As the dry season tightens its grip, so more and more wild elephants have been turning up to drink at the Ithumba Compound Water trough, putting increasing strain on the original borehole, which has necessitated bringing water in several times a day from the new borehole that pumps water to the Holding Tank above the Ithumba Camp. Taking their cue from the Ex Orphans now living wild under the leadership of Yatta and the Sub Matriarchal Splinter groups, the wild herds wait quietly and patiently by the water trough every morning when it has been emptied during the night, until the Trust’s Bowser brings water from the Holding Tank on Ithumba Hill to refill it. Sometimes the Bowser has to make several trips a day. (On the 30th for instance, 21,000 liters were bowsered in to satisfy the thirst of the visiting wild community, as well as our Ex Orphans, so the new borehole has not happened a moment too soon!) As the natural depressions dry out, there is no other water save the very saline water of the Tiva sandriver, where the elephants have to drink sand filtered water from holes tunneled into the sands, where they obviously feel vulnerable to ambush by Poachers.
On the 4th a female herd with young calves came to drink at the Stockade trough but wild elephants – mainly bulls - have been drinking daily at the Stockade water trough, and in growing numbers. On the 26th, for instance, 36 wild elephants plus the Ex Orphans were waiting for water, all of whom joined the Juniors at their noon mudbath.
It has been a great relief to see the Orphans first wild bull friend “Rafiki” again after a long absence. He turned up for a drink at the Stockade trough with 3 wild friends during the morning of the 7th, again on the 10th when Ithumbah was tempted to remain behind with him and his wild friends, (but caught up with the Juniors later) and again on the 16th with 4 wild friends. On the 16th 11 wild bulls drank at the Stockade and then headed to the mudbath where they joined the Juniors, a pattern that has been repeated often this month, so the Youngsters have had plenty of interaction both with wild elephants, and the Ex Orphans. Seldom a day has passed without meeting up with members of the Ex Orphans and their wild friends, as well as independent wild elephants who often join the Juniors at their noon mudbath and interact peacefully with them. The Ex Orphans have been with them on the 6th (Galana, Meibai, Sidai, Nasalot, Lualeni, Sunyei and Naserian) on the 7th (Makena, Kamboyo Tomboi and later Meibai, Naserian, Lenana, Wendi and Sunyei as well as the Senior Ex Orphans of Yatta’s group who had Kijana with them). On the 11th Nasalot and Sunyei arrived and shared a nice green branch with their favourite, Kilaguni; on the 12th (Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika, Orok, Buchuma, Selengai, Kinna and Napasha) spent time with the Juniors, as well as on the l8th, (when they had both Kijana and Kimethena with them). On the 20th the Seniors joined the Juniors at their mudbath were with them again on the 23rd and 24th, and on the 30th.
Very worrying was the fact that on the 13th, Kora was spotted with a poisoned arrow in his right side as he was crossing the Kanziku road along with his best friend, Lualeni accompanied by Kamboyo. The Keepers encouraged the trio to join the Junior Group and return to the Stockades, so that Kora could be enclosed in the Stockade while the arrow head was extracted and the wound dressed by the Keepers. Amazingly, he understood that they were helping him and despite the pain of having the arrow cut out of his flesh, he put up no resistance, the entire procedure closely monitored by Lualeni and Kamboyo who remained outside watching closely. Lualeni and Kamboyo then left the compound but Zurura, Loijuk, Makena and Rapsu turned up shortly afterwards and lined up outside the Stockade fence watching Kora inside, obviously concerned about him. Later that night Lualeni returned alone and spent the entire night within the Compound close to Kora and the Youngsters, still there as dawn broke the next day. Meanwhile a plane was dispatched from Nairobi on the morning of the 14th with the green clay that we have found to be so effective for infected wounds, and long acting injectible antibiotic to counteract any adverse affects of the Akokanthera poison, with Kora kept under close surveillance as a temporary member of the Junior group and Lualeni opting to remain with him throughout and lead the Juniors. At 10 a.m. on the 14th Yatta, Mulika, Napasha, Selengai, Galana and Wendi came to join Lualeni and take a look at Kora as well as enjoy a drink at the Stockade water trough. When they left, Lualeni again remained behind to be with Kora and came every day thereafter to be with him, insisting upon actually being within the Stockade with him during the nights while he convalesced. Very fortunately, apart from initial swelling and slight lethargy, Kora showed no serious adverse affects from the poison, and has since made a full recovery but has been monitored all month.
