Keepers' Diaries, June 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Bondeni may be one of Ithumba’s newest additions, but he knows how to make his presence known! In fact, he has become the unit’s resident noisemaker, shrieking loudly as he waits for his milk. He gets very mad if his roommates, Kindani and Kinyei, touch him during the lead-up to feeding time, perhaps wary that they might snatch his share. Ironically, out in the bush, he is happiest when sandwiched between the two girls. 

June began on a dramatic note, as Neshashi made a getaway from the dependent herd. She was hanging out with Malkia, Ndiwa, and Pare — who no longer sleep in the stockades — and evidently decided that she was ready to join them out in the wild. Despite the Keepers’ best efforts, the group refused to relinquish their youngest charge, and Neshashi showed no interest in leaving them. In the end, the Keepers decided to leave Neshashi in their capable care, as they didn’t want to stress her further by chasing after her. 

Roho graduated to Ithumba a few months before our ‘Kaluku trio’ and he seems to enjoy any opportunity to prove his seniority. One morning, Bondeni, Kinyei, and Kindani found a nice, round rock close to the lucerne feeding area. Their fun scratching game came to an abrupt end when Roho squeezed past them, pushing them aside to take over the rock for himself. He reclined against the rock, taking up all the space and forcing Kindani and Kinyei away. Bondeni, however, was nonplussed and simply waited for Roho to finish so that he could resume scratching. 

Kuishi has emerged as the new group leader of Ithumba. Her seniors, Sana Sana, Malkia, Kamok, Kauro, Mapia, Rapa, Ndiwa and Pare, have stopped coming back to the stockades at night. Nabulu and Malima also recently said goodbye to stockade life, but only time will tell if this is a permanent decision or not.

Jotto is tiptoeing his way into a wild life. One evening, he snuck off to join the ex-orphans present, including Wendi. The Keepers tried to call him back, but he refused. Because he is in the weaning stage, we decided to leave him with his older friends; he gets only a bottle of water now, instead of milk. He reappeared in the early morning, no doubt full of stories to share with his younger friends.

Malkia recently joined Mutara’s ex-orphan herd, becoming one of baby Mambo’s mini nannies. This must be a dream come true for her, as she has been besotted with Mambo practically from the minute he was born. We can see how happy and proud Malkia is of her new situation.

In fact, Mambo is the object of everyone’s affections. One day, young Naleku walked over to him and they had a lovely play session. However, it was cut short when Larro came over and pushed her away — she wanted Mambo all to herself!

Just as they did at the Nursery, Lodo and Esoit love to play together. One afternoon, Esoit decided to race Lodo down to the milk feeding area. Lodo couldn’t believe it when they tied and arrived at the same time. As Esoit drank his milk, he tilted his head to look at Lodo — it certainly appeared as though he was smiling and asking if Lodo had underestimated him, due to his bad leg.

Olorien, who was part of Lodo’s graduating class, has such an infectious personality. One afternoon, she took time off from browsing to have fun rolling on the ground. Esoit, Roho, Naboishu, Suguroi, Neshashi, Sagateisa, and Jotto joined Olorien in her fun and games, creating a big elephant pile-up.

At last, on 12th June, Neshashi returned. We found her waiting outside the stockades, amidst a big group of ex-orphans. She ran towards the Keepers, requesting milk. We gave her two bottles and then encouraged her to join the others at the lucerne feeding point. She was accompanied by ex-orphans Galla, Olsekki, Kilaguni, Barsilinga, and Enkikwe. While they took very good care of her, the young girl had clearly missed her milk feeds. All the babies clustered around Neshashi, smelling her and questioning her about her adventures. 

Not a week later, Neshashi was already planning her next disappearing act. As everyone came home for the evening, she refused to enter her bedroom with her colleagues. Instead, she ran to the ex-orphans and played a game of hide-and-seek with the Keepers. At last, the Keepers managed to retrieve her and escorted her into her stockade. Neshashi reluctantly walked inside, but we can be sure that this won’t be her last attempt. The call of the wild is strong with this one; she was rescued at a much older age and clearly craves independence. 

June was a hectic month around Ithumba, as there were lots of bulls in musth and females in season. Lualeni, Kalama, Yatta, and Sunyei were among our ex-orphans pursued by amorous bulls. This means that the year 2025 will bring a baby bounty, as elephants have a 22-month gestation period. 

