Keepers' Diaries, January 2012

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It was an enormous thrill for us on New Year’s Day when all the Ex Orphans, including Mulika and her baby, “Mwende” (now l month old), came to join the Keeper Dependent Orphans at their noon mudbath, which, thanks to bountiful rains in November and early December, had been transformed into a mini lake in which the elephants could immerse themselves. After the usual warm greetings between those now living wild and the Keeper Dependent Youngsters, they enjoyed a swim, especially Napasha and his wild friend “Mgeni”, their trunks acting as snorkels above the water line. Even little Mwende went in, sandwiched between her mother and closely guarded by Kinna, who is the Principal Nannie, the baby’s tiny trunk just visible every now and then amongst a sea of large legs! According to Head Keeper Benjamin baby Mwende loves Kinna as much as her own mother and Mulika is perfectly happy to entrust the protection and care of her baby to the Nannies. Daphne was especially astonished to see little Mwende actually swimming in deep water out of her depth, especially since we don’t even allow our 1 month old orphaned baby, “Kithaka”. to put even a foot into our mini Nursery mudbath for fear of the dreaded pneumonia, to which elephants are particularly vulnerable! The difference is, of course, that wild-born babies have their mother’s milk, and whilst we can get our newborn orphans through (with difficulty) on the replacement formula, it is not as ideal as Mother’s milk! Evidence of this is in the stools which in the wild baby are formed, while those of our orphan are sloppy like custard.

It was an enormous thrill for us on New Year’s Day when all the Ex Orphans, including Mulika and her baby, “Mwende” (now l month old), came to join the Keeper Dependent Orphans at their noon mudbath, which, thanks to bountiful rains in November and early December, had been transformed into a mini lake in which the elephants could immerse themselves. After the usual warm greetings between those now living wild and the Keeper Dependent Youngsters, they enjoyed a swim, especially Napasha and his wild friend “Mgeni”, their trunks acting as snorkels above the water line. Even little Mwende went in, sandwiched between her mother and closely guarded by Kinna, who is the Principal Nannie, the baby’s tiny trunk just visible every now and then amongst a sea of large legs! According to Head Keeper Benjamin baby Mwende loves Kinna as much as her own mother and Mulika is perfectly happy to entrust the protection and care of her baby to the Nannies. Daphne was especially astonished to see little Mwende actually swimming in deep water out of her depth, especially since we don’t even allow our 1 month old orphaned baby, “Kithaka”. to put even a foot into our mini Nursery mudbath for fear of the dreaded pneumonia, to which elephants are particularly vulnerable! The difference is, of course, that wild-born babies have their mother’s milk, and whilst we can get our newborn orphans through (with difficulty) on the replacement formula, it is not as ideal as Mother’s milk! Evidence of this is in the stools which in the wild baby are formed, while those of our orphan are sloppy like custard.

Having had a cooling swim, all the elephants then congregated at the large pile of red earth placed there for a red dust powdering to dry them off. They happily tossed puffs over their wet bodies, and rolled in it to transform their normally grey bodies into the resplendent red tones of Tsavo, which makes the Tsavo elephants so recognizable and unique. In there amidst them all were their Keepers, and Robert, Angela’s husband, capturing this magical interaction between humans and elephants to share with all our Supporters. It was truly the most wonderful and auspicious beginning to year 2012, engraved indelibly in our minds, proving that the elephants so trust and love their Human Carers who have hand-reared them only with love and care so that the barrier that normally segregates homo sapiens from the Animal Kingdom has been breached by love and trust, to such an extent that an Ex Orphan mother and her teenaged Nannies will share the magic of a newborn member of the herd, just as they do with members of their own kind. There can be no greater reward for the many years of love and care that have gone into establishing such a unique relationship.

