Keepers' Diaries, February 2024

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

As February began, the orphans awoke to find their newly independent friends waiting for them outside the stockades. Musiara and Dololo were very tired and opted for a standing nap, sleeping against a large rock. They must have had a night full of adventures out in the wild!

We hold our collective breaths when Wendi appears on the scene — her notorious reputation precedes her. It seems that her youngest daughters, Wema and Wimbi, are following in their mother’s footsteps. During one of their visits, Naleku plodded over to welcome Wema and Wimbi, only to be rudely received by both of them. Roho, who was standing nearby, decided he had to defend Naleku’s honour and teach the girls a lesson through a very stern shove. Prudently, he kept a close eye on their mother — no one wants the wrath of Wendi!

Naleku and Olorien are good friends, but they have very different personalities. Naleku is calm and welcoming, while Olorien can be quite feisty. This month, she got into several skirmishes with the ex-orphans’ babies, including Chyulu’s son, Cheka, and Sunyei’s daughter, Siku. In the latter encounter, sweet Kuishi saved the day by separating the two girls. Olorien walked away, shaking her head in disbelief. 

Ndiwa, who has been living wild for some time now, circled back quite a bit this month. She is a great and gentle mentor. We were reminded of this one hot afternoon, as we observed her encourage the orphans to cool off by shepherding them into the water. Afterwards, she led everyone for a soil dusting tutorial. With the day’s lessons complete, the eight-year-old bid the dependent herd farewell and left to find her friends.  

Meanwhile, Naleku treasures every moment she can get with the ex-orphans’ babies. The Keepers really had their work cut out for them this month, as she kept trying to sneak off with the visitors. Her motive was to nanny the youngest babies, particularly Tembo and Charli. It took lots of persuasion, but the Keepers always managed to persuade Naleku to return to her colleagues — she is not yet ready to be a wild-living nanny!

24-year-old Nasalot has two sons of her own — the rascals, Noah and Nusu — but she has also adopted fellow orphan Mundusi into her family. After Mundusi’s lonely beginnings, it is lovely to see the eight-year-old so spoiled and thriving in his newly wild life.

Poor Yetu had a rather fraught month, as she was in season and caught the eyes of several amorous bulls. Her firstborn, Yebo, is just over a year old, and Yetu was clearly not overjoyed by the prospect of conceiving again so quickly. This seems to be an unusual trend: Many females are coming into season even before their babies reach the age of two years. Typically, elephant babies are more spaced out. 

On 12th February, an extraordinary treatment unfolded at the Ithumba stockades. It started the night prior, when Barsilinga appeared at the stockades after more than a month away. The Keepers quickly realised he bore a small wound on his shoulder, likely from an arrow or a spear. It was too late to conduct a veterinary treatment, but everything was organised for the following morning.

At first light, Barsilinga again appeared at the stockades in the company of ex-orphans Malima, Jotto, Musiara, Dololo, Wiva, Mulika, Nusu, Nasalot, Noah, Ndiwa, Barsilinga, and Mkuu. The Aerial Unit and Mobile Vet Unit were called, and everyone mobilised to the scene. As it turned out, the injury was the result of a spear. The wound was very deep, but fortunately it did not compromise the joint or bone. After thoroughly cleaning out the injury and administering antibiotics, Barsilinga was up and on his way. [Watch the treatment video]

Three days later, Barsilinga joined the dependent orphans at the mud bath. He was in fine form and his wound was healing well. The Keepers appreciated his visit and the opportunity to monitor his progress. 

On the afternoon 13th February, little Sagateisa sauntered up to the dependent herd. She had gone wild two weeks prior, lured by the irresistible prospect of nannying Olare’s newborn, Ola. The Keepers tried to convince Sagateisa and Neshashi to re-join the dependent herd, but the girls quickly rebelled and ran back to rejoin the ex-orphans. Clearly, they are very happy with their wild lives!

Typically, ex-orphans' babies have the definitive upper hand over the dependent orphans, as they know they have the full backing of their vigilant nannies and mothers. This month, however, we had a rare turning of the tables. Suguroi had a misunderstanding with Lapa, Lenana’s baby, that ended in a fight. Lenana intervened on Suguroi’s behalf and warned her son to stop fighting with girls. 

