Keepers' Diaries, July 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

In Ithumba, July began with the usual lighthearted drama. In the morning, the orphans were peacefully enjoying their lucerne when Larro suddenly started trumpeting and running towards the bush. Her theatrics drew the attention of the entire herd, who all stopped feeding and followed Larro. Everyone was jockeying to reach her first. When Roho overtook Mukkoka, the older bull grabbed his tail and bit it in retaliation. This caused Roho to yell in indignation, which only added to the drama. We never did find out what Larro was so fussed about!

Sagateisa has become a bit of a headache whenever there are ex-orphans and wild elephants around. She is fiercely independent and is always engineering ways to join them, despite the fact that we don’t feel she is ready to go wild yet. We always marvel at her boldness; she will even join a group of bulls without hesitation, undeterred by their size or stature.

Kuishi seems to be weighing her wild options. Malkia, Sana Sana, Malima, and Rapa recently went wild, but they still like to join up with the dependent orphans and Keepers. During one of their visits, Kuishi had a serious meeting with her friend Malkia, perhaps inquiring what life is like out there in the Tsavo wilderness. 

However, Kuishi’s love for Esoit keeps her anchored to the dependent herd for now — she is absolutely smitten! At three years old, Esoit isn’t a tiny baby anymore, but Kuishi treats him like one. One afternoon, she noticed that the young bull was dawdling and taking his time coming out of the pool. She didn’t want to leave him unsupervised, so she shuffled back into the water to guide him out.

We can’t help but notice that the ex-orphans’ wild-born babies have a certain bravado. Safe in the knowledge that their mothers, nannies, brothers, and sisters will always back them up, they delight in throwing their weight around with the dependent orphans. Little Milo, Melia’s baby, is the worst culprit. He is only nine months old, but he has bags of confidence. One day, Milo started a ruckus by trying to bully Naleku, but he underestimated his opponent. Naleku raised her trunk and pushed him over, which caused Milo to cry out for backup. Melia turned around and warned Naleku by pointing her trunk at her. A petulant Milo took the opportunity to push Naleku in retribution, before scampering off to hide beneath his mother.

Another day, Milo threatened Suguroi simply because his mother was around. The orphan saw right through Milo’s plan and managed to refrain from engaging him. Suguroi walked away, leaving young Milo to think that he had won the match — when really the victor was Suguroi, who had masterfully manoeuvred her way out of a tricky situation!

By contrast, Mutara’s baby, Mambo, remains a fan favourite. His antics are always in the spirit of good fun, so the dependent orphans queue up to play with him. One day, he took on Roho, Naboishu, and then Olorien, all in a wrestling row.

In the wild, young elephant boys tend to hero-worship older bulls, and our orphans are no different. One morning, Lodo confidently joined a big bull at the water trough. They shared a leisurely drink before going their separate ways. Lodo returned to his friends with a marked spring in his step, feeling exuberant after his successful interaction with a role model. Shortly later, another bull appeared for a drink. Inspired by Lodo, Naboishu decided to join him at the water trough, extending his trunk in greeting.

As the dry season continues to bite, lots of wild elephants and ex-orphans have been circling around Ithumba. On many occasions, over a hundred elephants congregated outside the stockades. We love to see how comfortable they feel in our presence. As dawn broke one morning, we found two bulls sleeping comfortably just outside the compound. They had arrived in the dead of the night for a drink, only to find the water troughs empty. However, they knew that they would be refilled first thing in the morning, so they had a kip while they waited. After a good night’s sleep, the water bowser arrived at daybreak and the bulls quenched their thirst. Their satisfaction was visible as they walked back into the wilderness, happily swinging their trunks from side to side.

Dololo is trying to establish himself as a kingpin among his age-mates. He is constantly initiating wrestling matches, eager to demonstrate his strength. Mukkoka, Naboishu, and Ambo are some of his favourite sparring partners.

The orphans get so flustered about wild interlopers, even the most harmless creatures! One afternoon, Kindani spotted a lesser kudu. She charged and trumpeted, trying to scare him away, but the antelope was unperturbed. Bondeni, Roho, Naleku, and Suguroi came over to investigate, and Kindani stretched her trunk, pointing at the antelope. Soon, everyone was involved in the chase. The kudu prudently made himself scarce.

The 10th of July marked the return of Motomo, an adolescent orphan we rescued back in March. Because he was quite old to begin with, he only stayed at Ithumba a short while before going wild. We were thrilled to see him this month, in the company of several wild bulls. Later in the month, he even showed with Dad, who is perhaps the biggest tusker in the northern sector of Tsavo East. It is wonderful that Motomo, who was rescued in such a lonely state, now has the guidance and company of so many friendly senior bulls.

