Keepers Diaries, June 2018

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Upon the arrival of Esampu, Mteto and Mundusi on the 1st of the month, they were immediately recognised by Maramoja and Rapa from their Nursery days together and they fussed over the newcomers immediately, patting them with their trunks and rumbling loudly with excited appreciation. Mundusi felt a little disorientated at first, and conditions were a lot hotter in Tsavo than Nairobi, but like all of our orphans at Ithumba he soon adjusted, with the help of daily visits to the water hole and following the cue of the other dependent orphans, standing under the shade of trees during the hottest time of day. In stark comparison, in no time at all, the headstrong Esampu was taking it upon herself to lead the others in different directions. She is clearly a very intelligent and fearless little girl, and picked up the new routine in only a matter of days, fearlessly bathing amidst the ex-orphan herds and marching around as if she had been there for years.

Our three naughty renegades have been so well behaved, as if butter would melt in their mouths, so much so that the Ithumba Keepers are confused how their behaviour has certainly not matched their reputations. All of them have been extremely well behaved from the moment they have arrived at Ithumba. The Keepers have likened Esampu to older Laragai, who always seems to march to the beat of her own drum. Nevertheless all of the orphans, dependent and ex-orphans have taken it upon themselves to help guide the new arrivals into their new routine and help their transition. Roi especially seemed to want to mentor them, following after any of the three if she felt they were straying off path or wandering away too far in case they might get lost.

The ex-orphans in Mutara and Olare’s herd (namely Mutara, Suguta, Kainuk and Sities, and Olare, Kandecha, Kibo, Kalama, Chemi Chemi, Melia, Murka, Naisula, Tumaren, Kitirua) were quite obviously delighted by the arrival of new babies from the Nursery and as a result have stuck around the whole month, choosing to socialize with the dependent orphans most mornings and throughout their noon mud bath sessions as well. Some of the other ex-orphans got wind of the new arrivals as well and visited throughout the month, like Chaimu, Kasigau, Kilaguni, Kanjoro, and Kibo. They chose to visit the water hole at the same time as the dependent orphans and we are sure not out of coincidence, but merely through the desire to see and check on the younger dependent orphans, especially any new arrivals!

It was almost comical to watch these grown elephants behave like children again, both due to the presence of new babies which has brought about great excitement, and because of how much standing water still remains around, having gone from nothing during the drought last year, to now overflowing water holes. The presence of so much water offered a new lease of life for even grown elephants, making the most stalwart of elephant bulls behave like calves again. Kibo, Kasigau and Kilaguni especially have been extremely exuberant during mud bath sessions, throwing their trunks up in delight, wrestling in the water, running around and trumpeting with enthusiasm. Mutara put on a display of placing both front feet up on the off-loading wall in the morning waiting for the juniors to come out. On more than one occasion Olare, Mutara and even Tumaren got down on the ground so not to be intimidating in and attempt to initiate rolling games with the new babies. More often than not their invitation was ignored, the new babies still finding their feet in their new environment.

The very next day after the new babies arrived, Nasalot’s ex-orphan herd must have received news through the ‘elephant express’ that there were new Nursery arrivals, and first thing in the morning they were waiting outside the stockades to welcome the new babies out. Baby Nusu and Gawa were delighted to have new friends to play with around their age and size, and throughout the month when Nasalot’s herd visited, they would all play together. This is clearly a very healthy and much savoured interaction for our new Nursery arrivals; socializing with wild born babies within a wild living elephant family herd.

As the Park is drying out wild elephants have begun to visit the stockades for water more frequently now and in ever growing numbers. Given the ample rain received in the northern region there is plentiful vegetation, but this is a tell-tale sign of the elders leading the herds to the dry season watering points using their mental map.

