Two wild bulls have again been regular nocturnal visitors to the Orphans’ Stockades, rumbling to the orphans whilst taking water from the trough. We wonder whether one of these bulls is our Imenti, who has brought along his BigWild Friend to meet the orphans and share their supply of fresh water. We believe that this is probable, since a dread of human scent would be sufficient deterrent for any lone wild bull.
Then on the 21st, the orphans came across the footprints of 5 other wild elephants near their mudbath, something that excited Yatta, Nasalot, Kinna and Mulika, who raised their trunks and rumbled a greeting as they set forth to follow the spoor. However, the younger orphans, who have not yet made wild contact with grown wild elephants, were bent on reaching the mudbath instead, so in the end this dissuaded them. Most of Tsavo’s 11,000 wild elephants are now in the Northern Area, where the bush has been free of elephant impact for 30 years and food is therefore abundant, particularly during the dry season. Although fear of human scent in this onetime hot-bed of poaching endures in the elephant memory, we are confident that given time, and with input from the two bull scouts who have had a chat to the orphans on many occasions, the curiosity of the wild female herds will eventually get the better of them, and they will wish to investigate the presence of a group of babies who love their human Keepers. Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot are eager to make contact, having fraternized with wild herds on a regular basis during the time they were within the Voi unit with Emily.
The most important event for the Ithumba group was, of course, the arrival of Ndomot, Galana, Sunyei and Madiba from the Nairobi Nursery on the 2nd July, welcomed with a rapturous greeting from the established orphans, who exploded from the thickets in a high state of excitement with trumpets, bellows and rumbling! The newcomers at first found this very daunting and tried to make their escape, closely followed by the older elephants, all of whom simply wanted to welcome them, perhaps a little too exuberantly! However, very soon Wendi homed in on Ndomot, who was her special “baby” during her Nursery period, and there was no doubt that she recognised him and was overjoyed to be again reunited, not only with him, but also with Madiba, although it took her a little longer to establish who he was, remembering him only as the furry miniature mammoth who arrived over a year ago not knowing that he was, in fact, an elephant! Of the four newcomers, only Galana was a stranger to all the others, but Olmalo focused on her, entwining her trunk with that of Galana, and ever since has been Galana’s special friend.
The first night in a large Stockade, as opposed to a comfortable stable, surrounded by an electric fence, is always a rather unpleasant learning curve for newcomers, who always touch the“hot” wire and have to suffer the consequences. However, they usually only do this once, and thereafter have a healthy respect for electricity, although poor Ndomot touched the wire once with his head, and then later unwittingly reversed into it! That first night, Yatta as the main Matriarch of the Ithumba unit, was ushered in to the new orphans adjoining Stockade, but during the night she felt that she should be with the others, and made it clear that she wanted to be moved. The Keepers took the hint and her place was then taken by Nasalot and Wendi, both of whom were extremely attentive to the babies, reassuring them by laying their trunks across the little ones’ backs, and rumbling lovingly to them.
The first day out the next morning was also a little scarey for the newcomers, finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings and not used to such dry conditions. This, too, was a learning curve, and they had to take their cue from the others about how to dig up tubers, and shake the earth from the roots. Galana, being Tsavo born and orphaned old enough to remember, needed no such lessons, but the others watched the older elephants closely and Wendi gave a very good demonstration about digging techniques, even allowing Sunyei to take a tuber from her mouth, something that usually triggers outrage! It is touching that Wendi understandingly permitted this liberty. By day two all the newcomers had grasped the new feeding techniques and got stuck into the vegetation like veterans!
As usual, the boys, Tomboi, Taita and Napasha tried to demonstrate dominance over Ndomot and Madiba, and took to trying to mount them, but Yatta and the older elephants prevented them from doing so, Yatta even remaining close to Madiba to ensure that a mounting by Tomboi was not repeated. Napasha found himself very unpopular with Yatta when what began as a playful pushing match, deteriorated into a struggle for dominance! He found himself roundly punished with a sharp prod from Yatta’s long tusks!
It is interesting to see Sunyei still taking charge of the new babies, quick to learn the new routes and confidently leading them to the mudbath at noon, and back to the Stockades in the evening. Wendi and the older elephants have accommodated her in this. On the one day that Sunyei became confused about which route to take, she stood aside and allowed Wendi to show the way. Sunyei rounds up her four Nursery satellites with a low rumble, and it is interesting to fomd that they respond instantly to her summons.
It took just three days for the four Nairobi Nursery elephants to become fully settled and comfortable within the established group, lovingly nurtured by Wendi, Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna. The close Nursery bond between Wendi and Ndomot endures, proving yet again that elephants never forget.
Although so new to the area, Madiba has demonstrated great courage by being brave enough to instantly see off a dikdik, and also take the lead in dealing with a flock of birds that were dominating the mudbah. However, a rowdy troupe of baboons scared all four newcomers witless and sent them rushing to the Keepers for protection, urinating with fear. The older elephants immediately ran to reassure and comfort them, another indication of how elephants empathize with the plight of others.!
The Ithumba unit is now comprised of 14 orphans, all of whom are now happily settled and fully integrated into one cohesive herd, lovingly overseen by their main Matriarch, Yatta, with Nasalot and Wendi as senior Carers, and Sunyei still in direct command of those that were her responsibility within the Nursery, namely Madiba, Ndomot and Galana. Although she shared the Matriarchal duties in the Nursery with Galana, at Ithumba it is Sunyei who is in command.