Keepers' Diaries, February 2018

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Regularly the orphans we raise do something extraordinary, and we are further reminded what remarkable animals elephants are, and that our intimate knowledge still falls short of the mark; there remains still so much more to learn about elephants and their wonderful mystical ways. Our older orphans across our units have been rescued from all over the country. They are not related, with the exception of Faraja and Jasiri, yet they become as closely bonded as any elephant family. These friendships and bonds last a life time, and they form the families that are so integral to elephant society.

We were reminded of this when on the 1st of this month our Keepers at the Ithumba Stockade compound heard a ruckus in the early morning coming from a dry river bed a few kilometres from the Ithumba stockades. They assumed wild bulls were chasing the elephant cows in season and thought nothing more of it, but later that morning they found 12 year old Ex Orphan Makena from Wendi’s herd escorting Enkikwe of Laragai’s recently semi-independent herd back to the stockade, along with Ex Orphan big boy Rapsu and Tumaren. This they thought was slightly odd these older elephants form part of different Ex Orphan herd, Enkikwe only recently becoming more independent of the stockades and spending more time in the bush with Laragai and others. The Keepers then noticed Makena was paying particular attention to Enkikwe, which is when they saw his injuries. He had been badly mauled by a lion, and the commotion that was heard earlier was obviously Makena and Rapsu fighting off the lions to save Enkikwe’s life.

The Keepers placed Enkikwe in the stockades, and alerted Angela who immediately arranged for the KWS vet Dr Poghon to be flown to Ithumba, whilst some other Keepers went to the area they thought the event had occurred. They found evidence of a huge struggle where Ex Orphan Makena had evidently come to Enkikwe’s rescue, ably assisted by Rapsu and Tumaren. Rapsu is a 14 year old Ex Orphan bull and as is often the case with bulls, takes to wandering off on his own much of the time, but in this instance he had come to the rescue of a young elephant he considers family. Makena remained extremely concerned and returned throughout the day to check on poor Enkikwe whilst taking over the leadership of Laragai’s herd, who were obviously extremely traumatized by the events earlier in the day. She comforted and consoled them and provided a pillar of support. Barsilinga was also limping slightly after the attack but his injury appeared to be just a sprain, obviously sustained while trying to escape the lions. One deep wound on Enkikwe’s knee is concerning as the ligaments have been badly compromised. With the assistance of the miracle green clay the wounds on Enkikwe’s back quickly healed, but Enkikwe continues to receive treatment for the deep wound on his leg, and still doesn’t place weight on it. He will be closely monitored, and if we identify any lapse in progress we will bring him back to the Nursery for closer observation and treatment; at the moment to separate him from his friends and to go through any additional trauma and stress that moving might cause would prove counterproductive. He remains in the stockade with plenty of food and browse, and he is happy to rest and heal, having his injuries cleaned regularly to keep infection at bay while he remains on a long course of antibiotics.

After the lion attack the Head Keeper Benjamin resorted to locking Laragai and her herd in at night, to prevent her from being able to open the gate with her trunk and to provide some level of protection to these still quite small elephants with independent spirits, but they did not seem to like the new arrangement. Some weeks into the month and some members like Kithaka, Lemoyian, Sirimon and Boromoko chose not to come back at night so as to avoid being locked in. Ironically sometimes it would just be Laragai who chose to return in the evenings, despite it being her lock-smith antics that initially set them free. Siangiki and Olsekki remain a little more undecided, perhaps because their best friend Enkikwe remains in the stockades while he recovers, so they too have spent nights in. The whole herd return regularly however, drawn by the presence of their injured friend, who they come to check on while enjoying some supplementary treats this extended dry season.

Enkikwe is extremely fortunate it is still so dry and the Ex Orphan herds have stuck close to home this past month, as without the older elephants there he would have definitely made a meal for the lions. The dependent orphans relish the opportunity to play with the wild born babies like Siku, Nusu and Yoyo. Wendi’s baby Wiva is very proud of her tusks which are just starting to protrude, and she delights in throwing her trunk up into the air to show them off to the Keepers. Kauro is one orphan who isn’t that fond of sparing; without the ‘fingers’ on the end of his trunk (his trunk having been mauled by a predator before he was rescued), he needs to dedicate as much time to collecting and picking up food as possible.

