Cold and miserable weather heralded the onset of the New Year with the Ithumba Mountain shrouded in mist most mornings, only lifting around midday. This inhibited the elephants’ mud bathing, because despite the fact that their normal sparse wallow had been transformed into a veritable lake, just like us humans, elephants are often not fond of plunging into cold water! At Ithumba there is one exception however, and that is our “water-baby” Bongo, used to the frosty wallows of his Mt. Kenya homeland, he always heads straight into the waterhole, irrespective of the weather!
Nasalot has been the focus of much male attention early in the month, with the proximity of a handsome suitor and two of his male friends, all of whom spent days and nights with our ex-orphan herd. The handsome boyfriend often spirited Nasalot away from Yatta’s herd for more private romantic moments together and Nasalot herself had no hesitation in accepting the courtship of such a handsome wild Bull. However, on the 4th of the month, another huge memorable Bull arrived at the stockade compound in the company of our ex-orphans who was a stranger to our Keepers who had never seen him before. Despite being unfamiliar he appeared incredibly calm and trusting of the humans, obviously having been assured by our ex-orphans that these particular humans were friends, rather than the usual “enemy”. Over the years, we have learned that this is not an unusual phenomenon insofar as the ex-orphans’ wild friends are concerned.
Ex-orphan Wendi’s wild born baby Wiva is growing rapidly, but still monopolizes the attention of all the ex-orphans, with even the other two wild-born babies of Yatta and Mulika respectively, namely Yetu and Mwende also taking on the role of “Nannies” to the tiny newcomer, ensuring that little Wiva has eyes watching over her at all times.
Mischievous Kithaka, who is still very much part of the dependent orphans, always has his sidekicks Barsilinga and Lemoiyan close at hand to play and spar with when out in the bush. True to form, Kithaka is often preoccupied with how to play a prank on others, be they human or elephant, with an inborn mischievous streak which has not been diffused by the discipline meted out by his older peers! Because he is such a rascal, the Keepers have to keep a close watch over him to prevent him ambushing unsuspecting foster parents!
Madiba and Zurura were regular ex-orphan visitors during the early part of the month, spending time wallowing and enjoying the company of the younger dependent orphans. Later in the month big boys Taita and Rapsu were with the dependent orphans and sparring sessions with these big independent Bulls is always a thrill for the junior Bulls. Although the Big Boys are always extremely tolerant and forgiving of their younger opponents, there are moments when things become a little more heated forcing the youngsters to disengage and retreat, accepting defeat rather than a prod in the butt!
A very welcome reunion was when Makireti, Kasigau and Kilabasi returned around mid-month after a long absence that spanned more than a month. They were greeted enthusiastically by their little friends, and chose to remain close to the dependent orphans during the following days. Kilaguni and Chaimu arrived later on in the month having been away for some 6 weeks, so it was lovely to have these dear friends back closer to home. Kilaguni, and Chaimu, along with Makireti, Kasigau and Kilabasi, remained together as a group from that point on, keeping close contact with the dependent orphans.
One day Ishanga arrived alone, having left the company of Yatta’s herd. She is the free spirit who does not choose to settle with any one group, but tends to jump between them all. The Keepers were suspicious of her motives on the day she arrived alone, and, sure enough, that night Mutara and Suguta were absent from the dependent herd having failed to return as usual to their Night Stockades. The next morning Ishanga and her two new recruits turned up from an undisclosed location and rejoined the dependent Orphans out in the bush, a pattern that continued for the rest of the month. Towards the end of the month Ishanga left Mutara and Suguta who appeared happy to be on their own, and were not tempted to return to their Stockades for the night. Instead, they in turn recruited dependent orphan bull Kanjoro and together all three attached themselves to ex-orphan Bulls Taita and Rapsu.
It is most interesting to watch the dynamics of these orphans, and the durable friendships that are formed in their Nursery years but which endure and are long lasting. Makireti and Kasigau were best Nursery friends and were relocated to Ithumba together. Their close friendship continues because they are seldom apart. Kilaguni and Chaimu were also translocated together from the Nursery to Ithumba in 2010 and this male and female bond remains intact because they are inseparable. Ishanga shared the Nursery with Makireti and Kasigau and while she remains best friends with them, she is very gregarious and outgoing, an enigma who is everywhere but nowhere without fixed alliances. Olare’s herd of young independent orphans comprised of Olare, Melia, Kalama, Kandecha, Chemi Chemi, Murka Naisula, Kitirua, Kibo, and Tumaren. These 2008 and 2009 born babies shared Nursery time together and remain a closely bonded unit who are not prepared to spend a protracted length of time with the older ex-orphans but instead are content to form their own tightly knit group. This group of independent orphans has not returned for two months now, nor has Kora and Kamboyo reappeared ever since they embarked on their long walkabout. This is not unusual and quite normal for Bulls of this age, who begin to venture further afield and undertake normal Bull scouting duties. Kora was born in 2004 and Kamboyo in 2005. This month Buchuma and Napasha headed off on a walkabout with some wild friends too.