We also noticed more bull fights, which is likely linked to the unusual number of bulls in musth. Even Dad, the majestic tusker who presides over northern Tsavo East, got himself embroiled in a serious fight. He came for water sporting a broken tusk and a hole in his trunk.

Sagateisa is an independent young girl. We admire her spirit, but it also causes chaos! One afternoon, a group of buffaloes passed by. Everyone ignored them, except Sagateisa, who decided to follow them. It took all the Keepers to coax her back to the orphans. En route, Sagateisa crossed paths with a wild elephant herd. She decided to give the Keepers an even bigger headache by running away with them. The Keepers are becoming expert trackers, so they eventually located the wayward girl and succeeded in bringing her back. Like Neshashi, it is only a matter of time before Sagateisa joins the wild. She simply feels more comfortable in the company of big elephants, wild or ex-orphans. 

The ex-orphans’ babies have a certain swagger. Because they know their mothers and nannies will always back them up, they seem to think they have the upper hand over the orphans. We saw evidence of this many times over the course of June. One such example: Wendi, Melia, Ithumba, Loijuk, Sidai, and their kids joined the orphans in the morning. Sidai, Sita, and Silas walked down to the water trough, followed by Suguroi and Mukkoka. Silas turned and tried to block the orphans from following them. Mukkoka and Suguroi couldn't allow this to happen, especially from such a small boy. They ganged up against Silas, which sent him scampering back to his mother.

The dry season is beginning to bite across Tsavo. Ithumba, which received good rains earlier in the year, is one of the few remaining green places. One evening, a staggering 150 wild elephants and ex-orphans showed up at the stockades for water. The Keepers have observed several families who are totally new to the area, which is an indication that the number of elephants in the northern sector of Tsavo East is really increasing. This herd had six babies under the age of two years. It is gratifying to know that they have found a place where water and food is plentiful, especially as we anticipate another difficult dry season ahead of us.

June 2023 day to day

01 Jun

Kithaka, Orwa and Tusuja joined the dependent orphans in the morning. Kauro, Mapia and Rapa, who spend their nights out these days before reporting back in the morning, arrived at their usual time. Little Kinyei, Bondeni and Kindani welcomed Rapa and saluted him with their trunks up. Kinyei entwined her trunk with his as a morning greeting. Kauro walked over to Tusuja and heartily greeted him too. From their interaction it seemed as though they had not met for some time, and perhaps Kauro was inquiring which side of Ithumba he stays on.

After feeding on lucerne for a while, Bondeni and Esoit engaged each other in a wrestling match. Mukkoka sauntered over and came in between them, abruptly ending their game. Orwa decided to escort the orphans out to browse. Naleku teamed up with Kindani to browse while Kinyei chose to feed alongside Suguroi. Bondeni found a suitable rock that he used to scratch his back and bottom against.

Shortly before mud bath time, we were delighted to see Ndiwa, Malkia and Pare appear out of the bush and join the orphans, as they have been away for a few days now. Kithaka walked ahead to the mud bath and enjoyed swimming on his own before the orphans arrived for their milk bottles. Zurura passed by, heading west. He stopped briefly at the mud bath and splashed some water behind his ears, before proceeding with his journey. At eleven o'clock the orphans had their milk, enjoyed a short mud bath before going to dry off in a soil dusting exercise.

In the afternoon the orphans settled to browse in the Kanziku area. Musiara chose to browse with Naleku while Kuishi teamed up with Larro and Esoit. Suguroi and Naleku found some nice trees that they used to scratch their ears and buttocks against. Kindani took a break from feeding to have a game of rolling on the ground. Bondeni came over and took advantage of Kindani lying down to rub and scratch against her, which she didn’t mind at all.

In the evening, Sattao led the way home. Neshashi, Malkia, Ndiwa and Pare lagged behind — and when the Keepers went to steer them towards the stockades, because young Neshashi was with them, the group of four ran in the opposite direction! The Keepers were trying to get the others to escort Neshashi into the stockade, as she only ever moves with a group. The group refused to cooperate, however. In the end, the Keepers decided to leave Neshashi under their care for the night, as they didn’t want to stress her by running and chasing after her, which she really dislikes. She is on the older side, so she would be okay for the night with her friends, and they would look for her first thing in the morning!

Kithaka and Tusuja enjoying Lucerne

Orwa enjoying Lucerne

Kinyei, Bondeni and Kindani greet Rapa