Keepers' Diaries, January 2022

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

For our Ithumba herd, the new year began to the tune of birdsong. With a clear sky above them, the orphans emerged from their stockades with a spring in their step — although, it must be said, every day in Ithumba begins with such enthusiasm! Malkia and Sana Sana entwined their trunks in a happy new year greeting.

The next morning, however, was anything but ordinary. In the early hours of 2nd January, ex orphan Kilabasi appeared at the Ithumba stockades with a baby boy by her side. We named him Kofi. This was a very proud moment for the Keepers, who have been part of Kilabasi’s journey from the very beginning. She was rescued in 2011, after villagers spotted a calf staggering into Tsavo from the Tanzania side. We will never know what Kilabasi endured before her lonely trek towards Kenya, but given this was at the peak of the ivory crisis, we can safely assume that she lost her mother to poachers. Now, more than a decade on, she is living wild and raising her own family.

The dependent orphans were browsing nearby, but the second they got wind of a new baby, they dropped everything. Malkia, Mteto, Ndiwa, Roi, and Esampu tried their best to have time with Kofi, but formidable nannies Makireti, Gawa, Ishanga, Olare, Siku, and Lili stopped them in their tracks. Roi had an argument with Gawa but was forced to retreat under the steely gaze of her mother, Galana.

The “late night gang”, as the Keepers call the semi-independent orphans, come and go as they please. Siangiki, Olsekki, Oltaiyoni, Naseku, and Roi don’t like to return home with the rest of the herd in the evening. They tend to show up long after everyone else has been put into their stockades, as if to make a point that they are too old to be tucked into bed.

We welcomed another happy arrival on the 7th, when Lualeni introduced everyone to her newborn girl, who we named Lexi. Lualeni is another likely poaching victim, rescued in 2004 after she was found sleeping under a tree, utterly alone in the world. To this day, no orphan has grieved so profoundly, or for so long, as Lualeni. To see her become a mother, now two times over, has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Lualeni’s firstborn, Lulu, is now three years old and has appointed herself Lexi’s head nanny.

The ex-orphans have remained in the area, although they visit less frequently than they did in the dry season. After the morning’s excitement, the dependent herd met up with Challa, Kinna, Kama, Kaia, Kilabasi, Makireti, Ithumbah, and Kofi on the way to the mud bath. Mteto, who has become something of a baby lover, took off with the ex-orphans so she could volunteer her babysitting services for Kofi and Kaia. She remained with them until bedtime, when Kinna and her team escorted the young girl back to the stockades. It must have been a thrilling afternoon for Mteto.

The following day was thrilling for everyone, for our Ithumba herd welcomed three new graduates. In the early hours of the 8th, Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu arrived from the Nursery. Maramoja, Nabulu, Sattao, and Musiara, who are friends from their shared Nursery days, were the first to greet the newcomers. Malkia, Nabulu, Ndiwa, Roi, Maramoja, Malima and Sana Sana spent the entire day competing to win the hearts of the trio.

Naboishu, Larro, and Mukkoka earned themselves the nickname the “good students”, because they are very fast learners! When it was time to go home the first night, the Keepers handed it over to Nabulu and Musiara to lead them home. After arriving at the stockades, the babies copied Nabulu’s every move, lining up along the fence for her milk and then browsing on lucerne pellets and branches within the stockade. You would never have guessed that this was their first night in Tsavo.

One thing betrayed our new graduates’ naivete to Ithumba ways: While the rest of the herd eagerly tucks into supplemental lucerne pellets, Larro, Naboishu, and Mukkoka couldn’t be bothered. They would much rather focus on browsing all the vegetation. Although they arrived at Ithumba during a time of plenty, fresh greens aren’t always so bountiful out in the bush. In drier times, they will appreciate the lucerne more! As the month progressed, we noticed they had a greater appetite for the pellets. Perhaps their friends clued them in that it was a helpful supplement to eat.