Oltaiyoni and Roi have been at the Ithumba Unit for a full year now, and they consider themselves very grown up. They often choose to browse on their own and have in depth conversations with each other. Their friend Kamok hasn’t changed and continues to try and bamboozle the Keepers whenever she thinks she can get away with it. She tried to sneak an extra bottle of milk with her accomplice Wanjala one day by taking a lengthy detour so that she could come running in a second time with the next group, but the Keepers were on the ball and were not fooled by her sneaky moves, and sent her packing to the water trough to quench her thirst there. Galla has just turned three and is growing up fast. He is eager to learn from the older Ex Orphans like Chemi Chemi and test his strength with them, all the while learning new tactics. He is particularly close to Ukame and Tusuja, another favourite wrestling partner. When Ukame first arrived she was impatient to return to the wild, but she has very much settled since then, understanding that this is now her new family, and her time to return to the wild time will come eventually. She is now a very content member of the Ithumba dependent orphans, one who loves her milk formula too much to leave anytime soon!

One day when naughty Roi stole more than her fair share of milk bottles, it was decided that older Ukame would be the one earmarked to have the one and a half bottles that were left. The Keepers hoped that Ukame wouldn’t notice, but they underestimated her, and she knew immediately something was wrong and rumbled her discontent. This hot-tempered girl turned to vent her anger on the nearest family member, but sensing something was up the others made a hasty retreat! She was compensated later with an extra bottle!

To read more about the antics of the elephants at Ithumba this past month, please read the full diary entries below.

February 2018 day to day

01 Feb

Galla left with a branch in his mouth and soon as he was out, Roi requested him to break a piece for her. Galla resisted by walking away and pretended not to have heard Roi's request. Roi was angered by Galla's behavior and Roi quickened her steps and managed to catch up with him. Roi pulled the branch from Galla's mouth. Galla had no option other than to let go since he didn't want to invite the wrath of Roi, given that they share a stockade at night. Six wild elephants were drinking water at the stockade water trough as the orphans settled for lucerne. One wild elephant that had a three month old baby joined the orphans to feed. Shortly later, the wild mother and her baby left while the orphans headed towards Hyena Hill which is north west of stockade. At around seven o'clock in the morning, the keepers herd some noise of elephants coming from the lower Kalovoto area and thought that it was the normal noise from female elephants being chased by bulls. Kauro settled to feed with Rapa. At around ten thirty in morning, the unexpected happened. At a distance Makena, Rapsu, Enkikwe and Tumaren approached the orphans with Makena paying so much attention to Enkikwe. The keepers walked to check why Makena was paying so much attention to him and to their shock, Enkikwe was bleeding on his right hind leg, neck and at the back. On top of his back one could see lions fur left behind after the attack. It appears that the way Makena was behaving she was the one who saved Enkikwe, assisted by Rapsu and Tumaren. The three were escorting him back to the stockade where they knew very well that he would get the much needed help. Laragai and her group checked in shortly later and together with the juniors and the keeper’s, they escorted Enkikwe to the stockade when he was put to wait for the vet to come and attend to his injuries. In the afternoon, Makena left with Tumaren, Rapsu and Laragai’s group. An hour later Makena felt that the juniors needed protection and went looking for them. She finally located them on the eastern side of Ithumba Hill. Makena stayed with the dependent orphans until evening and after escorted them together with their keepers back to the stockade. At the stockade compound, Makena found that she couldn't access where Enkikwe was staying and so raised her trunk, rumbling to Enkikwe to inquire if he was okay. Enkikwe responded by thanking Makena for her help and assured her that he was in safe hands. Makena then left after being reassured by Enkikwe.

Suguta, Kalama and Barsilinga

Poor Enkikwe

Rapsu and Makena checking on Enkikwe

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