Keepers' Diaries, July 2018

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Many wild elephants have been visiting the stockade this month as the northern area of Tsavo and around Ithumba is fast drying out. This time of year is typically cloudy, chilly and dry in Tsavo but they have been experiencing some warm days as well. As the water holes across Northern Tsavo East shrink, more and more wild elephants visit the permanent water pools around Ithumba, fed from boreholes and our water bowsers. Our graduate orphans have stayed very much in the area as well, visiting the stockades and the dependent orphans regularly.

After a period of absence, we have heard the lions roaring in the area again which brought Laragai and her team of ‘rebels’ closer to the Keepers and the dependent orphans as well, where they knew they would be safe. Each night they would return to the stockade compound in their own time with the temptation of a milk bottle, and would be locked into their own stockade to prevent Laragai from breaking them out in the middle of the night. We are pleased with the progress that Enkikwe has made so far, following the lion attack earlier in the year. It is clear he will probably have a limp, perhaps forever considering the damage caused to his knee ligaments and tendons, but we are confident he is on the road to a full recovery, managing to steer clear of the infection we were so worried about from a lion wound. The Keepers diligent care and attention, treating Enkikwe each morning whilst he stands patiently to receive his treatment, fully aware that the Keepers are helping him, is undoubtedly the reason behind this. His friends Siangiki and Olsekki still browse diligently by his side out in the bush, and he is obviously just delighted to be able to keep up with his friends each day out in the browsing fields.

Sadly, Mutara’s herd arrived at the stockades on the 25th with Turkwel bearing lion claw marks at the top of her tail and around her ankles; this unnaturally aggressive pride of lions had made yet another attempted attack on one of our young sub-adult elephants. She was led willingly into a stockade where her seemingly painful but fairly innocuous wounds were attended to, but unfortunately 2 days later she broke out of the stockade through the wires and re-joined her herd later in the day. There was nothing the Keepers could do to entice her home, and she stayed out with her independent herd for a couple of weeks without returning. By the time the Keepers did encounter Mutara’s group again when they chose to visit the stockades, Turkwel’s tail had become infected and Dr. Poghon from the Tsavo Veterinary Unit was flown to Ithumba and had to immobilise her to treat the injuries, and sadly amputate her tail in order to stop the infection spreading. She is convalescing in the stockades until she finishes a course of antibiotics, but she is reluctant to cooperate and is trying to break out again to join her friends. We have been raising elephants in Tsavo since the 1950’s and never have we come across a pride of lions so focused on systematically targeting the orphans. This is a very worrying trend, as Turkwel is nine years old and not a small elephant. Our Ithumba Relocation Unit is now 18 years old, and while there are many lions in the area we have never experienced these challenges in Ithumba before. This is a new pride that has recently arrived in the area, large bold lions first sighted in November 2017 and it is this one pride that has caused us these grave problems.

In more positive news, Esampu, Mteto and Mundusi continue to settle well into their new home. They are so content it is hard to believe they went through the trauma of losing their own families, were raised in a Nursery with a surrogate human family, before finally arriving here. They are so at home, so comfortable within the wild herds, and so very exuberant about life. They are wonderful positive examples of the success of the program. With all the wild elephants around they have been awe-struck by their presence, but not daunted despite the size of the wild elephant bulls who are so very gentle around them. Esampu also seems to have forged the most unlikely alliance, with none other than the hot-tempered Ukame! She has been trying very hard to build a friendship there and it is nice to see Ukame treating Esampu so nicely in return as well. Mundusi has been learning some new tricks from the older orphans and on the warm days when the orphans are inclined to mud bath he has enjoyed climbing on the backs of the others whilst they are all in the water. The naughty ones adore doing this to their friends because it is so much easier to climb on them in the water than on land, and of course the victims cannot immediately retaliate! Of course the exception to the water loving babies remains Kauro, whose early traumatic experience of falling down a well which caused him to lose his family forever, has made him adverse to any mud bath antics.

It is clear that Sapalan is feeling increasingly independent these days; sometimes he is very much content just browsing on his own, so much so he gets left behind when the others walk to another area, and he doesn’t panic at being left on his own at all; on other occasions he dodges his friends and the Keepers altogether, to wander off with one of the independent herds. In April he spent time with Mutara’s herd and this month he was with Yatta’s herd. Mutara’s herd had brought Sapalan back in the evening, knowing he was too immature for a life in the wild just yet, but this time he went with Yatta’s herd for the night, only to be found deposited the next morning at the stockades and welcomed by the vigilant and attentive Laragai as the dependent herd were enjoying their lucerne grass supplements. He re-joined the dependent herd without fanfare, but it is clear that he is yearning for the day he is old enough to be wild once more. We were delighted to see graduate bull Tomboi again, as he had been away for several months.

July 2018 day to day

01 Jul

The independent Sapalan who weaned himself off from milk the moment he arrived at Ithumba, left the stockade with a branch in his mouth that he continued to enjoy feeding on as he waited for lucerne supplements. Karisa walked to the nearby rocks and kept himself busy by scratching his buttocks while Galla conversed with Naseku. Shortly later, Laragai rumbled, signaling her team of rebels that it was time to hit the road and go and browse while looking for their other graduate orphan friends. Kithaka followed immediately and the rest followed suit. It was a quiet morning in the bush as the orphans settled to browse in Kanziku area. Esampu teamed up with Maramoja as she tried to learn some survival tactics. At mud bath time, the orphans were joined by all the senior graduate orphans including Yatta, baby Yoyo, Yetu, Kinna, baby Kama, Wendi, baby Wiva, Mulika, Mwende, Naserian, Bongo, Teleki, Zurura, Chyulu, Makena, Sunyei, baby Siku, Nasalot, baby Nusu, Sidai, Narok, Vuria, Ololoo, Lualeni, Kilabasi and Olare’s group and four wild bulls. The atmosphere was tense as the wild elephant’s, Yatta, Kinna, Mulika, Sidai and Chyulu were grumpy and everyone kept away from them. It appears that something had affected them or they had an encounter with a bad experience as they had been missing for some time. Yoyo and Wiva had torn ears that have healed while Narok had lost her right tusk. The commotion was so much at mud bath that the dependent orphans called it quits early, before they could fully enjoy the mud bath. Baby Yoyo was also grumpy as he tried to attack Tusuja who responded by knocking him to the ground and thereafter left immediately fearing the consequences he might face if caught by Yoyo's nannies, and more, his mother Yatta! Makena, who appears to be the main nanny in charge, came running and picked Yoyo up and walked away as Siku followed them. Makena relaxed with Yoyo and Siku under a tree for some time before leading them to their respective mothers so as to nurse. Despite the atmosphere being tense, Olare and Chyulu didn't forget to check on Enkikwe's progress. The orphans headed to Kone for the afternoon and the graduate orphans walked away. Narok decided to stick with the dependent babies as she had been away for so long and she had missed them. Despite losing her tusk, Narok didn't let that become a hindrance and she seemed to be fine.

Naseku and Galla

Laragai and Kithaka

Yoyo and Yatta