Keepers' Diaries, January 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The new year began with a humorous surprise. After their midday milk feed, the orphans ambled along to the mud bath, as usual. Much to their surprise, however, they were not alone: a hippopotamus had migrated over from the Tiva and taken up residence! Although the hippo wasn’t interested in them, the orphans got an enormous fright. They ran out of the water en masse and hid in the nearby bushes.

The next morning, the dependent herd was greeted by ex-orphans Lualeni, Loijuk, and Sidai with their babies. We were very happy to see them, as it had been some time since their previous visit. It was particularly good to see Sidai’s firstborn, Sita, looking well. Although he is just three years old, he has detached from his mother and spends much of his time floating happily amongst the ex-orphans. Perhaps he understands that Sidai needs to focus on caring for his little brother, Silas, who is just over a year old.

Our new girl, Neshashi, is very independent. Most of the orphans make a beeline for lucerne as soon as they finish their morning milk — but not Neshashi! She bypasses that snack and heads right into the bush, where she promptly tucks into the green vegetation. 

While Neshashi has been broadening her horizons, Roho has been busy forging friendships. He is very close with Larro, his old Nursery friend, and they often play together. We also saw him patting Naboishu, clearly in an effort to strengthen their relationship. By the end of the month, he was feeling quite bold and challenged Mukkoka to a vigorous pushing match. The daring boy even climbed atop Mukkoka’s back in a show of dominance, despite Mukkoka being a year older than him!

It has been a time of transition for our Ithumba herd. Karisa, Mundusi, Enkikwe and Sapalan spent their first full month out in the wild, as part of Yatta and Wendi’s ex-orphan herd. Mid-January, Esampu linked up with Wendi’s ex-orphan herd. We felt this was a rather bold choice, given Wendi’s unpredictability, but she was very hospitable and embraced the younger female. 

And still, some orphans aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into a wild life — and that’s okay! Pare, Rapa, Kauro, and Kamok have adopted a leisurely approach towards their reintegration journey. Their newly wild-living friends continue to visit and they spend lots of time in consultation with them, perhaps gathering intel on life away from the stockades. Poor Kauro had a moment with his newly wild-living friend Enkikwe this month. They were having a lovely time playing until Enkikwe turned and bit Kauro's tail! Kauro was very disappointed by his unsportsmanlike behaviour and walked away.

Kamok is not known for being very nurturing towards younger elephants (quite the opposite, in fact), but lately she has been trying to assemble her own little herd. She often orchestrated private excursions with Ambo and Larro, returning to the main herd very reluctantly at sundown. Unfortunately for Kamok, Ambo and Larro are still too young, and don’t yet share her urge to be wild. share the same urge she has to be wild. She will have to make a different plan.

We wonder if our ex-orphans occasionally feel nostalgic for their dependent days. One evening, Loijuk, Chyulu, Lualeni, Naisula, Kandecha and their kids arrived at the stockades around sunset and spent the night just outside, like a big slumber party. 

In years prior, ‘Dololomania’ dominated Ithumba, as Mutara’s ex-orphan herd was hopelessly besotted with the young bull. However, that wore off, and Dololo no longer has the same devoted following. To be frank, he seems to relish the freedom, as the girls could be quite over the top. However, he still enjoys the occasional spoiling. Case in point: He spent an affectionate afternoon with Sana Sana, eyes closed happily as the older girl held him in a long trunk embrace.

13-year-old Makireti was in season this month, and Ithumba’s wild bulls certainly took notice. Ex-orphan Challa was among the boys trying his luck. At 18 years old, he is not likely to be the lucky suitor, but that didn’t stop him from courting her. When they emerged from the stockades, the dependent orphans surrounded Makireti, as if pitying her with all these amorous bulls chasing her around. 

January 18th was a very, very exciting day. Shortly after breakfast, Naleku, Sagateisa, and Suguroi arrived from the Nursery! Naboishu, Roho, Larro, and Neshashi made up the initial welcoming committee, as they know the girls from their shared Nursery days. The trio of graduates had a happy, seamless first day in Ithumba, filled with reunions with old friends and meetings with new friends. Roho was very attentive towards the three, walking amongst them all the time, while Neshashi seemed more concerned with being at the front of the line. To each their own!