All the orphans, not only his age mates and best friends Sirimon, Olsekki and Siangiki, but the older ex-orphans as well, make sure to check on Enkikwe and his healing progress on an almost daily basis. The care and concern the orphans show for one another, despite not being blood-kin, never ceases to amaze us. While he was staying behind in the stockade compound to advance his recovery, any ex-orphan that visited the compound during the day be it Suguta, Kenze or Olare would walk over to him, as if to inquire how he was doing. Once he started to join the other orphans out during the day able to keep up with their usual routine, Siangiki and Olsekki always made sure to escort him, adopting a gentle pace to accommodate his needs. One day we watched as Roi and Siangiki kept him sandwiched between them both as they browsed, as if protecting him as his buffer to the rest of the world. Instead of wallowing with the others, Enkikwe usually takes his own bath to one side, afraid to be pushed around in a big crowd in case they knock his bad knee. Enkikwe’s injuries for those who don’t already know were as a result of a lion attack in February.

Namalok, who used to be very shy, still chooses to drink his milk share from a bucket every day, but is becoming more social, playing with some of the other orphans like Tusuja. Galla has been antagonizing his friends, especially Karisa. He always tries to climb on them when they are swimming in the waterhole, and when they try to escape he grabs their tails as if to pull them back in to continue their wrestling match. Kamok and Roi and Dupotto stay very good friends and like to browse with each other during the day. The ‘rebels’ as the Keepers call them, Laragai, Kithaka, Barsilinga, Garzi, Lemoyian and Sirimon, still manage to sneak away from the Keepers during the day to avoid being locked into their stockades at night with the other dependent orphans, but they have been returning during the night in their own time, to sleep just outside the stockade compound. Orwa and Bomani are sometimes with them as well, and seem to encourage them to join them in the wild instead of going back to the stockades in the evening; we are sure they are trying to lure them out to make up one big herd in the wild together.

June 2018 day to day

Soon after the orphans were let out, Karisa engaged Rapa in a pushing game in an effort to take revenge for the day he fell while playing with Rapa. In the process, Wanjala happened to pass by and saved Rapa by getting in between the two boys and separating them. Shortly later, Mutara and her group, who appeared to have a hint of the impending arrival of new babies, arrived early to find out the exact time of the arrival of Esampu, Mteto and Mundusi who arrived from Nairobi. Mutara and her group escorted the juniors to the browsing field and left for a short while. At 9am, the truck carrying the three new Nursery orphans arrived. Rapa, Maramoja and Pare were the first ones to meet Mteto, Esampu and Mundusi. Upon meeting, Maramoja and Rapa recognised the three babies immediately and started walking around with them. There was excitement when the rest of the group arrived as each tried to identify itself with the new babies. Shortly afterwards, Maramoja led the way to the browsing field. At the browsing field Dupotto settled with Mteto as she tried to show her what to feed on, while Maramoja took Esampu for the same lessons. Mundusi felt like a fish out water and he bellowed like a baby from time to time. The heat was too much for him as he tried a bit of soil dusting to cool off. The soil dusting didn't help either and he resulted in drawing water from his stomach and spraying it behind his ears, which is what elephants do when they are very hot; it will take him a few days to get used to the heat! Maramoja, Pare and Rapa regrouped and tried to take Mundusi, Esampu and Mteto to some shade as the heat was becoming too much for them. The babies accepted and went to relax under a tree. Pare decided to keep himself busy by picking up a piece of stick and using it to scratch his chin. On the way to the mud bath the orphans met with Mutara, Chaimu, Kilaguni, Sities, Suguta, Kanjoro, Kainuk and Turkwel who appeared to have received the news when the new babies arrived and were on the way to receive them. Mutara and her group turned and escorted the babies to the mud bath where Kinna, baby Kama, baby Gawa, Galana with her two boys friends, Kenze, Zurura, Kibo, Melia, Naisula, Kitirua, Kalama, Chemi Chemi, Makireti, Nasalot, baby Nusu, Meibai, Bongo, Olare and the aggressive wild female were present. The wild female disrupted the mud bath activities as Kinna, Chaimu and Murka took the opportunity to snatch the new arrivals. The keepers were vigilant and managed to get their babies back. In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse in the Kanziku area. Esampu, Mteto and Mundusi settled to enjoy all the delicious vegetation in the area as they slowly got acclimatized to their new home. Kauro and Galla had brief strength testing exercise that ended in a draw.

Rapa plays with Karisa

The three new babies having milk once offloaded

Zurura inspecting the new babies

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