The month was punctuated by several hot days, which meant long swimming sessions in the mud bath. One afternoon, Rapa, Nabulu, Mundusi, Enkikwe, Mteto, Ndiwa, Kuishi, Esampu, Ambo, Mapia, Sana Sana, and Kamok had a particularly enthusiastic pool party. Esampu was the first leave, however, running and trumpeting as she ran into the bush. She is such a little drama queen! Mundusi and Enkikwe were the last to leave the water. It is wonderful to see how well Enkikwe has healed and now fully participates in all the activities.

Leading the herd out for the day is quite an honour, but heavy is the crown. Karisa was reminded of this one morning, when he chose to take a westward direction. Sana Sana, Nabulu, Malima, Mteto, and Malkia were dubious of this choice and headed southeast instead. They rumbled to signal that whoever was interested in taking this far superior direction (in their opinion) should follow suit. They enjoyed a real coup when Mukkoka, Larro, and Naboishu turned around to join the girls. Karisa used this opportunity to join up with the “late night gang” for the day, and they didn’t return until nine o’clock that evening.

Wild visitors help the orphans learn how to read the proverbial room. This is an important skill in elephant society, to ensure they are respectful of their elders and don’t incite anyone’s ire. One morning, ex-orphan Challa emerged from bush and briefly joined the orphans. Although he is a regular visitor, boys Enkikwe, Mundusi, Rapa, Sattao, Mapia, and Wanjala all seemed a bit starstruck and stretched their trunks out to greet the majestic bull. They followed him for about five hundred metres, mimicking his slow, measured walk, before abruptly halting their pursuit. They seemed to realise that Challa wasn't in the mood to socialise and preferred his own company that day.

On the 29th, Mutara, Sities, Sugata, Kainuk, Turkwel, Kalama, Melia, Rapsu and Lemoyian appeared after an absence of quite some time. They were delighted to find three new orphans at Ithumba, but Mukkoka, Larro, and Naboishu didn't show any interest in the big girls — in fact, they seemed to be avoiding them! Suguta and Turkwel tried to go back to Dololo, but our little boy also avoided them like the plague. They really side-lined Dololo when all the wild-born babies were born, and now he realises that while these girls have good intentions, they are also quite fickle.

Over the following days, however, Turkwel and Sugata continued to beg for Dololo’s forgiveness. Dololo softened a bit and allowed the girls to hang out with him. However, he would be wise to guard his heart: Mutara will give birth to her first baby any day now, and when that happy moment arrives, all the big girls will be jostling for their nanny positions!

By month’s end, little Larro decided she was ready to lead the way out in the morning. Mteto, Malkia, Esampu, and Sana Sana couldn’t let that happen, as Larro still doesn’t know the area well enough. They hurried over to walk with the courageous girl, allowing her to lead under their guidance. It was a wonderful display of mentorship from our tight-knit Ithumba herd.

January 2022 day to day

01 Jan

It is the beginning of another year. As dawn broke the sky was clear as the orphans came out of their stockades to begin their new day. The orphans walked to the tune of birdsong who were also expressing their joy at the morning light of a new year. Malkia and Sana Sana entwined their trunks in a happy new year greeting. 

Out in the bush, Sattao settled to browse with Esampu while Karisa teamed up with Malkia. The orphans settled to browse west of the stockade compound, and slowly marched in the direction of the mud bath. Malima enjoyed the company of naughty Wanjala, but later Wanjala, in true form, turned against her and pushed Malima away. Malima didn't try to plead or force herself to stay, as she knows Wanjala’s character and was just happy to have spent some time with him, but left immediately to team up with the soft and shy Sapalan instead. 

Shortly before mud bath time the orphans were joined by Ishanga. Ishanga showing up to meet up with the juniors was clear a indication that the ex-orphans are clearly in the area! Ishanga escorted the orphans to the mud bath and later left, most likely to link up with her ex-orphan friends again. 

In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse on the slopes of Ithumba Hill and later, on the way back to the stockades, they decided to have fun for a while, by playing along the edge of the road and the loose soil that settles there and is excellent for playing and dusting with. 

Malkia playing with Sana Sana

Esampu and Sattao