We are discovering a new side to Sagateisa in Ithumba — Head Keeper Benjamin describes her as ‘composed.’ While she had become quite unsociable at the Nursery, she has been nothing but pleasant in her new home, although she does like to march to the beat of her own drum. She has struck up a lovely friendship with Roho and often singles him out for play sessions.

Suguroi and Naleku, meanwhile, were delighted to discover how many babies visit Ithumba. Shortly after their arrival, ex-orphan families Loijuk, Lili, Mulika, Mwende, Mkuu, Naserian, Njema, Naisula, Nyx, Nasalot, Nusu, Noah, Sunyei, Siku, Saba, Makireti, Kilabasi, Kofi, Yatta, Yogi, Yoyo, Mteto, and Esampu arrived. Naleku and Suguroi were thrilled to see such a herd of big elephants — and the excitement reached new peaks when they saw all the babies with them. Luckily, our ex-orphan mothers are very generous and allow the younger girls to play with their sons and daughters..

Last month, ex-orphan Naisula gave birth to her first baby, a little girl we named Nyx. As a first-time mum, she didn’t have a dedicated group of nannies to help her. Esampu and Mteto saw their opportunity and seized it. Their old friends Malkia and Maramoja must have been simmering with jealousy, because later in the month, they too joined Naisula’s nanny squad. 

Kamok is notoriously rude to younger elephants, particularly the ex-orphans' babies. This month, she got a taste of her own medicine! One afternoon, Naboishu was having a strength testing match with baby Lapa while his mother, ex-orphan Lenana, looked on. Suddenly, Kamok emerged out of nowhere and started to bully Lapa. Lenana couldn’t tolerate this behaviour and gave Kamok a mighty shove. This sent Kamok running off in a panic, with Lenana in hot pursuit. Lapa looked quite smug at the turn of events.

Just as it began, January ended on a funny note. New arrivals Suguroi and Naleku were the first to leave the stockade in the morning. Feeling quite confident, the girls stopped for a scratch on the nearby rocks. It wasn’t long, however, before Naboishu sauntered over and intimidated the two girls into leaving the rock, because he wanted it for himself. Sagateisa, who is often on the receiving end of Naleku’s pushiness, watched this unfold with great satisfaction. She was clearly happy to see that Naleku had met her match!

January 2023 day to day

01 Jan

The orphans had their morning milk bottles and came out of their night stockades to feed on dairy cube supplements. As it is still green after the recent rain, the orphans seemed in a hurry to begin their day, and it wasn’t long before they started to file out of the compound and into the bush. They later made their way over towards the Kone dam for a drink of water and to feed on the surrounding bushes. Roho, who only arrived at Ithumba in November, was very busy browsing and was grabbing branches from several different shrubs as he walked along, rather than settling on just one.

When it was time for their next milk feed at 11am, the orphans made their way to the feeding area beside the big waterhole. After having their bottles the orphans enjoyed wallowing, led by Maramoja. Pare was busy mounting on Musiara while playing. Today we were surprised to find a hippopotamus at the mud bath as well! The orphans got such a fright and ran out of the water and into the nearby bushes. Equally the hippo also got a fright and ran in the other direction away from the mud bath.

The orphans soon settled down to browse and decided to go back to the mud bath later on in the day to cool off. They looked about and were happy to wallow in the water again. We spotted the brave Roho climbing on Mapia while Kauro and Sapalan were busy playfighting.

The orphans returned to the stockades for their evening bottles of milk and to go to sleep for the night. Enkikwe and Sapalan also arrived at the compound this evening but didn’t want to be locked in with their friends, and they decided to stay out. Mundusi and Karisa are still with Yatta’s ex-orphan herd too.

Roho browsing

Maramoja wallowing

Pare climbing on Musiara