Keepers' Diaries, February 2020

Select your unit:

Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The month of February in Tsavo is normally characterized by dry scorching weather and around about now we would be yearning for the rains to break to settle and soothe a parched land.  Due to the abnormal rains that started in October and have not stopped since, February at Ithumba has been unlike anything we have experienced before. The baobabs which are normally dry are so thick with leaves it is hard to differentiate them from the rest of the countryside at the moment. Our midday mud bath waterhole is fuller than we have ever seen it still, which means the orphans enjoy proper swimming sessions completely submerged using their trunks as snorkels, a welcomed respite on warmer days. 

The weavers have built their nests over the mud bath for safety, and while to the untrained eye it all looks rather precarious their shrill chirp of excitement and frenzied activity punctuates every bathing session; the bird life in general at the moment is almost deafening as they enjoy the bountiful conditions of insects and vegetation. It has been reported that the hornbills, who normally breed in the rainy seasons, have been having chick after chick in this favorable environment. We have never seen so many butterflies, frogs and such prolific birds at Ithumba, and the whole area seems to have transformed into a completely different environment, with more standing water and water birds than ever seen before.

This month was extraordinary for us in many ways but none more so than for the surprise that arrived at the very end of the month on the leap year day, when the ex-orphans arrived for the first time this month in the company of some wild elephants, and with a tiny baby underfoot! Mulika arrived with the rest of the herd with her second born calf, a little boy we have named “Mkuu” meaning ‘chief’. Overnight her eight year old firstborn Mwende became a big sister and what a doting nanny she has become to her new little brother. We are thrilled to have our Ithumba family grow by yet another member, Mkuu being the 13th wild born baby born to Ithumba orphans, number 36 in total, with it set only to grow further as we know some of the other female ex-orphans are expecting! 

With all the water around most of our orphans have been enjoying swimming and mud baths, but it is Kauro who has fascinated us the most.  Having been rescued from the depths of a ‘livestock well’ but not before having the tip of his trunk ravaged by predators, Kauro was obviously heavily traumatized by this experience and since his Nursery days has never enjoyed the mud baths, preferring to stand on the edge and splash himself with water if need be.  In the last month or two since the waterhole has morphed from a pond to a lake we have witnessed Kauro transform into a water-lover of note! Not only does he love swimming but he is often one of the last ones out of the water hole these days, along with friends Tusuja and Mundusi. We are not sure what sparked this change in Kauro but it is so moving to see him relish the water so much, seemingly making up for all the lost years. His friend Tusuja is like the ‘class clown’ and loves mucking around and playing games. The Keepers have remarked how he likes to put on a performance nearly every morning, and he is always slow to follow his friends out to browse, who more often than not have already all left him behind, growing bored of his water antics.  

Naseku enjoys kicking the water and splashing it over her body. All the orphans enjoyed the water this month with the exception however of Ambo and Enkikwe, who for some reason avoid the mud baths whenever possible, and hide in the bushes to wait for the others. Enkikwe with his injured leg can be excused and maybe Ambo as one of the littlest in their midst feels freighted too that he might be muscled around by the bigger boy, preferring to keep a safe distance.  Siangiki appears to have developed a love for the little Ambo and spends as much time as possible with him, treating him as she would a little brother. Ambo obviously feels very happy for this affection and is only too willing for Siangiki to look after him and shower him with attention, and can be seen visibly basking in her love. 

Mundusi has developed a funny habit recently of holding onto his milk bottle at the noon milk feed and walking off with it, sucking on the end of the teat like a comforter. Only after a few minutes and perhaps only after he has firmly established there is no milk left, will he drop the bottle for the Keepers to pick up. This normally involves one Keeper having to follow him until he decides he is ready! Roi has actually become quite naughty at feedings times. She often tries to steal an extra bottle, and sometimes she is successful. One day at the noon milk feed she lingered around monitoring the Keepers until the opportunity arose when she quickly grabbed a bottle of milk and ran away with it. By the time the Keepers reached her, she had already finished the bottle. Roi was visibly very pleased with herself and happy at being able to outwit the Keepers, managing to have an extra bottle without anyone’s permission! Some of the orphans will often try their luck though, and Mteto had to be reprimanded one day as well for trying to sneak Namalok’s milk from his special bucket. The Keepers warned Mteto that such behaviour was unacceptable and she should behave like a civilized girl, and for the time being she has listened.

The dependent orphans have been enjoying the company of poor Barsilinga at the moment as well, suffering from an injury to the foot which became infected when a stick became lodged deep inside, necessitating an operation which later led to some of his sole coming detached. He was in great discomfort, and stays with the dependent orphans rather than being off with the partially-dependent herd he normally roams with including his best-friend Kithaka, but thankfully he is improving responding well due to the daily cleaning and Epsom salt bathing. He is very long suffering and really does cooperate given that he is now a big elephant. 

On Valentine’s Day Challa, a 15 year old ex-orphan bull, paid an impromptu visit to the stockades in the evening and hung around the compound. It was lovely to see him, as we hadn’t seen him since December, and he is looking so well. We saw 14 year old Zurura a couple of times this month as well which was a treat, but he didn’t stick around long, and was obviously on a mission.  

February 2020 day to day

01 Feb

It was wet in the morning following a heavy downpour that pounded the area the entire night. The orphans left the stockade soon after having their morning milk. Led by Karisa the orphans settled to browse just a stone’s throw from the stockade. Having so much vegetation to feed on, the orphans were happy to settle for browsing. Naseku settled to browse with Oltaiyoni, Namalok with Galla while Malima teamed up with Tusuja. Kamok had a brief chat with Ndiwa before parting ways. 

At mud bath time none of the orphans wanted to go into the water hole, instead the orphans had their milk then headed north where they enjoyed a bush mud bath for a while. In the afternoon, the weather changed from cloudy to sunshine. Mundusi played with Tusuja while Wanjala played with Rapa. In the evening, the orphans returned back safely to the stockade for the night.

Tusuja browsing with malima

Kairsa browsing.

Namalok and Galla