Keepers' Diaries, January 2019

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It has been very warm this month which is typical of January weather in Tsavo, so when a light drizzle fell one day all the orphans savoured playing in the damp conditions rolling on the wet earth. To cope with the warm days the orphans have been enjoying the mud bath as well which has been great fun to witness.

After the November/December rains the vegetation around Ithumba is still quite green and plentiful, so the orphans have been shunning their lucerne grass supplements in the morning to walk straight out to the bush to browse, where they know they can still find enough good food to eat. We know we will start to see the vegetation turn and change next month, as the landscape starts to dry out with the lack of rainfall and rising temperatures. 

The most recent arrivals Sana Sana, Ndiwa and Malkia have been enjoying the new and varied vegetation, and have been eager to make their way out in the morning, sometimes leading the way before the others are even ready! Sana Sana has been watching the other older orphans attentively, acutely interested in skills like the dust bathing, keen to emulate and practice the same moves later on.  

With so much food around, the dependent orphan bulls are feeling particularly strong and confident, and have been taking it upon themselves to test their strength on one another. Olsekki and Tusuja are two such examples, but sometimes some of the older bulls like Kithaka like to come over and remind them really who the strongest really are. The younger bulls like Karisa and Mundusi have been at it as well, trying to gauge their strength by playing with bulls more senior to them, but Tusuja has been warning them not to pick fights they can’t finish, and swiftly reminding them of the pecking order!

Ukame is still a hot-tempered little girl and when she picks a fight there are not many of the dependent orphans who will stick around to find out the result. Wanjala ran away from her one day to seek refuge behind the Keepers, always a good tactic, and Pare knew better one day as well than to engage Ukame when she was in a bad mood, especially being one year older than him, and ran off in the other direction.

Kithaka, Garzi and Barsilinga are still partially dependent and choose to wander off on their own foraging sessions during the day, only to return to the stockades at night when the others orphans have already returned home. The fact they are not quite willing yet to fully break this bond of dependency means they are still slowly adjusting to a life of independence and living away from the stockades and their friends, as well as their human family. Enkikwe has been acting more independent recently too, despite his bad leg, and he wants to keep up with his friends Kithaka, Garzi and Barsilinga. He has sneaked off a couple of times and the Keepers have had to search for him and return him back to the stockades with the others. It seems the call of the wild is strong for little Enkikwe again but we need to keep him close to home for much longer to monitor his healing leg.

Yatta’s ex-orphan herd arrived on the 3rd and stayed pretty much around for the rest of the month as we saw them sporadically. Yatta arrived with her babies Yetu and Yoyo, plus Mulika, Mwende, Wendi, baby Wiva, Galana, baby Gawa, Makena, Ololoo, Vuria and a wild elephant travelling with her herd. Our orphans are always very good at picking up any waifs and strays – other elephants in need of some company or a family - as they know all too well what it’s like to welcome others into a herd. Yatta’s herd are very obedient and listen to everything she, the matriarch, says; as soon as Yatta rumbles it’s time to leave, all the young wild born babies stop their games and scurry over to follow the rest of the herd as they begin to move out.

We were happy to see Mutara’s herd for a few days in the middle of the month as well, including Kibo, Murka, Orwa, Narok, Turkwel and Bomani. They joined the dependent orphans and interacted with them for a while. Mutara had to escort Dupotto back to the dependent herd one day when she started to follow her herd out in the bush. She knew Dupotto was not quite ready to follow them yet! She is a very caring elephant and one day when she was in a very playful mood, rolling around on the ground and play-fighting with Orwa, she got up to go and comfort Sana Sana who had been pushed over by Pare. Ex-orphan bull Tomboi also stopped by the stockades in the morning to salute his old family on the 11th as well.

On the 15th the dependent orphans were joined by ex-orphans Kibo, Chemi Chemi, Naisula, Kitirua, Kandecha and Murka who all enjoyed wallowing, followed by a prolonged soil dusting session. In the evening Wendi arrived with baby Wiva, Yatta, Yetu, Yoyo, Mulika, Mwende, Kinna, baby Kama, Makena, Vuria, Ololoo, Lenana, Ithumba and Bongo! Having not seen Bongo since October last year it was very good to see him looking so well. The very next day ex-orphan Chaimu and her long-time friend Kilaguni visited the stockades early in the morning. The two ex-orphans teamed up with the dependent orphans and walked with them out to the bush. Chaimu was very happy to be around the babies and had fun rolling on the ground, trying to entice them to play. None of the juniors wanted to play though as they were all more interested in browsing! As the month bore on and became hotter still, in the last few days of January we saw ex-orphan bulls Kenze and Rapsu when they turned up with four wild bulls to join the dependent orphans to drink water and cool-off at the mud bath. 

January 2019 day to day

01 Jan

The sky was partly covered by clouds when the orphans strolled nonchalantly out from the stockades. The orphans settled for water and thereafter left for browsing. Out in the bush, Maramoja settled to browse with Kauro while Esampu settled to browse with Ukame. The smart Esampu engaged Ukame in a girl to girl talk that lasted for quite some time. Karisa tried to challenge Tusuja but Tusuja is much much stronger than him and so Karisa lost the game. 

Later, before mud bath time, Dupotto and Maramoja had fun cooling themselves down by playing in some mud. The sun was really hot and so the orphans had a spectacular wallowing session, followed by a soil dusting exercise. Olsekki engaged Tusuja in a strength testing exercise that ended in a draw. In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse on the western side of Ithumba Hill. The sun was still hot and the orphans decided to take a break from feeding to relax under some trees with good shade. The orphans resumed browsing later on when it was cooler. 

Maramoja and Kauro browsing together

Olsekki and Tusuja strength testing

Esampu and Ukame browsing together