Keepers' Diaries, June 2008

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The arrival of Makena, Chyulu and Lenana at Ithumba was the highlight of the month for the Ithumba elephants, and especially those who had “mothered” them in the Nursery when they were very young, namely Naserian, Lualeni, Loijuk and, more recently, Sian who used to share a night stockade with Chyulu following the departure of Lualeni. Recognition was instant, and the joy and delight of the older elephants palpable. Sian immediately firmly attached herself to Chyulu’s side while Makena was busy with Naserian and Lualeni, both of whom adored her and viewed her as “theirs” during their Nursery time. Lenana, who came into the Nursery older and also near dead from milk deprivation, spent her early Nursery period concentrating on simply recovering, but she ended up the main Nursery Matriarch.

The arrival of Makena, Chyulu and Lenana at Ithumba was the highlight of the month for the Ithumba elephants, and especially those who had “mothered” them in the Nursery when they were very young, namely Naserian, Lualeni, Loijuk and, more recently, Sian who used to share a night stockade with Chyulu following the departure of Lualeni. Recognition was instant, and the joy and delight of the older elephants palpable. Sian immediately firmly attached herself to Chyulu’s side while Makena was busy with Naserian and Lualeni, both of whom adored her and viewed her as “theirs” during their Nursery time. Lenana, who came into the Nursery older and also near dead from milk deprivation, spent her early Nursery period concentrating on simply recovering, but she ended up the main Nursery Matriarch.

Having settled in at Ithumba, the three newcomers undertook their first foray out into the bush that afternoon to browse. On the way back in the evening, the orphans met up with 4 large wild bulls who were near the Stockades, and who often come during the night to take a drink and “talk” to the orphans in their Night Stockades. After an absence of 30 years ,(due to the poaching of the late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s), the wild elephant community is now back in the North in numbers, the cow herds having been encouraged to return by the bull scouts, who have been observing our orphans under cover of darkness for the past 6 years, and who have been making contact more recently during the hours of daylight as well, especially when the older orphans split from the youngsters, to travel further afield without the deterrent of their human Keepers. However, since the arrival of the three newcomers on the 16th, the older elephants have remained with the main herd, keeping a close eye on the newcomers. It has been Loijuk who has taken them under her wing, and been glued to them ever since their arrival, following them wherever they go. Towards the end of the month the three newcomers, accompanied by Loijuk, were leading the herd out in the mornings, testimony to how comfortable they now are at Ithumba.

To begin with, they felt the heat, and resorted to drawing out stomach water to spray behind their ears to cool themselves down, eager to take a mudbath even when all the others decided it was not warm enough to go in.

It is extremely exciting that the wild elephants in the North are now back in numbers, and even now fraternizing with the orphans during the daylight hours, and with their Keepers nearby. On the 2nd a large wild one tusked bull arrived to take a mudbath as the orphans were dusting themselves close by, and unperturbed by the proximity of the Keepers seated taking their lunch beneath a nearby tree. Rapsu was brave enough to approach the stranger, but lost his nerve when the huge bull turned to take a closer look at him! On the 11th Yatta and the older elephants returned to the Night Stockades with a wild bull friend who took water at the trough with Buchuma and Napasha with Yatta, Mulika and Kinna just a pace or two away. After about l0 minutes the wild bull left, followed by the older elephants, who returned without him later to spend the night in the Stockades as usual. On the 13th another wild bull passed close by to where the orphans were feeding, enjoyed drinking from the water drums at the mudbath and eventually headed off towards the Imenti waterhole. And a day later, on the 14th 2 large wild bulls turned up to drink from the Stockade water trough at 7.30 p.m. and rumbled to the orphans who were in their Stockades, relaxing in the Stockade compound for several hours lit by a full moon. On the l9th a lone bull arrived to take a drink from the Stockade trough, and also spent a long time at the compound “chatting” to the orphans.

We believe that it would not be wrong to surmise that it is the presence of our orphaned elephants in the Northern Area of Tsavo that has brought that vast area of the Park back to life, having lain almost dormant for the past 30 years due to the absence of wild elephant herds to seal the natural waterholes so that they hold water longer throughout the long dry seasons in an extremely arid environment; dig in the sand-rivers and expose water that other species can utilize, blaze the trails through the dense thorny thickets which smaller animals can use, and open up dense unproductive Commiphora woodland so that perennial grasses, shrubs and herbs can take root, just as they did in the South of the Park, turning what was once an unproductive Park into Kenya’s top revenue earner today.

As usual, Kora features prominently in the June Diary, seemingly the one who indulges in most pushing matches, although Old Nursery rivals, Kamboyo and Zurura come a close second in this respect. Kora found himself in trouble on the 9th expelled by Yatta and Mulika to spend “time out” for trying to mount onto Loijuk. He was again unpopular when one of the new babies bellowed as he tried to take her place under shade. This time it was Nasalot who sent him off to spend “time out”! Then when Zurura bellowed when Challa inadvertently stepped on his trunk during a dusting exercise, all 4 Big Girls, Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna rushed to comfort him, touching his mouth gently with their trunks, but on this occasion did not punish Challa obviously understanding that it was an accidental rather than a deliberate act.

June 2008 day to day

01 Jun

The orphans greeted the new day in a joyful mood, expressed through the swinging of trunks as they emerged from their Night Stockades. After taking water the usual Stockade activities took place; Rapsu rubbing his bottom against the water trough sides, Kamboyo and Zurura, old pushing partners, engaged one another in a test of strength while others took a soil bath. The orphans browsed until noon and it was time for the milk venue and mudbath.

Zurura browsing

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