The following day, Ithumbah’s daughter Iman got a taste of her own medicine when she attempted to push Mukkoka. Instead of retreating, Mukkoka knocked her to the ground then strolled away as if nothing had happened. Iman didn't react; she seemed to understand that she was the instigator and had gotten her just deserts.

Mid-month, we were treated to a visit from Naboishu, who went wild at the end of January. He eagerly challenged Mukkoka, Roho, and Sattao to strength testing exercises, as if to show them all the new skills he had acquired in the past few weeks. Then, he had a long catch-up with his old roommate, Larro. 

Apparently, the day left him feeling nostalgic: That evening, Naboishu decided to accompany his colleagues back to stockades. He went into his old bedroom and spent the night with Larro and Roho. As we are constantly reminded, reintegration does not unfold in a straight line, but rather is an ever-evolving process! 

It was a largely uneventful month for our junior orphans. Their primary focus was enjoying all the delicious greenery around Ithumba — which is smart, as it could dry up at any time. Kinyei, Kindani, and Bondeni remain the best of friends. Esoit recently joined their nighttime crew, and he has proven to be an excellent roommate. No doubt because of his calm, cheerful position, Esoit is a great favourite among the slightly older girls, particularly Larro and Kuishi. 

Lodo and Roho can usually be found sparring with each other. At four and five years old, they are increasingly fixated on establishing dominance and demonstrating their strength. Suguroi is our little leader, and usually escorts the dependent herd to the browsing fields.

On 24th February, we welcomed a massive reunion of ex-orphans and their kids: Loijuk, Lili, Wendi, Wiva, Wema, Wimbi, Kinna, Kama, Ndiwa, Kaia, Mulika, Wanjala, Makena, Tumaren, Tembo, Olare, Ola, Sagateisa, Mwende, Mala, Mkuu, Mulika, Musiara, Ishanga, Karisa, Barsilinga, Olsekki, Bomani, Garzi, Chyulu, Charli, Cheka, Kitirua, Kilabasi, Kofi, Pare, Esampu, Kithaka, Enkikwe, Lenana, and Lapa joined the orphans in the morning. Later, even more ex-orphans showed up.

Such a large congregation led to some predictable squabbles. Wiva, Wendi’s eldest daughter, got into a disagreement with Kuishi that threatened to escalate. Clever Kuishi stepped on a rock, an age-old tactic that made her appear taller in order to scare off her opponent. This had the desired effect and Wiva quickly retreated.

At the end of the month, Rapa loitered around the herd for several days in a row. He was clearly on some sort of mission. We suspected he was leading a recruitment drive on behalf of Jotto, Musiara, and Dololo, who have not yet been able to convince Mukkoka, Kuishi, and Sattao to join them in the wild.

February ended with the glorious and unexpected arrival of more rain. In the evening, the skies shifted and a passing cloud gave way to a heavy downpour. El Nino is spoiling us this year!

February 2024 day to day

01 Feb

The orphans settled for lucerne soon after leaving the stockade. Kinyei shared her lucerne with Kindani, while Esoit shared with Kuishi. Afterwards, Sattao led the way to the browsing field. There, Kindani had a misunderstanding with Roho that resulted in a pushing game. Kinyei settled to browse with Sattao while Kuishi and Larro teamed up with their favourite Esoit. The stubborn Olorien settled to browse with Mukkoka and Lodo. 

At mud bath time, the sun was hot and as soon as the orphans had their milk, Kinyei led the team into the water. The orphans had a prolonged wallow due to the heat of the day. Only Sattao didn't participate fully in the wallowing; he washed his feet and then came out. In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse west of Ithumba Hill. The temperatures were still high and the orphans took a break from browsing to relax under a tree. The orphans resumed to browse later when the temperatures dropped to a favourable level. The orphans browsed calmly throughout the remaining part of the day. 

Bondeni, Kindani and Kuishi enjoying Lucerne

Sattao browsing

Olorien and Mukkoka browsing