Still Keeper Dependent at the Ithumba Stockades are young Ex Nursery bulls Sabachi, Kilaguni, Kandecha, Chemi Chemi, Ololoo, Kasigau, and Kanjoro along with females Chaimu, Suguta, Tumaren, Murka, Olare, Kitirua, Naisula, Kalama, Melia, Ishanga, Makireti, Kilabasi, Mutara, Shukuru, Turkwel, Kainuk and Sities. Only the last 14 of these are still on milk; all the rest now weaned off milk and poised to join the Ex Orphan herd when they feel sufficiently confident to do so, at a time of their own choosing. Of the older Keeper Dependent group only Sabachi, who is somewhat stunted for his age, still enjoys 1 bottle of special formula three times a day to try and boost his growth, but all the other Keeper Dependent Elephants are doing fine, the young bulls enjoying Pushing Tests of Strength in between browsing sessions, Kanjoro upgraded recently to the Ithumba Unit, known as the Youngster with the “attitude” that singled him out whilst at the Nursery! He is bolder than his peers, thinking nothing of squeezing in amongst a host of enormous wild Bulls drinking at the troughs, dwarfed by their size, and unconcerned about their long tusks! Amongst the Juniors, He, Ololoo and to a lesser extent, Kalama, are the “water-babies” of the group who seldom miss a wallow in the mud irrespective of the ambient temperature.
Suguta happily shares the Matriarchal role with most of the other established females while newcomers Mutara, Shukuru and even Sities often lead the Group to and from their daily venues, conversant with locality and the daily Ithumba routine. With 24 young elephants still Keeper Dependent, and only 14 still milk dependent, the Juniors are escorted to the milk venue in batches, those still on milk coming ahead of those who have been weaned. The Keepers easily segregate them simply by calling their names, the Elephants amazingly obedient to the instruction of their Keepers. Sometimes, following a mudbath that has included all 28 Ex Orphans as well as hordes of wild friends and visiting huge Bulls, there can be over 70 Elephants there at once who wander off as a loosely affiliated “herd” until the Keepers have taken their lunch. The Keepers then merely trail the herd, calling their Keeper Dependent charges out of the main group by name. Should some choose to remain with the Ex Orphan group rather than return, then, the Keepers simply leave them there knowing that they will be returned to the Stockades the next time the Ex Orphans come to drink, and should they decide not to return, and upgrade themselves, then that is their decision which is respected by the humans. All the Orphans know the way back home, and some are often escorted back by a Protective Splinter Group of Ex Orphans.
Most recent upgrades to the Ex Orphan herd are Meibai and Ithumbah, Ithumbah being the most recent to make the transition from Keeper Dependency. As an Ithumba resident prior to being orphaned, she is very comfortable amongst the huge Bulls who visit the Stockade water trough regularly, often choosing to travel with them and join up with the Ex Orphan Unit along the way. Among the Big Wild Boys most familiar with all our Orphans and their Keepers are the Bulls named “Rafiki”(the first Big Wild Bull to reveal his majesty in daylight to the Keepers, who has since introduced many of his male friends to the safety of both the Ithumba Stockade water trough, and that at the mudwallow); the huge Tusker named “Mshale” whose life we have saved on two occasions when he came to the Stockades with suppurating poisoned arrow wounds which, had the arrowheads not been removed, and the wounds treated, would otherwise have ended his life; the Bull named “Half Trunk”( who has been left with just half a trunk, the other half having obviously been severed by a poacher’s wire snare), three younger Bulls named “Pembe Moja” (One Tusk, who has only one large tusk), and teenagers “Mgeni” and “Kijana” who attached themselves to Yatta’s Ex Orphan Unit several years ago and became an integral part of it. They now often travel independently of the Ex Orphan herd, as does Ex Orphan Napasha, the oldest Ex Orphan bull. It is difficult to differentiate the wild attachments from all the other Ex Orphans in terms of their acceptance and trust of the Keepers). The Big Bull who fathered babies Yetu and Mwende is another regular who often travels with Yatta’s Ex Orphan herd.
This month the Ex Orphans have been accompanied by growing numbers of wild friends every time they turn up at the Stockade Compound and at the mudbath venue which has been sometimes twice daily, so the Juniors have had plenty of exposure to older Ex Orphans as well as hordes of wild friends, including some very Big male Tuskers.
The April/May rains fell short of expectations this year, so the dry season has set in early, deciduous woodland tree species dropping wet season foliage to revert to dormancy again, with grasses and shrubs also drying out. Hence, finding sufficient browse to fill large elephant bellies has been the daily preoccupation of the orphans at a time of the year when survival supercedes all other activities. Wild herds in ever growing numbers have been coming to drink at the artificial water troughs, taking their cue from the Juniors and Ex Orphans, totally accepting of the presence of the Keepers and also respecting the movement of the Water Bowzer, standing quietly aside to allow it to recharge the troughs several times a day in order to keep pace with the demand which has outstripped the capacity of the original borehole. Additional water has to be carted from the large tank on the slopes of Ithumba which is served from the Second Borehole near the dam. For those who are truly interested, the daily entries of the June Diary are well worth reading to gain a full understanding of how the month has unfolded.