The stockade compound was a hive of activity this month as the dependent orphans woke up almost every morning to at least one group of visiting Ex Orphans. Mutara’s group including Sities, Suguta, Kanjoro, Turkwel and Kainuk returned in June after a few months away, exploring further afield with the benefit of plentiful water in the Park. They returned in high spirits and good health and then stayed around Ithumba for the rest of the month. The missing orphans Dupotto, Kelelari and Karisa were not with them, as we had so hoped, and the search continues for these naughty orphans. Given the extensive aerial coverage, the ground teams hard at work, we are confident they are alive and well, but we have so many wild elephants in the north, literally thousands, it is very challenging finding three little truants in amongst them. Comforting is the amount of food and water in the north thanks to good rains in that part of the Park which is a relief, because huge swathes of Tsavo remain without hardly any water.
Narok’s herd is normally one that stays overnight around the compound, together with Olare and Mutara’s groups this month. Narok’s newly semi-independent group is comprised of Orwa, Bongo, Teleki, Bomani, Vuria and sometimes Laragai, who is torn between staying a dependent orphan and becoming more independent in Narok’s herd. Laragai has developed a new naughty habit of staying overnight in the compound and opening the gates at night letting Kithaka, Garzi, Lemoyian and Barsilinga out! She did this a couple of times this month and last month as well. Barsilinga has been trying to establish himself as the most dominant bull in the dependent herd and frequently challenges Orwa, Narok, Vuria and Garzi; he doesn’t normally win though and needs some experience still. Sometimes he tries to take on older orphans like Sities but these no-nonsense girls don’t have time for Barsilinga’s games and abruptly push him away.
Whilst conditions in the north were at their best in Tsavo after the rains, we took the advantage and moved three more orphans from the Nairobi Nursery down to our Ithumba Stockades at the beginning of this month – Ukame, Galla and Wanjala. Galla and Wanjala settled in very well whilst Ukame was a bit slower to feel completely at home, but every day she looks more at ease. She also seems to like older Ex Orphan Narok and her company. On the moving day there was a slight delay due to a problem with the lorry but they arrived just after 12.30pm safe and sound and disembarked to some refreshing milk bottles. They were greeted by Boromoko, Lemoyian and Sirimon first and later the rest of the dependent orphans, then Narok’s herd, then Mutara’s herd. Ex Orphan and big boy Rapsu was present too and the wild orphans accompanied the newcomers into the bush. This was all pretty overwhelming for these three new orphans, but at the same time mesmerising to watch all the interaction and interest. In the evening, Wanjala, Galla and Ukame joined Kamok, Naseku, Tusuja and Roi as they returned to the stockades for their milk and already appeared to know the ropes, obviously communicated by the others; they seemed to enjoy their first taste of life in the wild.
The next morning all the Ex Orphans arrived, engulfing the babies with greetings and welcoming rumbles. The stockades were alive with action, with more elephants than one could count! After the vanishing act of our missing trio, the Keepers have been paranoid with these new arrivals, especially given the level of activity everywhere, so they are ever alert keeping a diligent eye on the babies and never let them wander too far, taking no chances for these older babies to wander off like their play-mates last month. It must be emphasised that in our 40 years of doing this work this is the first time this has happened, and we cannot help but think that it was influenced by the much older Kelelari who had known a fully wild life for a number of years before coming into our care. The search continues and in the meantime we are ever hopeful they will turn up one day at the waterholes at Ithumba, accompanied by wild friends.
This month Kilaguni and Chaimu, who have been absent for quite some time, showed up at the stockade in the company of a wild herd and they spent the rest of the month bouncing around the other Ex Orphan herds such as Olare’s and Mutara’s. Ex Orphan Sidai is in season and being pursued by various males; often she likes to hide amongst the dependent group at the mud bath when she is tired. Nasalot is in season as well so some very big bulls have been spotted around the area recently. There was hardly an Ex Orphan we did not see this month; Galana and her baby Gawa were here with the Nannies; Loijuk, Kenze, Kainuk, Suguta, Turkwel, Lualeni, Sidai, Lenana and Naserian, and Kinna with her baby Kama and their entourage too. It is lovely to watch little Gawa growing and becoming more independent, wanting to play with the dependent orphans more but still being very much shepherded by her Nannies. With Zurura, Melia and Tumaren came the wild bull Half Trunk who had been away for so long and also the wild bull known to us as Limpy who we were able to save last year from a ghastly cable snare which had cut deep to the bone. He was looking in fine health, healed and well, and loving his time back on familiar turf, tame and welcoming, understanding full well that his life was saved by the team in green. 14 year old Ex Orphan bull Taita only showed up at the beginning of the month and seemed quite taken with the new arrivals from Nairobi, taking Galla, Wanjala and Ukame to a shady spot to relax at the mud bath area. Big bull Madiba has been drifting around too, looking increasingly handsome as he grows. With full waterholes surrounding Ithumba, huge aggregations of Ex Orphans along with their wild friends have been spotted most days at the various water points, and June has very much had an elephant carnival feel to the month.