Ithumba Reintegration Unit
The month began with some auspicious visitors. First, a wild herd, led by a matriarch we refer to as ‘Queen,’ arrived at dawn. It was almost as if they had a prearranged breakfast date with the Ithumba orphans; they waited nearby until the orphans were let out of their bedrooms, then everyone calmly feasted on lucerne together. After she was satisfied that everyone had their fill, ‘Queen’ led her herd off into the bush.
That same evening, the wild bull we call ‘Dad’ showed up with 30 friends. The orphans, who are always delighted to be in the company of such an impressive group, stole covert glances at the bulls as they headed into their bedrooms. Perhaps aspiring to be big, independent bulls like ‘Dad,’ Enkikwe, Sapalan, Ambo, and Karisa peeled away from the dependent herd and came home in their own time.
Musiara is becoming quite the comedian. Whenever he feels the herd needs to liven up, he starts acting out. One afternoon, he sauntered innocently away from the group. As soon as he was just out of sight, he began trumpeting, as if trying to scare an enemy away. His theatrics sent Kuishi, Esampu, Sana Sana, Pare, and Jotto running towards him with a chorus of trumpets, eager to protect Musiara. When Musiara heard his friends, he was overcome with delight and hurried to meet them. The others were confused to find Musiara was running back, as they hadn’t yet assisted him in vanquishing the mystery culprit! Looking quite smug, Musiara resumed browsing, while his friends wondered why they had fallen for another one of his pranks.
The ex-orphans’ wild babies are turning out to be quite mischievous in their own right. One day, Kinna’s daughter Kama fell afoul of the dependent herd when she rudely pushed Esampu. Mteto, Maramoja, Ndiwa, and Sana Sana banded together to defend Esampu’s honour and managed to drive Kama away.
Another day, Malkia had a disagreement with Wiva that ended in a pushing match. Mundusi and Pare teamed up with Malkia to conquer the wild-born baby. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much time to savour a victory, as Wiva pulled her trump card. She ran back to her mother, ex-orphan Wendi, who is a notoriously temperamental elephant. Knowing Wendi’s ways, the orphans dared not get too close and conceded defeat to Wiva!
In fact, even fully grown elephants are leery of Wendi. Whenever they saw her and her group around Ithumba, Mutara’s ex-orphan herd gave them a wide berth, remembering all too well what Wendi did to Turkwel and Mambo! (Last month, Wendi pushed Turkwel, who fell onto Mambo, creating a big drama in the process.) As some of the Keepers have remarked, Mutara and Wendi’s herds have become like oil and water; they simply don’t mix, even if you put them together.
Dololo has his own axe to grind with Mutara’s herd. He was long the favourite of Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, and Kainuk, but they dumped him the moment Mutara gave birth to Mambo. Arguably, this was a blessing for Dololo, as the girls could be rather suffocating. Now, he is able to hang out with the ‘late-night gang,’ a group of older and more independent orphans. Dololo is a very friendly, adventurous bull, so he seizes any opportunity to explore his independence. The ‘late-night gang’ — nicknamed as such because of their penchant for coming home long after the rest of the herd have gone to bed — are good friends to him. After a day of adventuring, they dutifully escort Dololo back to the stockades, clearly realising he is still quite young and needs to sleep in his bedroom.
Larro, Mukkoka, and Naboishu have now spent the better part of the year as Ithumba residents. Larro has emerged as an excellent group leader, shepherding the orphans from one activity to the next. Although she is one of the youngest members of the herd, the others listen to her. When she rumbles, it is a clear signal that she is ready to go. Usually, either Naboishu or Mukkoka come over and walk alongside her. Before long, the entire herd is hurrying to catch up.
The highlight of the month unfolded on the 12th. Walking back towards the stockades, the Keepers were met with the most wonderful surprise: ex-orphan Ithumbah, with a newborn baby in tow! She had been around the stockades the night before, still heavily pregnant, so she must have given birth in the early hours. We were incredibly honoured that she chose to share this moment with us. The Keepers remarked how strong her little girl was, even at just a few hours old. We are calling her Iman. Iman has the distinction of being the 50th known baby (for there are likely more who we haven’t been introduced to) born to an orphan that we have rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild.
Ithumbah is a first-time mum, but she is proving to be a quick study. With so many wild visitors congregating around the Ithumba stockades at night, the Keepers could tell she was getting overwhelmed. They created a quiet place behind the stockades where she could enjoy some lucerne and relax with her baby. The system seemed to work perfectly, as Ithumbah and Iman continued to return to their ‘special spot.’ Later in the month, we were happy to see ex-orphan Makena spending lots of time with mum and baby. At 16 years old, Makena is three years Ithumbah’s senior. Although she is not a mother herself — she tragically lost her firstborn last September — she has lots of wisdom and nannying experience to share.
Many of our dependent orphans are busy honing their own nannying skills. Ndiwa has become smitten with little Naboishu and often takes him on day-long browsing dates. Maramoja, Esampu, Ndiwa, and Mteto are obsessed with the ex-orphans’ babies and are constantly vying to spend time with them. They often spend the entire day playing nanny, until the ex-orphans escort them home in the evening. Malkia is particularly enchanted with Mutara’s baby, Mambo. His actual nannies, Turkwel, Sities, and Suguta, generously welcome the wannabe-nanny into their group.
Despite the prevailing drought, it is quite cold in Tsavo. On chilly days, the orphans avoided the mud bath entirely. One afternoon, Kuishi looked like she wanted to get into the water, but none of her friends wanted to accompany her, so she just splashed a little mud on herself. Another day, Mapia and Sapalan spent the whole morning wrestling. The Keepers thought they might be playing so intently to keep warm!
Esampu’s campaign against the buffaloes continues. One afternoon, she spotted a pair down at the water trough and decided to scare them away by trumpeting. The buffaloes left the area simply because they had finished drinking, but Esampu felt very pleased with herself, as she believed she had single-handedly managed to chase the interlopers away!
On the 24th, Kithaka showed up with a swollen hind leg, limping badly. The Keepers put him in a stockade with lots of lucerne and pellets, so he could convalesce in peace. He has subsequently been attended to by a vet. Without the ability to x-ray in an area as remote as Ithumba, we are none the wiser as to what caused his injury. We hope that with anti-inflammatories and plenty of rest, he will begin to improve.
Because of her mercurial nature, no one wants to cross Kamok — but she may have met her match! One day, she attempted to bully Wema, who is Wendi’s youngest daughter. Just as Wiva did earlier in the month, Wema ran over to her mother for protection. Uncharacteristically, Kamok backed down, lest she incite Wendi’s wrath. Wendi pointed her trunk at Kamok, as if putting the younger girl on notice. Perhaps it will be Wendi who finally puts Kamok in her place!