Due to this event the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has had approval from the Kenyan Wildlife Service, and secured funding from Vier Pfoten and Austrian NGO who supports our Mobile Veterinary Unit for the Tsavo Conservation Area, to initiate a brand new antipoaching team for the region to help counteract the growing poaching pressures. The Trust now funds seven full time antipoaching teams that work in conjunction with the Kenyan Wildlife Service throughout the Tsavo Conservation Area.
Members of the Senior Ex Orphans have regularly kept in touch with the Juniors this month, bringing with them on the 7th Yatta’s latest wild recruit, a young bull of about l0 years of age, given the title “Kijana” by the Keepers, as well as other wild friends that are almost always with them. However, “Kijana” and another older wild recruit given the name “Kimethena” by the Keepers, have been regular fixtures this month traveling as an integral part of the Senior Ex Orphan group. Wild elephants regularly intermingle with the Junior Keeper Dependent orphans both at the Stockade water trough and also at their noon mudbath. Wild dogs have visited the Stockade water trough on 3 occasions this month, initially a pack of 4, but later 6.
At the end of the month (30th) hordes of wild elephants were waiting for water at the Stockade trough first thing in the morning, as were all the Ex Orphans, when the 6 very thirsty wild dogs also turned up for a drink, snatching water in between being charged by all the wild elephants as well as the Ex Orphans. Then Kamboyo and Taita tried to see off a thirsty warthog, who also refused to budge without first snatching some water. His expulsion involved the entire Ex Orphaned herd to back up Kamboyo and Taita – a very brave little warthog! Only then did the pig give up, having been able to snatch a few mouthfuls first!
Amongst the Junior boys, Kibo, Kandecha, Kilaguni and Sabachi enjoy the usual regular male Pushing Bouts. Kilaguni has earned the unenviable title of ”greediest Junior elephant” – always first at the milk venue, and on one occasion reprimanded for trying to usurp Kitirua’s rations! Ithumbah and Suguta are the main Junior Matriarchs, supported by Melia and Tumaren. Ithumbah is the most outgoing when mingling with the Senior Ex Orphans and wild herds, but the others are becoming equally as blasé about it as well. All enjoy the company of “Uncle Rafiki:”, and his friends, who often give them the thrill of partaking in the mudbath as well. Unusually, on the 25th when the weather was very chilly. The Junior Matriarchs were undecided about which direction to take in the morning, so the Keepers had to make the decision for them! Normally, it is the elephants themselves that decide where and when they want to leave the Stockades to browse, so this event was worthy of note in this month’s Diary.
Apart from the unfortunate episode involving Kora, and the poaching of 2 wild bulls along the Tiva and a third north of the Tiva river, it has been a happy and action-packed month for the Ithumba elephants.
The Trust has also in conjunction with the Kenyan Wildlife Service increased aerial surveillance and will hopefully help towards keeping all elephants safe in the North and in Tsavo generally, but sadly, the demand in the Far East which is driving poaching everywhere in Africa is beyond our control. No elephants are safe anywhere in Africa, irrespective of their location, as long as ivory is in such demand in China and the Far East. Our orphans have more chance than most because they know where to come for help when needed. However, weak sentences meted out to poaching offenders are no deterrent whatsoever, and until this is addressed by the Judiciary and the Government as a whole, all Kenya’s elephants remain at risk. Yet, I can categorically speak for the elephants by saying that not one of them would exchange their wild life, however fraught it may be, for a life of captivity and life imprisonment. The solution lies with the International Community and CITES to put pressure on the Far Eastern Countries to try and control the demand, for mankind cannot live in isolation from the natural world and that goes for the people of the Far East as well.