The Ithumba orphans remain in 3 distinct groups, the “Youngsters” or “Juniors” are those that are still Keeper Dependent and who return to the Stockades of their own free will each evening and who now number 12 since Rapsu and Challa seem to have made the decision to upgrade themselves from the group and become permanent members of the 2 Senior Keeper Independent groups (known as the “Ex Orphans” or “Seniors”). They now number l8. The Senior group of older orphans is led by “Yatta”, (who has always been the overall Matriarch of the Ithumba elephants), and the Sub Senior Group is led by orphan “Wendi” who was reared in the Nursery from the day she was born. However, it is very obvious that Wendi’s group is still an integral part of Yatta’s older group and of the orphaned “family” as a whole which numbers 30.
Wendi’s group frequently separates from that of Yatta to keep closer contact with the Keeper Dependent Juniors, meeting up with them either at the Stockades first thing in the morning and leading them out into the bush, or joining them at an obviously pre-decided point out in the bush, often thereafter steering them to join Yatta’s group who are waiting for them further afield at another obviously pre-determined meeting place out in the bush, for Wendi knows exactly where to find Yatta’s group. On such occasions it is not unusual for the Seniors to be in the company of wild elephant friends, who browse in amongst them and the Youngsters, and then the Keepers simply keep their distance and trail the herd, obvserving events from a distance. The Youngsters also often join wild elephants at the stockade water trough first thing in the morning after being let out of their Night stockades, or en route as they head out to browse, or at the noon mudbath. There are occasions when they along with the Seniors walk back to the Stockades with them, see them safely in their night stockades, and then leave with the Seniors, be it with Wendi’s group, of that of Yatta, or both groups combined. There have been hardly any days this month when the Seniors have not met up with the Juniors, or when the orphans have not been in the company of wild elephant friends. Wild elephants, when with the orphans, are tolerant of the Keepers who are careful to keep their distance. Sometimes wild elephants join the Seniors in the evening at the Stockade water trough, and leave with them for the night out and sometimes within Wend’s unit will be individuals from Yatta’s group and vice versa. This month Taita left Yatta’s group to be within that of Wendi, who came to collect the Youngsters.
Within Yatta’s Seniors is the young wild bull, who seems to have become a fixture, and has now been given the name “Mgeni” (meaning “Visitor” in Swahili). He is obviously a wild orphan who has been recruited into the Senior gang and now seems to be a permanent member of the herd, sometimes even leading the column to the mudbath venue to meet the Youngsters, or accompanying the Youngsters back in the evening,, walking confidently with the Keepers, frolicking with the Juniors in the mudbath whenever the Seniors happen to meet them there, which this month has been very frequently. This month, one or other of the two Senior groups has been with the Youngsters almost every day, very often both together as one large orphaned herd of now 31 orphaned elephants to include the wild recruit, plus a few transient wild friends who come and go at will and who often make contact with the Seniors at the Stockade water trough.
Because the dry season has set in with vengeance, the April/May rains having almost failed completely, there has been a great deal of wild activity at the Stockade water trough, with wild elephants often patiently waiting by the trough first thing in the morning for the Keepers to turn on the tap again, since others have drained the trough during the night. Wild visitors to the stockade trough this month have included one elephant with just half a trunk, (the rest having obviously been severed by a wire snare); a very rare huge bull with tusks that reach to the ground, and another wild bull probably on death row with an arrow wound in one of its legs. There was a time when huge tuskers were a common sight in Northern Tsavo, especially along the Tiva watercourse, and when if one did not see about three l00 pounders plus in an afternoon’s Game Drive, one could be forgiven for being disappointed! Sadly, those days are now history thanks to the Ivory Trade. The wild herds have only just begun to re-populate the Northern Area of Tsavo, which they abandoned for 30 years due to the poaching holocaust of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. It was only after 6 years of clandestine nocturnal visits to our orphans at the Ithumba Stockades by wild bull elephant scouts that the cow herds have been encouraged to return and that wild elephants again show themselves by the roads in daylight.
A very interesting event occurred on the 6th when the Juniors were joined by both Senior groups whilst browsing at “Kone”, having left their Night Stockades at first light. The entire orphaned herd then moved steadily eastwards, crossing the road that leads towards Umbi, the Juniors ignoring the calls of their Keepers to return when it was obvious that they were venturing too far to be able to return to the milk and mudbath venue on schedule. However, the Youngsters ignored the summons of their Keepers and simply continued on their way, the Keepers trailing them having stopped at the Lesilau waterhole for a bite of lunch. By 5.30 p.m. the Keepers had to turn back in order to reach the Stockades in daylight, leaving all their Stockade Dependent charges in the custody of the two Senior groups led by Yatta and Wendi, with a few wild friends also in attendance, who had joined the herd en route.
Back at the Stockades the Keepers waited anxiously for the return of the Stockade Dependent group, but by midnight they had still not turned up, which left the Keepers even more anxious. Then at 1 a.m., a familiar elephant rumbling greeted the Keepers, and sure enough, much to their relief, there was Makena leading the Juniors back home without the Seniors, Naserian and the other Mini Matriarchs bringing up the rear to ensure that there were no stragglers. Makena is usually the Youngster who leads the way to the milk and mudbath each day, and to have brought the Juniors safely back home in the dark, is obviously now very proficient at finding her way around further afield (Elephants have the same limited night vision as their human counterparts). This long nocturnal journey was a good test of Makena’s prowess in this respect, for the Juniors had never ventured that far from the Stockades before. Makena is just 4 years old – the equivalent of a 4 year old human child!
At first light the next morning, both Senior Groups were waiting outside the Stockade to greet the Youngsters, according to the Keepers “ eager to ensure that the Juniors had returned safely during the night” although, with elephant intuition which remains mysterious to us humans, no doubt they already knew this, having followed their progress closely through either telepathy or infrasound! Perhaps this was simply a learning exercise imposed by the Senior orphans on the Juniers!
The main Matriarch of the Keeper Dependent Juniors is Naserian, who shares this responsibility with the older Junior girls, namely Sian, Loijuk, and sometimes Lualeni or Chyulu. Makena has always been a very smart little girl, a favourite in the Nursery during early infancy, and a favourite amongst our elephant foster-parents, all of whom will be very proud of her prowess with regard to the long nocturnal June journey!