rapsu to share the supplements with the one Tusker (named “Pembe Moja” (meaning 1 tusk), who seems to have joined Kijana and Mgeni as attachments to the Ex Orphan herd. He was with them again when they came to the Stockades on the 9th and also on the l0th when Kijana and Mgeni were there as well and on the 12th he turned up alone to join the Juniors at their noon mudbath, as did 7 wild bulls on the 16th and another 12 wild elephants on the l9th. Amongst this contingent was “Half Trunk” (an adult bull who has lost half his trunk to a poacher’s snare, who is another regular “drinker” at the stockade trough. And on the 27th the entire Ex Orphan herd brought 9 wild friends to share the Orphans’ mudbath hour, Mulika’s little “Mwende” and Yatta’s baby “Yetu” confidently walking under a host of huge tummies and legs, closely overseen by all their caring Ex Orphan Nannies who are there to give the mother’s a break.
The Big Bull named “Mshale” (who had a poisoned arrow removed some months ago by our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit), was amongst the Ex Orphans and 14 other wild elephants when they visited the Stockades on the 21st and again on the 23rd when Half Trunk was with him. The Keepers noticed that Mshale was again limping with what could be another poisoned arrow wound on the knee joint. He was amongst 15 other bulls who joined the Juniors one day at the Mudbath trough, and this time included amongst his friends was the Big Bull known as “Rafiki” - the first adult Bull to befriend the Orphans and show himself during daylight hours all those years ago. It was wonderful to see him again and Kilabasi, Shukuru, Kanjoro and even Tano had sufficient confidence to share the water trough with him and his huge male friends. This would have been a huge thrill for Kanjoro! (Currently the Trust’s Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit is on standby awaiting Mshale’s re-appearance in order to examine and treat the injury on his knee).
The 27th saw a wild herd coming for a drink at the Compound, amongst whom was the father of little “Mwende” and “Yetu” and at month end the Juniors had a particularly busy morning with a lot of interaction involving all the Ex Orphans plus their wild friends as well as some other wild Elephant units. Kandecha found a wild age-mate with whom to play Pushing Games, while Makireti singled out a wild baby until the Mother warned her off. Then at the noon mudbath the Juniors were joined by 20 wild elephants and upon their return in the evening, 14 wild Bulls were there drinking at the Stockade trough. Such has been the pattern throughout the month.
The main rains fell far short of normal at the end of last year, so it was not long before we were faced with another very hot and very dry February with no let up expected in March – February and March being two of the hottest months in Tsavo. We are most deeply grateful to our donors who have provided the supplements needed for our Orphans to help them through testing environmental times and which has also kept them close to home during a dangerous poaching period. We will soon have a new Government in Kenya, and already there are signs that the winds of change are beginning to blow and that more stringent sentencing for poaching offences will be enacted no that the extent of the crisis has come to light. That along with whatever CITES manages to do to curb the appetite for ivory in China and the Far East will determine the future of the African Elephant currently under severe threat throughout their African homeland.