After several heavy rainstorms in December and early January, the Ithumba orphans enjoyed a period of plenty. Natural waterpans out in the bush were filled with rainwater and lush vegetation upon which to feast was at every turn all day long. At the Ithumba Reintegration Centre the New Year began with three distinct orphaned groupings - those that were still Stockade and Keeper dependent included Enasoit, Meibai, Naimina (the three most recent ex Nursery arrivals) as well as Lualeni, Loijuk, Kora, Ol Malo, Kenze, Makena, Lenana, Sian, Chyulu, Zurura, Ol Malo and Naserian. In overall charge of this group were the three oldest females, Naserian, Loijuk and Sian assisted by Makena and Chyulu all budding Matriarch in their own right.
Totally Keeper Independent living normal wild elephant lives were Yatta, (the main Matriarch) assisted by Mulika, Nasalot, and Kinna, with Wendi acting as the Sub Matriarch of a Splinter Group, often peeling off from Yatta's main group and the Leader of any of Yatta’s group who would like to accompany her. The orphans led by Yatta, and those led by Wendi continue to keep in very close touch with the Keeper Dependent Youngsters and on occasion one of the Keeper Dependent Youngsters who goes for an outing with the Independent Seniors, and obviously has second thoughts, is escorted back to the Keepers, sometimes by one of the young Bulls.
The now “wild” ex orphans include Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot, Kinna, Wendi, Napasha, Taita, Ndomot, Sunyei, Madiba, Galana,, Rapsu, Challa, Sunyei, Buchuma, Sidai and Orok, all now totally independent of the Keepers and fraternizing at will with wild elephant friends. Either all, or some, are waiting at the Stockade Yard for the Youngsters to be let out of their Night Stockades first thing in the morning, or else join them out in the bush, or at the noon mudbath, spending quality time with them, and often actually escorting the Youngsters back to their Night Stockades in the evening, only leaving once all the Youngsters are safely enclosed for the night. Some 5 or 6 of the Stockade Dependent group are still also milk dependent, enjoying a milk feed first thing in the morning, again at noon, and in the evening.
It is the choice of each and every elephant as to when it feels sufficiently confident to make the transition by upgrading themselves and spending Nights Out with the Seniors, something that does not happen overnight, but takes place gradually, for elephants are fearful animals, who have limited night vision the same as a human. Should a new graduate feel the need to return to base, and the security of the Night Stockades, they are escorted back by some, or all, of the Seniors, and handed back into the custody of the Keepers. At Ithumba, the Keepers are merely in attendance, there when needed, or else trailing their charges as they head out each day led by one of the Junior Matriarchs who decides where and when to leave the Stockade Compound. It is, however, very clear that all the elephants are in touch with one another, irrespective of where they happen to be.
As the smallest and youngest member of the Stockade Dependent group, Enasoit is the cosseted “darling” of all the females, who compete with one another to pamper and “mother” him, lavishing on him loads of elephant loving which must be a far cry from the misery of losing his mother in far-off Laikipia, and being abandoned by the rest of the herd being too weak to keep up with them. At Ithumba all three new arrivals are assured of a great deal of tender loving care from a veritable “herd” of elephants, all of whom fully understand the plight of each and every new arrival, having experienced it themselves. Meibai and Naimina are likewise lavished with love, and their happiness is touching to witness. Naimina now often leading the herd out to browse, sharing this duty with the other Junior Matriarchs, and occasionally one of the older boys such as Kora, who, incidentally, has had no further trouble with his jaw which was shattered by gunshot when his mother was murdered at Kora in the far North of Kenya.