The day after Motomo’s return, we had a visit from another, even older friend: Kilaguni. He had been away for quite some time, so it was wonderful to see him again, looking happy and healthy. Lodo led the welcoming committee, as if he wanted to find out where Kilaguni had been all this time. 

On the 11th of July , an incredible treatment unfolded right outside the Ithumba stockades. The story actually began the previous weekend, when a wild bull with an arrow injury showed up at the water troughs. He moved off a short while later, and despite extensive aerial searches, we were unable to locate him. Then, on the morning of the 11th, he reappeared with ex-orphans Zurura and Kasigau. This time, he stuck around the compound, clearly seeking help. While the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit treated his wound, Zurura remained by his side and observed the whole operation. He stood by until the treatment was over and his friend was safely back on his feet.

For a long time, Melia didn’t have a cemented group. But that seems to be changing. Now, she has a small herd including Kalama, Kandecha, Tusuja, and of course, her rascal baby, Milo.

Later in the month, the wild-born baby drama continued. It stemmed from Esoit, who is shaping up to be quite a tough boy. We wonder if this stems from his limp, and his desire to make sure that no one underestimates him because of it. (His behaviour reminds us of Enkikwe, who is on a mission to prove his strength despite his bad leg.) Lenana’s mischievous boy, Lapa, made the mistake of pushing Esoit. Esoit turned around and tackled Lapa, sending the older boy running for cover. In his haste and frustration, Lapa ran into Olorien and pushed her instead. Olorien, who is also a tough girl, refused to back down. A fierce fight ensued, which only ended when the Keepers intervened.

On the 14th of July, Neshashi decided to go wild. We have known that this moment was on the horizon — Neshashi has been plotting her reintegration from the moment she graduated to Ithumba! When the orphans returned to the stockades in the evening, she chose to remain outside with the ex-orphans and flatly refused to walk into her bedroom. She remained dependent for nearly eight months in Ithumba, but it is clear that she wants to be wild now. We often find this is the case with orphans who were rescued at an older age. The following morning, we were pleased to see Neshashi in the company of Nabulu, Malima, Malkia, Mapia, and Ndiwa — our girl is in good hands.

Ithumba’s newest graduates, the ‘Kaluku Trio,’ are thriving in their new home. Bondeni, Kindani, and Kinyei remain the very best of friends. They do everything together, from sunup to sundown. One night, as the rest of the orphan herd was settling down to sleep, the fun-loving roommates were wide awake, pushing each other around their bedroom. All this playing quickly tuckered them out, and soon the Kaluku Trio were sleeping on the ground, side by side.

Wendi, who is perhaps our most notorious ex-orphan, really is a piece of work. She is known for her wayward parenting style, and true to form, she showed up at the stockades one day without her three kids in tow. Wimbi, Wema, and Wiva arrived a short while later, looking for their mother. To their surprise, they found her relaxing comfortably under a tree, completely concerned about their whereabouts! The Keepers gathered their orphans and left Wendi to sort out issues with her kids. 

Just as it began, the month concluded with a spot of lighthearted drama. On the way to the browsing field, the orphans encountered a warthog. The boys — Bondeni, Lodo, Esoit, Roho, and Naboishu — charged and trumpeted, as they recruited Naleku, Suguroi, and Kindani to support their mission. Clever Sagateisa didn’t bother to join in; she knew that catching the warthog would be impossible, so there was no need to waste her energy running after it. Sure enough, the warthog disappeared quickly, leaving the orphans charging at empty bushes.

July 2023 day to day

01 Jul

The ex-orphans and several wild bulls showed up at the stockade compound this morning. After finishing their milk, the orphans were let out of their night stockades to join them in the lucerne feeding area. Esoit met with baby Siku, who threatened to push Esoit if he didn't get out of the way. She clearly wasn’t in a very amiable mood this morning and Esoit didn't want any problems, so stepped out of the way for Siku to pass. Sagateisa, who has become a bit of a headache for the Keepers whenever there are any ex-orphans and wild elephants around, decided to run after some bulls who had finished at the water trough. The Keepers ran after her and finally caught up with her, standing in front of her to stop her from following the bulls and pointing their fingers back in the direction of her friends. Sagateisa immediately stopped and ran back the other way to join the rest of the Ithumba group!

It was a quiet morning as the orphans settled to browse in the Kone area. Kuishi settled to browse with Esoit and Lodo. Sattao, Musiara and Ambo browsed a distance away from their friends. Jotto decided to have fun rolling on the ground and resumed browsing when he had enough of playing. At mud bath time, Larro led the way, followed by Naboishu. After finishing their bottles, the orphans went to drink water and thereafter returned to the browsing field without swimming today. Roho teamed up with Naleku while Larro settled to browse with Esoit. The rest of the day was quiet as the orphans browsed calmly and quietly.

Siku threatening to push Esoit

Kuishi browsing with Esoit and Lodo

Roho and Naleku browsing on Kone Hill