Keepers' Diaries, March 2005

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The Ithumba group have again not been able to meet up with members of the wild elephant community, who continue to avoid human contact as a result of the three decades of rampant poaching that drove them out of the Northern Area in the mid seventies. The elephant herds are, however, returning en masse now, and since the bulls are the elephant “scouts”, who explore and determine whether an area is safe for the cow herds, we hope that the message will soon get out. Several bulls have explored the Orphans’ Night Stockade under cover of darkness over the past few months, leaving telltale footprints. In any case, the Ithumba ten are a very happy and self sufficient little herd, who have plenty of fun with each other and their share of excitement with other animals in the course of their travels. March is a very hot time of the year, but our ex Nursery elephants have acclimatised well to the heat and now huddle together for warmth on cool and cloudy days which would be of a usual temperature in Nairobi. Rain is always the catalyst for celebration and joy amongst all animals, and the Ithumba ten have made the most of light showers in mid-month and a very heavy downpour on the night of the 22nd.

The Ithumba group have again not been able to meet up with members of the wild elephant community, who continue to avoid human contact as a result of the three decades of rampant poaching that drove them out of the Northern Area in the mid seventies. The elephant herds are, however, returning en masse now, and since the bulls are the elephant “scouts”, who explore and determine whether an area is safe for the cow herds, we hope that the message will soon get out. Several bulls have explored the Orphans’ Night Stockade under cover of darkness over the past few months, leaving telltale footprints. In any case, the Ithumba ten are a very happy and self sufficient little herd, who have plenty of fun with each other and their share of excitement with other animals in the course of their travels. March is a very hot time of the year, but our ex Nursery elephants have acclimatised well to the heat and now huddle together for warmth on cool and cloudy days which would be of a usual temperature in Nairobi. Rain is always the catalyst for celebration and joy amongst all animals, and the Ithumba ten have made the most of light showers in mid-month and a very heavy downpour on the night of the 22nd.

As usual, it is Napasha who dominates the Ithumba Diary, this month even having the effrontery to challenge the Matriarch, Yatta, to a pushing contest for which he got soundly prodded. He then took on Mulika, who likewise dealt sternly with him and finally unwisely tried to climb on the back of Kinna when she was lying down. Being a strict disciplinarian who doesn’t tolerate any nonsense, following this incident, Napasha was again punished and expelled to ”Coventry” ( isolation away from the others) for quite a long time. Although always anxious to test his strength, as, indeed, are all growing bulls, Napasha is nevertheless a popular and gentle member of the group for his size, but being older and bigger than the other two young males, and as such held in awe by Taita and Tomboi, he obviously would rather take on someone a little larger. He is also the greediest of all the Ithumba elephants, able to gauge the time of day with an uncanny accuracy, when he begins to head off in order to ensure being on hand at the dot of eleven when the milk ration arrives at the mudwallow venue. He is also not averse to trying to hijack a bottle from one of the others if he thinks he can get away with it, but the Keepers keep a close eye on him once he has downed his quota!

Taking the lead of the mini herd is always a treat that is greatly relished by mischievous little Wendi, a dominant member of the younger set. On one occasion, she had to hastily abandon this position and rush back to the Keepers when she spotted a snake disappearing down a hole ahead. The baboons provide almost daily entertainment for the Ithumba ten, inevitably triggering “ expulsion mode”, something that is always spear- headed by the young Matriarch, Yatta. This involves charging with outstretched ears and loud trumpets, and breaking down shrubs and bushes as well as kicking up dust to deter an intruder. On one occasion, when two fighting male baboons making unusually aggressive sounds, prompted a mass retreat back to the Keepers for protection before the four older females re-grouped to launch a combined onslaught in order to dispel the noisy intruders. Meanwhile the younger elephants huddled around the Keepers for protection. Aside from the baboons, warthogs, lesser kudus, dikdiks and a lone hyaena have prompted intervention, the hyaena causing a good deal of confusion and fear, until Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna again combined forces to thrash the thicket into which the hyaena had disappeared. This time the younger set trembled as they huddled around their Keepers for protection. Olmalo, Tomboi, Selengai and Wendi are fearful of anything larger than a dikdik or guineafowl, but now greatly enjoy chasing off such small fry, something that leaves them visibly proud and happy! Napasha is a lot bolder, and usually backs up the four larger females.

Olmalo, (the baby of the ten), is like Yatta’s little shadow and her special favourite, always close beside the older elephant and even sleeping cuddled close at night. Therefore Taita found himself soundly punished by Yatta for biting Olmalo’s tail one evening, something that perhaps indicates jealousy of the preferential treatment Olmalo enjoys from the acknowledged Matriarch of the group. However, he and Tomboi are firm friends and present a united front against Napasha, whilst Wendi clearly views herself as a “would-be”-Matriarch and Leader of the younger set. Selengai is a very gentle little character who is seldom involved in any fracas and is also cherished by all her peers as well as the older females. Whilst Yatta has emerged as the main Matriarch, bothMulika and Nasalot come a close second, always at hand to provide re-inforcement when necessary. Kinna is more of a loner, but quick to enforce good behaviour and punish anyone who steps out of line. All ten Ithumba Orphans are in prime condition and are a very contented and happy little unit, despite the fact that they have still not had much contact with the wild community. Given time, we are sure that this will follow, and, of course, the four older females have had a great deal of wild contact in the past.

March 2005 day to day

01 Mar

Today, the orphans were led by their Matriarch Yatta, assisted by Mulika and Wendi, and headed westward. After half an hour they happened upon a natural mudwallow, where they quenched their thirs. Wendi and Taita lay enjoyed bathing, whilst Yatta and Mulika led the rest to dust themselves with red soil. Selengai and Tomboi lay down and rolled around, after which Napasha led them all to the shade of a Baobab tree to shelter from the heat.

The orphans enjoying a soil bath

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