Sporadic rain that fell in the middle and towards the end of January brought welcome relief for our Ithumba elephants, cooling temperatures during what is usually a very hot month, bringing on fresh vegetation and filling depressions with rainwater and enabling the wild elephant population to leave their dry season range and forage further afield. Therefore, our orphans have had no wild contact this month that we know of, although the older set habitually remain out in the bush often until long after dark, and are now virtually completely independent of their Keepers.
The orphans have thoroughly enjoyed every day of the month, their happiness expressed by deliberate playful bumping against one another as they head out each morning, and the swinging of trunks from side to side which is a sign of joy. They have loved playing in softened soil and splashing in rain-filled puddles. As usual, the boys like engaging one another in pushing bouts to test their strength, which are tolerated by the older elephants as long as such contests don’t deteriorate into a fight. Should this take place, there is always an older female at hand, (usually either Kinna or Yatta) or another older boy, to break up a battle, and if necessary discipline the culprits by forcing them to spend “time out”, as did Yatta when Rapsu and Tomboi were fighting over a branch Kinna had pulled down and left. The only scare the orphans have endured this month has been when 3 lesser kudus streaked past them, causing all the youngsters to rumble and trumpet for their elders, who hurriedly arrived to establish the nature of the threat. At such times, Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna, sometimes backed up by Napasha, present a united front.
The older elephants now habitually peeling off from the younger set to spend time on their own, and at a place of their own choice, sometimes only meeting up with the others back at the Stockades in the evening, or even long after dark, and at other times joining them on the way to, or at, the mudbath venue. However, there are days when they devote time to the youngsters, and the unit remains as one herd. Kenze and Orok then relish time spent in the company of their favourite surrogate “mother” Nasalot, while Ol Malo enjoys being Yatta’s special calf, and Selengai, Mulika’s chosen baby. Kamboyo and Zurura, the latest ex Nursery Ithumba arrivals, are now completely integrated and established at their new home. Kamboyo has earned the title of “Time Keeper” because he is always so punctual about setting off for home, and often even leads the column back or to and from the mudbath venue. Sunyei and Naserian, backed up by Loijuk are Yatta’s sub-Matriarchs, Wendi having promoted herself to Yatta’s “Big Group”.
This month, surprisingly 6 year old Tomboi has taken to spending time away from all the others, heading off singly on his own to feed in a place of his choice, and meeting up with the others either at the mudbath or back at the Stockades. This is an interesting and surprising departure from the usual routine for a young bull of this age, bearing in mind that Napasha is much older. On one occasion, having been on his own all morning, the others turned up at the mudbath to find him already dispersing some wallowing warthogs, and after a brief greeting and wallow, he left singly again, pitching up at the Stockade ahead of the others in the evening. And so, at our Ithumba Rehabilitation Centre, the learning curve continues along slightly different lines to that of the Voi unit, because of the nature of the terrain, and the fear the wild herds still harbor about humans.