Keepers' Diaries, June 2022

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

A few years ago, a wild female elephant appeared on the scene. The Keepers nicknamed her the ‘crazy one,’ because she was extremely disruptive and aggressive towards them. Well, how things can change! The ex-orphans have taught her that the Keepers are a benevolent presence, and now she is just as friendly as an elephant raised by our hand. She recently became a mother, and interestingly, our ex-orphans are the main nannies to her baby. It is wonderful to see these bonds forged between our orphans and Tsavo’s wild elephants.

As is the case across much of Tsavo, Ithumba remains very, very dry. On 6th June, however, we were treated to a light drizzle. Although everyone was so excited to see a hint of rain, we are preparing for a long, difficult stretch until the next rains arrive.

Given the dry conditions, the orphans were very economical with their time this month. They knew that they must maximise browsing, as the alternative was to go home without filling their tummies. However, even businesslike browsing wasn’t without its dramas. One day, Sattao and Musiara got into a heated argument over a branch. As they engaged in a standoff, Mukkoka passed by and snatched the branch. The boys ran after Mukkoka — who, wanting no part in their drama, dropped the branch. Musiara and Sattao resumed their fight, which ended diplomatically after the branch broke in two pieces, giving each bull their own share!

Nabulu is one of the youngest females of the Ithumba herd, but she has been studying how older elephants behave. She started practising hanging her trunk on her tusks, which is a great way to relax. Her tusks are still too small to hold her trunk, but once she is big enough, she will have the technique down pat.

Naboishu, the youngest bull at Ithumba, has also been studiously observing older elephants. One afternoon, he walked back to the lucerne feeding area in order to browse next to a big bull. He kept stealing glances up at wild visitor, perhaps wondering how long it will take for him to grow to such an imposing size. Although he is Ithumba’s second youngest bull, Mukkoka doesn’t want anyone to underestimate him. He has started wrestling older boys, such as Mapia and Sattao, to establish his place in the dependent herd.

Our older girls are busy honing their nurturing skills. Sana Sana is an excellent caregiver to Naboishu, while Maramoja loves Musiara. Our ‘mean girl,’ Kamok, only has eyes for Ambo — she really doesn’t like other youngsters! While they eagerly look after the junior member of the dependent herd, however, the girls are mostly vying to nanny the ex-orphans’ infants. Mteto, Esampu, and Malkia are known as the ‘baby lovers’ and take every opportunity to spend time with these wild babies.

Because of the prevailing dry conditions, Ithumba was treated to lots of wild visitors this month. The orphans really take offense when buffaloes come to drink water, as if the poor, thirsty creatures don’t have the right to share their trough! When two buffaloes showed up one day, Malkia, Sana Sana, and Mundusi tried to scare them away by trumpeting at them. The buffaloes stood their ground and had a drink while the orphans retreated with their tails up in their air. When she saw the buffaloes leaving, Sana Sana regathered her courage and mock charged after them, as if she had successfully managed to scare them away! Sana Sana turned back and celebrated her success with Jotto.

Enkikwe was similarly full of bluster. One afternoon, he set his sights on a buffalo who was sharing water with a wild bull. Embarrassingly, the buffalo refused to leave, leaving Enkikwe with no other option than to retreat and drink from the other water trough. Another day, Enkikwe recruited Naboishu and Ndiwa to chase off an interloper. The buffalo remained unmoved by the three orphans, even after Enkikwe tried to charge him. He enjoyed a leisurely drink before slowly sauntering away, as if to remind Enkikwe that he is still a kid and he needs to grow up before he throws his weight around!

True to form, Ambo remained obsessed with stealing a private stash of lucerne. No matter how many times the Keepers thwarted his efforts, he continued to plan heists, sidling over to the lucerne story after exiting his bedroom in the morning.

Ambo may be sneaky, but he is also a very loyal friend. One afternoon, Mukkoka challenged Dololo to a test of strength. Ambo couldn't allow Dololo to be humiliated by the young boy, so he intervened and teamed up with his friend. Mukkoka knew he was no match for the combined strength of the two bulls, so he prudently surrendered in order to maintain his dignity.

