Keepers' Diaries, January 2021

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

We felt blessed to begin this New Year joined by Yatta’s entire ex-orphan herd, who remained in the area for the whole month. The Keepers and dependent-babies alike were thrilled every day they chose to visit. Sometimes the area in front of the Ithumba compound was filled with as many as 70 elephants – including Yatta’s herd, their fifteen wild-born babies, accompanied by some wild elephants. Fifteen-year-old Zurura visited a few times as well, and it was interesting to witness the reverence with which our young dependent babies, especially the bulls, have for their older male friend. Karisa was tackling age-mate Rapa one day when Zurura emerged from the thicket. As a sign of respect, the two boys stopped pushing each other when they saw the older bull approaching, and only resumed their game once Zurura disappeared from sight.

Many of our orphans are continuing to explore their independence. Early on in the month, Ukame, who is nearly seven years old, took a tremendous step and decided to live with the ex-orphans. Unlike Tusuja, who bounces between the ex-orphans and the dependent herd as he experiments with a wild life, Ukame hasn’t looked back. In fact, she has become one of the devoted nannies to Cheka, Lapa, and the little other wild-born babies. Formerly known for her hot-tempered personality, Ukame has led a quiet life at Ithumba, never forging close ties to anyone in particular. It seems she has found her calling as a nanny to the ex-orphan herd, and we are so delighted for her.

The presence of slightly older Bomani and his friend Orwa has been apparently been a catalyst of sorts for some of the six-and seven-year-old dependent orphans to explore their independence. Shortly after Ukame left, Namalok also decided to join up with the ex-orphan herd. One evening he surprised everyone when he decided to walk straight past his stockade, following Bomani and Orwa off into the night. When the Keepers tried to call him to return, Namalok increased his pace and even overtook Orwa and Bomani, as if he knew where he was going! From that night onwards, he joined up with the ex-orphans every night. We are sure Bomani is recruiting some of the dependent orphans to join him out in the wild. One day, soon after mud bath time, Naseku, Kauro, Namalok, Wanjala, and Oltaiyoni secretly left with him too. By the time the Keepers realized, it was too late, and the orphans spent the day with Bomani, only to arrive safely back at the stockade compound around 9 o’clock in the evening. Bomani remained outside, eager to spend the following day with the dependent babies again!

Barsilinga, Enkikwe, and Tusuja have been dodging the Keepers and slipping away before it is time to return home. Sometimes, they leave with the ex-orphans and rejoin the dependent herd at a time convenient to them. Sometimes, Tusuja refuses to go into the stockades at night and instead followed his new friend, Bomani, out into the night. One evening, after a few days away, he even arrived in the company of two wild bulls! Bomani is a caring friend and later found Tusuja, and convinced him to stay with him instead of going off with the wild bulls. While Tusuja spent quite a few nights with the ex-orphans, he still periodically returns home, keen to enter the stockades with his dependent friends. The reintegration process is so unique for every elephant and we are always very mindful of that. Some wake up and decide to accompany older ex-orphan friends one day, while for others, the whole idea takes some getting used to. Barsilinga seems to be at a similar crossroads. Happily, we may have had a breakthrough in his medical ailment: This month, an abscess developed higher up his foot and burst, leaving us hopeful that this might be the end to whatever has been plaguing his foot for the past year.

One orphan who never passes up an opportunity to sneak away from the Keepers is Rapa! He is one of the usual culprits who pulls a disappearing act just when it is time to head back to the stockades. He is usually joined by some of his friends, including Siangiki, Olsekki, Oltaiyoni, Tusuja, Rapa, Enkikwe, Wanjala, Galla, and Kauro. One day, Esampu even took off with the truants, which was a first! As these escapades almost always involve Rapa, we suspect he may be the mastermind. Fortunately, he remains hooked on his stockade, and the orphans always return to the compound in their own time.