Yatta’s wild recruit, the young Bull named “Mgeni” (the Visitor) who has long been an integral part of the ex orphaned group was absent from her herd on the 9th, replaced by another older wild Bull who has been the steady Boyfriend of Yatta throughout January. The Keepers speculate that perhaps this older bull may have driven Mgeni away, but more likely is that Mgeni found some former friends in another group, and chose to spend time with them. No doubt he will turn up again in the fullness of time, because he was very comfortable with the ex orphans, and even responded to the language of the Keepers. All our elephants understand English
The January Diary clearly illustrates the transition process currently being undertaken by Loijuk, Naserian, Zurura and Kora, who are currently aspiring to become members of the Senior gang. Loijuk is clever and knows how to open the latch on the Stockade she shares with several of the older resident Juniors, amongst whom are Naserian, Kora, Zurura, Kenze and Lualeni. On the 12th she opened the latch after dark to let herself and her stockade companions out to join Wendi and Nasalot who then escorted them off into the bush for a Night Out. However Lualeni, Zurura and Kora obviously had second thoughts about being in the Big Wide Wild during the hours of darkness because they returned an hour later, and their Stockade was opened by the Keepers so that they could go back in, but Loijuk and Kenze were braver and spent the entire night out with Wendi’s group. During the night they obviously joined Yatta’s group because the next morning all the ex orphans, which included Zurura, Loijuk and Kora, joined the Juniors as they headed out to browse. The entire herd remained together all morning, and attended the mudbath together that day, after which the ex orphans separated again from the Youngsters, this time taking with them Naserian as well as Kora and Zurura but leaving Loijuk with the Juniors.
That night Loijuk again let herself out, joined by Kora, Lualeni, Kenze and Zurura for another Night Out. On this occasion Kora and Zurura were braver, returning back at dawn to join their Junior colleagues the moment they were let out, but Loijuk, Lualeni and Kenze were still somewhere out in the bush with the ex orphaned group. They returned to the Stockades with Wendi’s group and decided to spend that night back in the Stockade as usual.
On the 14th Nasalot joined the Juniors who were with Wendi’s group at the mudbath, and spent the afternoon with them, escorting them back to the Stockades in the evening, where Yatta and the rest of the ex orphans joined them in the Compound, the wild Boyfriend still in tow.
On the 17th Wendi’s group who had Nasalot with them were waiting for the Juniors in the morning, and again shared the morning and mudbath with the Youngsters, but later Wendi took off Kora, Zurura, Lualeni and Naserian, leaving Nasalot to oversee the Keeper Dependent Youngsters. Wendi and her group then brought Naserian and Kora back to the Stockades in the late afternoon and having left them, headed out again with Lualeni and Zurura still in amongst the others in her group. Obviously Naserian and Kora had decided that they wanted to return and meet up with their Junior group again for a night in the Stockades rather than out during the hours of darkness.
Again Loijuk opened the latch and let herself out when Yatta and her Boyfriend happened to pass by, this time taking only Kenze with her for another Night Out, but leaving Kora behind inside.
The ex orphans spent another full day with the Juniors on the 18th and were again waiting at the Stockade Compound first thing the next morning to join the Juniors, but this time Yatta and her wild Boyfriend were not amongst them. However, the two turned up later at the mudbath and spent the afternoon with the Youngsters, escorting them back in the evening. Every reunion is a highly charged affair, with joyful rumbling, trumpeting and excited urinating as trunks intertwine in loving elephant “kisses”. Friendship and loves so joyously expressed is extremely touching!
On the 27th Yatta came to the Stockades accompanied by two wild Bulls, so she obviously in demand amongst the male community. When Wendi’s group passed by the Stockades a day or two later, the Keepers noted that Sidai, Kora, Lualeni, Zurura and Ol Malo were missing from the group. However, Ol Malo and Sidai turned up at 6 p.m. to be let back into their Night Stockade, but Lualeni, Zurura and Kora were obviously gradually becoming more confident with their newfound Senior status by having more time out.
They turned up on their own on the 28th and also on the 29th just for a quick drink at the Stockade water trough before heading out again. Meanwhile Naserian decided to join the ex orphans when they separated from the Juniors at the noon mudbath and spent another night out. Several days later two of Yatta’s young Bull orphans, namely Challa and Rapsu escorted Zurura, Kora and Lualeni back home to rejoin the Junior Group and return to their usual Stockade nights.
All these comings and goings illustrate how the transition from Keeper dependency to a wild and free life is made by the orphans. They take one small step at a time, but it is clear that Loijuk, Lualeni, Kora, Zurura and Naserian will all soon swell the ranks of the “wild” independent Ithumba orphans.
Yatta, Napasha and Taita turned up to join the Juniors at their noon mudbath on the 30th, but on this occasion the wild Boyfriend kept his distance, obviously feeling that they should be going somewhere else and not wasting time with the Babies at the mudbath. Yatta sensed his unease, and abandoned the wallowing she was quite obviously enjoying to go and keep him company. This indicates that she is, indeed, smitten with him! The Keepers suspect that Mulika is already pregnant, and no doubt Yatta probably is as well, so we look forward to happy news from Ithumba!