After being away for a month, Kithaka arrived in the middle of the night. He is known for his mischievous ways, so no one was surprised to see that his Tsavo adventures had left him with a sprained ankle. A week later, his friends Barsilinga and Tusuja also reappeared. They all look well, and Kithaka’s leg is already on the mend.

Karisa and Enkikwe are also eager to escalate their transition to the wild. They regularly sneak away from the dependent herd, favouring independent forays into the bush. They still return to the stockades later in the evening, but it is only a matter of time before they no longer feel the need for that. We were surprised when Mteto decided to team up with Lualeni and Chyulu’s ex-orphan herd for a night out in the bush. She is one of our most fervent ‘baby lovers,’ so the opportunity to spend the whole evening with little Lexi, Lulu, and Cheka was just too enticing to pass up!

On 20th June, Maramoja, Sapalan, Sana Sana, and Naboishu pulled a disappearing act. Naboishu is far too young to spend the night out in the bush, so the Keepers mounted a search party. They found the group an hour later, calmly browsing and totally unaware of all the discord they had caused. Naboishu, who looks up to Sana Sana, was only following his older friend! Everyone returned to the stockades for the evening and settled down for a restful sleep.

We saw many familiar faces this month. Mutara, her baby Mambo, Sities, Turkwel, Suguta, Kainuk, and Kandecha, and Kithaka frequently camped out outside the compound, as has become their custom. The ‘late night gang,’ led by Lemoyian and Bomani, were also mainstays. We enjoyed seeing lots of older ex-orphan bulls, including Meibei, Kilaguni, Kenze, Kanjoro, Tumaren, Orwa, Buchuma, Bomani, and Zurura. Naserian, Njema, Naisula, Kitirua, and Namalok stopped by on a few occasions, as did Lualeni, Lulu, Lexi, Chyulu, Cheka, Lenana, Lapa, Chemi Chemi, Garzi, Melia, and the wild female elephant (formerly known as ‘the crazy one’) and her baby. Yatta and her family, along with Kinna, Kama, Kaia, Sunyei, Siku, Saba, Makena, and Vuria showed up after being away for more than one month! Galana, Nasalot, Nusu, Noah, and Ithumbah, who is heavily pregnant, rounded out the visitors.

June 2022 day to day

01 Jun

Three wild bulls were drinking water at the stockade water trough when Naboishu led the orphans out of their stockades this morning. Mundusi, Rapa, Pare, Maramoja and Kauro walked straight down to join the wild bull. Soon after they had their fill of lucerne, the boys switched into a more playful mood. Jotto engaged Pare in a pushing game that ended when Jotto decided to surrender. Mukkoka tried his hand at taking on Sattao, a game that went for quite some time until Rapa intervened. Rapa took Sattao and left Mukkoka, since he understood that Mukkoka is young and wouldn't accept his request for a pushing game. Sattao agreed to play with Rapa but changed his mind when Rapa started playing rough with him, and at that point he simply walked away. 

Later on, out in the bush, Mapia played with Jotto while Esampu challenged Kauro. At one point Nabulu practiced how to hang her trunk on her tusks to relax, but her tusks are still too small to hold her trunk. Mteto teamed up with Enkikwe to browse as Ndiwa and Maramoja took a break from browsing to participate in a soil dusting exercise. 

At noon the orphans had their milk bottles but decided to skip the wallowing exercise, since it was quite overcast and chilly. Ex-orphans Naserian, Njema, Naisula, Kitirua and Namalok showed up at the mud bath. The ‘baby-lovers’ Mteto, Esampu and Malkia walked over to babysit Njema before following their friends out to the bush. Kilaguni showed up to join the dependent orphans briefly, then walked away. The afternoon was quiet as the orphans concentrated mostly on browsing.

Jotto sparring with Pare

Sattao sparring with Mukkoka

Nabulu in the early morning