Whenever Yatta’s ex-orphan herd comes around, the older females in our dependent herd jockey over the opportunity to be with their young babies. Naseku, Roi, Maramoja, Malkia, and Oltaiyoni will stop whatever they are doing and rush over, which can sometimes create a challenging situation for the Keepers: It is hard to extract their orphans again from such a large herd, especially if there are wild bulls in the mix! One day, the ex-orphans managed to make off with Jotto, Enkikwe, Oltaiyoni, and little Ambo. However, they are very wise and know which babies are ready to accompany them and are still too young. That same day, they passed by the stockade compound to drop off Enkikwe, Jotto, Oltaiyoni, and Ambo, who they clearly realized fell in the latter category. The same thing happened with Mteto. After a day out with the young girl, the ex-orphans safely deposited Mteto back at the stockades, before walking off into the night.

Mulika was evidently in season this month, as she had a whole entourage of bulls following her and her little baby, Mkuu. With a gestation period of about 23 months, we will have to see in a couple of years if another baby might be on the way!

Towards the very end of the month, Mutara’s herd also decided to join us after an absence of two months. Mutara, Sities, Suguta, Kainuk, Turkwel, Lemoyian, Kithaka, Garzi, Kilaguni, and Kibo showed up before dawn and waited for daybreak to join the juniors. Their arrival meant the Keepers had to be even more vigilant, as they are aware of how much Mutara’s herd adores Dololo and might be tempted to steal him and some of the other young babies away. Dololo, Sattao, and Musiara were so excited to see their old friends, and there was much trumpeting and rumbling in the morning. That day at the mud bath, there was a startling total of 120 elephants present, but so far Mutara and her group have been very well-behaved. They did not try to steal Dololo or any of the babies, but simply chose to spend as much time with the dependent herd as possible, escorting them throughout the day and leaving them at the stockades at night. On the 27th, we were delighted to see 16-year-old ex-orphan Challa, who joined the dependent orphans at the mud bath.

Kamok and Olsekki are evidently still fast friends and can always be spotted engaged in one game or another. One day, Enkikwe picked a fight with Kamok just to show that despite his bad leg, he can still defend himself. Ambo has been watching some of the older bulls, notably Enkikwe, Sapalan, and Karisa, in their wrestling matches. He likes to imitate them with his friend, Sattao, but because he is always under the watchful eye of Siangiki, he doesn’t always get to see his games through to the end as she is very protective. Given the opportunity, gentle Jotto and even Olsekki will play with the likes of Ambo and Sattao. Little Ambo still avoids the mud bath when he can, preferring a dust bath instead.

The rather surprising week of cloud and rains this month was a blessing during this dry time of year. It will certainly see us through to the beginning of the long rains, which we are hopeful will arrive early, as they did last year. The brief rain showers led to cool and beautiful mornings as the sun slowly crept above the horizon in front of our easterly facing stockades, illuminating the rising mist and swallows as they awoke to dance around mud pools that sprang up in front of the Ithumba compound. We hope the ex-orphans continue to spend more time around Ithumba, as it is certainly incredible to see all of them together. With Naserian and Mutara heavily pregnant, perhaps we might be blessed with a new baby any day now.

January 2021 day to day

01 Jan

It was wet in the morning following light rain received overnight. The orphans left the stockade early as usual and headed to the browsing field to begin another new day in a new year. Mundusi welcomed the year in style by engaging Jotto in a strength testing exercise that was disrupted by Tusuja. Tusuja wanted to be the one playing with Mundusi but Mundusi refused, informing him that he was not the one chosen for this game. Tusuja quit and let the two boys have their pushing game in peace. 

Tusuja then walked to join Ukame, Esampu, Kuishi and Mteto in a game of rolling on the wet soil. Barsilinga and Siangiki had a light pushing game as they discussed their own topics. 

At mud bath time the temperature was only mild and not too hot, so the orphans decided to only have their milk bottles and some water without wallowing, before going back to browsing. 

In the afternoon, Mundusi and Pare had a game of rolling on the ground. Galla, who was feeding close by, took advantage of Mundusi lying down to climb on him, as Kamok and Olsekki engaged in their usual pushing game that lasted for quite some time. 

Mundusi playing with Jotto

Tusuja playing

Barsilinga playing with Siangiki