Yatta was mated at the same time as Mulika and by the same bull that fathered Mulika’s baby, Mwende, so we have been anxiously awaiting the birth of Yatta’s first calf. Yatta, along with Kinna, Mulika and her baby, Makena and Selengai were missing from the Ex Orphan group that came to the Stockades on the morning of the l9th, when they unusually appeared detached from the Juniors even though they spent some 2 hours at the compound before leaving. (The Keepers believe that they went to join Yatta, whom they had left in labour, attended by two Ex Orphan Nannies, Kinna and Wendi).

They were rewarded on the morning of the 20th when all the Ex Orphans turned up at the Stockades at 5.30 a.m., and as daylight brought better visibility, the Keepers could see two newborn babies amongst the Ex Orphans! Yatta had brought her newborn baby back to show the Keepers and the Keeper Dependent Juniors, so there was profound joy all round, with everyone fussing around the new baby, who was a little girl, born after a 23 month gestation as opposed to Mulika’s 21 months. Yattas’s baby was born a lot larger than that of Mulika. We named her “Yetu” (the Swahili word for “Ours”) and she was the centre of attention of all the adoring female Orphans, but especially her two main Nannies, Wendi and Kinna. Kinna had been the main Nannie to little Mwende and was probably tutoring Wendi in this role!

We in Nairobi received the happy news via mobile phone, Head Keeper Benjamin having scaled the huge outcrop near the Stockades to get a signal. Robert Carr Hartley immediately flew to Ithumba with Tal Manor to record the happy event for all Yatta’s many foster-parents and supporters, since Yatta was Nursery reared from the tender age of just 1 month and as the main Ithumba Matriarch, is a hugely popular character. They were also afforded the privilege of being embraced by the entire Orphaned Herd and their wild attachments – in all some 60 plus elephants – and could handle both baby Mwende and the newest arrival, little “Yetu”. This is indeed an accolade from the elephants themselves and a fitting reward for the many years of tender loving care that has nurtured such a bond of affection and trust.

There has been almost daily interaction this month between the Ex Orphaned Unit and the Junior Keeper Dependent elephants, often enjoying a noon mudbath together, meeting up in the bush or at the Stockades. It is interesting that since the birth of the two Ex Orphan babies, the Ex Orphan Unit has been keeping close to the Stockades, and visiting the compound often twice a day, in the morning and again in the evening, usually accompanied by Yatta’s wild recruits “Mgeni” and Kijana” plus a couple of new teenaged bulls who have attached themselves to the Ex Orphan herd. Kora, who has been recovering from yet another poisoned arrow wound is now out with the Junior group again, his best friend Lualeni a regular caller, frequently peeling off from Yatta’s main Ex Orphan her to spend time with him and the Juniors. |During such sorties, she has taken a shine to Ololoo, and towards the end of the month, has been taking him away from the Keeper Dependent Juniors for a wild walkabout, returning him after dark to the Stockades and the care of the Keepers. Ololoo who has before spent time as a Senior, probably remembers a scare in the dark, so is more comfortable at night back at home where he knows he is secure!

This month, Suguta, who is the main Junior Matriarch has been unwell, off her food, and with a wet trunk, which is never a good sign, so she was given a 3 day course of Enro to counter possible pneumonia. Her milk was also changed from the usual Replacer that is fed the older elephants, to the yellow top tins of S26. Since then, she has improved considerably. It would appear that some of the older elephants do not do well on the Soy based Replacer that we import from Israel for the older elephants, Dida at the Voi Rehabilitation Centre being another.

January 2012 day to day

01 Jan

Another year began with Chaimu leading the Keeper Dependent Youngsters out, to browse, heading to the Kanziku area which, after rain, was still lush and green. At l0 a.m. all the Ex Orphans, which included the groups of both Yatta and Wendi accompanied by Yatta’s wild recruit “Mgeni” plus two other; young wild bulls, met up with the Juniors and the entire herd moved to the mudbath venue where the Youngsters took their noon milk feed before joining the Ex Orphans in the mudbath, which had been transformed to a sizeable waterhole in which the elephants could swim. Mgeni and Napasha went into the deepest part and had a wonderful time playing together.

Chaimu browsing

Mgeni gets a ride from Napasha

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