An immense sadness for all the Ithumba Keepers, ourselves and all the Ithumba orphaned elephants, those still Keeper Dependent under the Matriarch-ship of Loijuk as well as those now living wild led by Yatta with a Splinter Group led by Wendi, has been the death of 5 year old Sian on the 26th June. Sian had been unwell for a long time, steadily growing thinner and weaker for no reason that was obviously apparent. When she collapsed and could not get up prior to dying, it was very touching that Loijuk did not want to leave her side, even though the rest of her group were being escorted out. A post mortem examination revealed that Sian had an under developed left lung which was obviously a birth defect. As she grew, the one lung could not provide sufficient oxygen to her blood and that compromised the health of her kidneys and other major organs as well. Sian, like Mweiga of the Voi Unit, whose heart gave in when she was l0, was not destined to make old bones. However, there is consolation in knowing that there was nothing we could have done to save her and that in early childhood until her health failed, she enjoyed a carefree and happy life that would otherwise have been denied her had she not been found as an orphan.
Loijuk along with the young bull Zurura were quite obviously acutely aware of Sian’s frailty and lavished upon her their special attention and care at all times. One or other, or both were never far from her side, feeding close to her, remaining behind with her when she trailed the group, and constantly comforting her with the tender touch of their trunks. Likewise, all the Ex Orphans also always paid her particular attention whenever they met up with her, each and every concerned for her and demonstrating that concern in a tender and loving way. And so, this frail orphan enjoyed 5 years of an outpouring of both elephant and human compassion and died surrounded by love. Rest in Peace Sian and know that you will live on in both the hearts of your elephant and human families forever.
The transfer to Ithumba of Nursery orphans, Kilaguni, Chaimu and Sabachi on the 7th June was, as usual, mysteriously anticipated by all the Ithumba elephants ahead of time, in that mystical elephant perception we have noticed and recorded over the years. The Ex orphaned groups led by Yatta and Wendi turned up at the Stockades the evening before and spent time at the Stockade Compound which, in itself, was not an unusual occurrence, but very early the next morning Kinna and Kenze left the Senior Group to join Loijuk’s Keeper Dependent Group who remained close to the Compound prior to the arrival of the three newcomers. Then 20 minutes ahead of the anticipated arrival time of 11 a.m., Rapsu, Buchuma, Taita and Yatta’s wild recruit named “Mgeni” arrived in time to greet the newcomers! How the orphans predict such events leaves us humans baffled, but they do, of that we are convinced!
It was all a little overwhelming for Kilaguni, Chaimu and Sabachi to suddenly find themselves enveloped by so many larger elephant strangers, all vying with one another to get closest to them and lay a trunk lovingly over them. Only Meibai could have recognized them having spent a brief time with them in the Nursery before he himself was transferred to Ithumba along with Enesoit and Naimina earlier in the year. That same afternoon all the remaining Ex Orphans arrived en masse escorted by both Yatta and Wendi when the Keepers had a difficult time trying to keep tabs on the three new babies in the midst of 34 very large excited elephants all welcoming the new arrivals exuberantly amongst whom was wild boy “Mgeni”, now an integral part of the Orphaned herd and perfectly at home in the company of the Keepers and human onlookers alike!
Nasalot took an instant shine to little Kilaguni, and this has not waned throughout the month. She has chosen him as her favourite as, indeed, have all the older females, Loijuk included. Kilaguni has been a favourite amongst his human family as well, being a very gentle and sensitive little elephant who captures human hearts as well as those of other elephants. Throughout the month Nasalot has hardly skipped a day when she has not turned up to be with Kilaguni, sometimes accompanied by Kinna, instantly taking him over from Loijuk, “kissing” him by putting her trunk in his mouth, and accepting his in her mouth, escorting him to his milk bottles and standing beside him whilst he downs them, then shepherding him into the “pool” at noon and remaining close beside him to ensure he is in no danger. The Ex orphans have been joining up with Loijuk’s Juniors almost every day, either meeting them in the morning as soon as they are let out of their Night Stockades, or joining them at the mudbath to spend the afternoon with them and escort them back in the evening. Likewise Yatta and the rest of her group have also been very attentive, spending quality time with the Youngsters. On several occasions a bull older than wild boy Mgeni has also been with Yatta and the Ex Orphans, probably a friend of Mgeni’s.
On the 21st Wendi brought her Splinter Group to join the Youngsters at the mudbath when Naserian and Galana took over the care of the newcomers, also focusing most on Kilaguni. Loijuk is very aware of the “snatching baby” syndrome prevalent among female elephants, and is not comfortable when the older females pay too much attention to the new babies in her group. An interesting event occurred on the 27th when Naserian, accompanied by Kora, Lualeni and Challa came to join the Juniors and later Naserian ad those with her surreptitiously managed to sneak away from Loijuk taking Meibai and Sabachi off with them. It was Loijuk who first noticed their absence, and by rumbling and charging around alerted the Keepers that something was amiss. The Keepers then trailed Naserian’s group and caught up with them heading towards the Kalovoto seasonal river - a favourite feeding place of all the Ex Orphans. Naserian was unhappy to have the two new babies taken from her and followed the Keepers and them back to the Stockades rumbling and then stood for a long time looking through the wire at them before leaving when darkness took hold.
Meibai, hitherto the smallest “baby” at the Ithumba Stockades, and as such the darling of all the bigger girls has not enjoyed having his privileged position usurped by Kilaguni, Sabachi and Chaimu and has been wanting to show them who is “boss” by continually trying to mount onto them. During their first night in the Stockade he had to be moved from their Stockade into the one next door, and Loijuk and Keeper Mischak brought in to console them because (said Mischak) Kilaguni was missing his Nursery blanket! However, Kinna, who has long been a disciplinarian put Meibai firmly in his place for trying to mount Kilaguni at the mudbath, driving the offender off to spend “time out” as a punishment! He and Sabachi, both inclined to be “pushy boys”, seem to be forging a close friendship in view of the fact that they went together for a wild outing with Naserian who had probably been detailed to go and fetch them by the Senior Group she would have joined at the Kalovoto watercourse. Meibai has long been very comfortable with the Seniors, always anxious to be “taught” new pushing skills by the bigger boys whom he engages in endless Shoving Matches which he is allowed to win. The Keepers speculate that he will join the Seniors sooner rather than later and possibly even before the age of 5..
An interesting encounter took place on the 4th when a familiar large wild bull took control of the Junior orphans as soon as they emerged from their Night Stockades, and did not want to relinquish them to their Keepers, charging the Keepers every time they approached to try and reclaim their group. Possibly it was that same wild bull who paid a lot of attention to the three small babies when he met up with them again at the noon mudbath venue, standing very close to all three as though “teaching” them (according to the Keepers). It was unusual that the three small calves were not at all daunted by the close proximity of that very large wild bull which would suggest that his body language and talk was very friendly.
By month end all three Ithumba newcomers were very much at home in their new environment, learning new skills from loijuk, emulating her in picking dry seed pods off the Acacia trees, being taken around the different elephant trails around the Stockades, and being loved by all the Big Girls, especially Nasalot, and introduced to wild elephant friends. But for the death of Sian, it has been a very happy and rewarding month for all the Ithumba orphans. We are relieved for closure on the sad Sian saga that has been such a headache for so long, knowing that now all her problems are over.