The seasons in Kenya usually follow a pattern of rain in May and then a cold spell for July and August. Despite being marked by a drop in temperature, usually July and August are not particular wet and this year is no exception. Unfortunately the northern area of the Tsavo ecosystem did not receive enough rainfall during the rainy season and the habitat is drying out rapidly, with much of the waterholes dry. As the green vegetation decreases the orphans have to utilize more of their time browsing which leaves less time for socializing and play. The food resources are limited so the orphaned elephants have to travel further and further to find food and water. Each elephant interacts much less during this time of year than in the greener seasons, but its important they learn how to cope in the dryer conditions before they become fully independent. In many ways it’s fortunate that they learn how to adapt to the ever changing environment under the keepers care as they have access to plenty of supplements and extra food when needed.
The wild elephants are also flocking to the areas around the stockades due to the water that is present for the orphans. The Ithumba stockade water trough is frequented day and night by the ex-orphan herd, as well as a number of wild elephants, and all together they are consuming 20,000 liters of water a day. On some days this month stockade has been visited by over 100 elephants at a time and the keepers continue to welcome familiar faces, such as the old bull “Half Trunk”, but also lots of new wild individuals they have never seen before. Obviously “bush telegraph” has reached far and wide.
Elephants aren’t the only visitors at the water trough or mud bath hour. The wild dogs often stop by the stockade water trough and warthogs are always present at the mud bath. The elephants just love to chase these warthogs, particularly Turkwel and Vuria who will charge them flat out, sending the long suffering warthogs hurtling back into the bush.
The Ithumba orphans are never short of wild companions and the big bulls often draw the most attention. These magnificent giants seem to fascinate the little ones and all the orphans are curious to meet any big bulls that pass by apparently with huge hero worships on these magnificent role models. Juniors Laragai, Bomani and Shukuru have all been brave enough to approach the wild bulls and sniff them with their trunks, but out of respect will always move out of the way to let them pass. Garzi, Teleki and Orwa have wanted to greet bulls at the mud hole or in the stockade but are quite unsure and often just stand in awe watching them. Ziwa, however, is not at all worried and his nonchalant attitude often gives the others confidence. He is quite happy to saunter into their midst and he is always well tolerated.
The wild elephants seem to enjoy the juniors company even at the mud bath and sometimes intermingle with the orphan herd for some time. Laragai and Bongo have even been brave enough to wallow with a huge wild bull and one day Kibo, Murka, Suguta, Kalama, Olare and Shukuru opted to have a mud bath in between two wild elephants. This was a thrilling experience for them.
Like for the Voi Orphans young wild babies are a source of much entertainment for our orphan herd as they love to play with their wild counterparts. On one day a wild baby joined the juniors feeding on their Lucerne and even started a pushing game with Orwa. Orwa pushed the baby so hard that the baby screamed. Luckily, Sidai and Lenana were nearby and came to the rescue. These two females are now 10 years old and know that any rough play with an infant could provoke its family to come to protect it. They sensibly quickly escorted the baby back to its mother before Orwa found himself in serious trouble.
The Ithumba orphans have a daily routine which they understand and respect. They have their milk in the stockades in the morning and then are let out to feed on Lucerne. After they have had their fill they head to the browsing fields; Kone, Kanziku, Kalovoto or Ithumba Hill with Mutara often in the lead. At 11 o’clock they go to the mud bath area for milk, water and a splash in the wallow if the weather permits. There is also lots of fresh red soil for them to dry off or play with if they so wish. After this they return to the browsing fields for the now serious business of dry season feeding, and then have another milk bottle once back safety at the stockades stockade before nightfall.
With the increasingly chilly weather very few orphans have had mud baths this month. The water baby Bongo is often the only one to enjoy a good wallow with his new water loving friend Teleki. Bongo and Teleki are often the last ones to leave the mud bath. Laragai and Mutara also enjoy a good wallow and on the occasional hot day these four are joined by Kainuk, Kanjoro, Turkwel, Shukuru and Narok. On the other hand Bomani, Garzi, Kandecha, Kasigau, Kilibasi, Laragai, Makireti, Orwa, Sities, Vuria and Ziwa are much more content with a good dust bath or a roll in the rich red soil rather than a play in cold muddy water.
Orwa, Shukuru, Vuria, Garzi Bomani and Mutara have also taken to scratching on rocks at mud bath, a much warmer activity on a cold day. Rock and tree scratching is another favourite pastime for most elephants when they are not busy browsing. This gets rid of unwanted ticks too. Shukuru and Orwa love to scratch so much they will even find the last acacia tree in the stockade compound to rub against.
The recent newcomers that arrived in May/June at the Ithumba stockade are doing well. Vuria in particular has settled in remarkable quickly and has become an incredibly affectionate elephant who loves to spend time giving love to his keepers and Ithumba visitors. Vuria enjoys a good sparring session and despite being much younger it was interesting to see him challenge Kilaguni, a much older orphan, who warned Vuria by pointing his trunk at him. When Kilaguni turned Vuria pushed him from behind and then ran away.
Vuria also wanted to challenge older bulls Bongo and Kibo, but was warned by both not to come close. He finally got to play a pushing game with Orwa, but was defeated by him as he too is a year older than him. Amazingly enough, Vuria even tried to block Sabachi from getting into the stockade one morning and the keepers had to intervene.
Sabachi seems to be doing much better this month and is back out with Suguta’s group, only returning when he needs some extra milk. Kilaguni remains a concern with his usual problem of not being able to pass stools satisfactorily in the dry season due to his anus being so badly mauled when he was orphaned by hyenas. He has molasses in his milk bottle and does have laxatives available for bad days.
The fact that Kilaguni does not have a tail has definitely had a psychological impact, and he tends to spend much time alone, despite being absolutely loved by all the ex orphans who positively maul him whenever he is in their company. They shower him with much love and attention which he basks in for a short time, but more often than not chooses to wander off on his own again, seemingly content. He knows he requires preferential treatment in the dry seasons and clocks in religiously for his molasses feed.
Unfortunately it has been poor Ziwa who has been unwell this month. Ziwa seems to be a naturally slow elephant that likes to move along at his own leisurely pace, but he looked even slower than usual one day so received a course of antibiotics. He quickly perked back up and both Galana and Sunyei came to check on him, regularly to ensure he was improving.
Ziwa has become well known as the slowest elephant and always walks at the back of all the orphans. Ziwa was rescued from Amboseli in January this year. He obviously still remembers clearly what it is like to live in a large wild herd with many individuals of all ages and as soon as he is weaned off milk there is no doubt he will quickly make the transition to a wild life happily.
Ziwa doesn’t seem to have strong bonds with the other Nursery orphans, maybe because he has only been with the orphan herd a few months and the others have known each other for years. He has even tried to leave with the wild herds on more than one occasion, but the keepers quickly retrieve him as he is still very much milk dependent.
Teleki and Orwa have remained good friends after spending so many years at the Nairobi nursery together and they can often been found walking side by side as they searched for vegetation. If Teleki isn’t browsing or playing with Orwa he is often feeding with Vuria. Bomani, Garzi, and Vuria also spend a lot of time browsing together. Kainuk has also started making friends with Teleki and they have on occasion separated to browse away from the others. Usually Kainuk browses close to her friend Turkwel since they moved to Ithumba together in April last year.
Bomani, Orwa, Teleki, Vuria, Ziwa and Garzi do seem to orientate away from the main herd and form their own little group. Sities seems very interested in them and follows their little group to make them feel welcome and even played with Orwa one day.
One day, Bongo caused quite a stir when he took the Nursery Orphan group off into the bush alone and it took the keepers over 40 minutes to locate them all to round them up again. These juniors all remain milk dependent and still vulnerable to predators. Older individuals such as Kanjoro and Mutara are making this next vital step. And often browse some meters away from the rest and in the evening are becoming more reluctant to return to the stockades. It appear the two might join Makireti and cross over to Suguta’s group partially independent group.
A few of the older orphans, including Tomboi and Suguta’s group, consisting of Suguta, Chaimu, Chemi Chemi, Ishanga, Kalama, Kamboyo, Kandecha, Kasigau, Kibo, Kilabasi, Kilaguni, Kitirua, Makireti, Melia, Murka, Naisula, Olare, Sabachi and Tumaren have been sleeping outside the stockade or showing up at dawn in order to share the water trough and the Lucerne.
Yatta group; Yatta and Yetu, Challa, Chyulu, Galana, Ithumbah, Kina, Meibai, Naserian, Sidai, Taita and Wendi as well as Mulika’s group; Mulika and Mwende, Buchuma Kora, Lenana, Loijuk, Makena, Nasalot, Rapsu, Sunyei, Tomboi and Zurura, along with various wild elephants, have joined the juniors in the evening at the stockade numerous times throughout the month.
Amazingly and much to the surprise of the keepers Mwende and Yetu, Mulika and Yatta’s wild born infants, came for water at the stockade in the company of six wild elephants and it wasn’t until later that the ex-orphans joined them.
These socializing times between the older orphans and the younger orphans are so important as they prepare them for their eventual transition into the wild. All of our orphans choose when they are ready to leave the safety of the stockade at night, just as Makireti has done and Kanjoro and Mutara are about to do, another step as they find their independence. The process is slow, and takes years, and as with our ex orphans at Ithumba they still remain in close touch with their keepers and orphan friends and much later even share the joy of their wild born babies.