Keepers' Diaries, March 2006

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

An exciting development in this month’s Diary is that the wild elephants are beginning to seek more contact with our orphans. On the 28th February, a lone bull turned up at the Stockades under cover of darkness, and hung around all night communicating with the orphans inside the Stockade, departing only at 6 a.m. That night he returned with 4 other wild elephants who enjoyed a drink from the Stockade water trough. A herd of wild elephants again came to the Stockades for a drink just before dawn on the 25th March.

An exciting development in this month’s Diary is that the wild elephants are beginning to seek more contact with our orphans. On the 28th February, a lone bull turned up at the Stockades under cover of darkness, and hung around all night communicating with the orphans inside the Stockade, departing only at 6 a.m. That night he returned with 4 other wild elephants who enjoyed a drink from the Stockade water trough. A herd of wild elephants again came to the Stockades for a drink just before dawn on the 25th March.

Whenever the wild elephants pay the orphans a visit during the night, Yatta, who is the main Matriarch of the Ithumba unit, leads the group following the wild elephants’ scent and tracks in the morning to try and meet up with them, but so far the orphans have not had success. However, there is definitely a great deal more wild elephant activity around the area utilized by our Ithumba orphans, and it is just a question of time until the wild herds feel sufficiently confident to accept that the Keepers do not pose a threat.

Once again, a pack of wild Hunting Dogs bent on taking a drink at the Stockade trough traumatized the orphans but on this occasion the older elephants, spear-headed by Yatta, saw the dogs off. However, just the sight of anything canine leaves the entire unit extremely nervous for many hours afterwards.

March is always the hottest time of the year in Tsavo, and on several occasions the younger orphans have had to resort to drawing on reserves of stomach water to spray over themselves and cool themselves down. . Madiba, Sunyei, Naserian, Ndomot and Galana have all resorted to this on several extremely hot days during the month, sucking up water from their stomach with their trunks and spraying it behind their ears. When Madiba, Ndomot and Galana did this on the 16th, Yatta and Mulika were observant enough to decide to take the babies to the mudbath a lot earlier than usual, at 11 a.m. rather than 12 noon, which demonstrates, yet again, the ability of forethought. However, rainstorms and showers have fallen intermittently throughout the month to reduce temperatures and following these, the orphans openly celebrate, swinging heads and trunks from side to side in a sign of joy, bumping into one another playfully, and trumpeting with happiness. They always make the most of cooler temperatures, enjoying the rain puddles, dampened earth to bathe in, and fresh rainwater to drink, plus softened tender sprouting shoots to savour. Food is very plentiful for the Ithumba unit, all of whom are in prime condition, the only downside being an abundance of rather hungry elephant ticks which have to be scraped off against trees and rocks.

A heavy downpour early in the month filled a large man-made dam which the orphans enjoyed on the 6th. All plunged in, submerging themselves entirely with just trunks showing like periscopes. The water-babies of the group are Napasha, Kinna, Olmalo, Rapsu and Buchuma who often spend a lot longer in the water, or mud, than all the others.

The young bulls, as usual, have been busy testing their strength against one another. Taita and Tomboi spend a lot of time embroiled in such contests, and Rapsu is also fast becoming a contender, often taking on both Taita and Tomboi. Such bouts are overseen by the older females, who ensure fair play. For instance, when Wendi teamed up with Tomboi against Taita, Yatta intervened to bring the unfair contest to an end and when Tomboi aspired to mounting onto Naserian, who is much younger, Nasalot immediately moved in to bring him into line. Napasha found himself in trouble with Mulika during the morning of the 7th by putting his front legs into the drinking trough, and muddying the water! Mulika drove him off, refusing to let him return until all the others had left.

The trickster of the group is Sunyei, who loves “crying wolf” to scare her peers, suddenly dashing out of the shrubbery as though alarmed, and then enjoying the ensuing melee! As usual baboons have provided the usual diversion for the orphans in this Diary. On the 20th they were chasing a dikdik when they encountered the elephants, and immediately Yatta, Nasalot, Kinna and Napasha joined forces to interrupt the hunt, their success applauded by the youngsters who were bystanders. Buchuma’s standing rose amongst both the Keepers and his peers when single-handedly he strode forward to deal with another bunch of baboons the orphans came across on the 27th . This time, they embarked on a game of hide and seek around the bushes with Buchuma, and it was such fun that all the others joined in until the baboons decided to retreat. However, as usual, sprinting kudus and dikdiks, have scared them, as did a warthog mother and her piglets when they suddenly popped out of their hole. Once the orphans are sure that an intruder is, in fact, just a warthog, they have fun seeing them off, since as ex Nursery members, they are quite used to doing so. Guinea fowls also provide good chasing targets, as do dikdiks that are not obviously fleeing from some unseen hazard.

The 17 Ithumba elephants are a very bonded unit, extremely ably led by Yatta who can count on the backing of Mulika, Nasalot, Kinna, and also Napasha. They have prime elephant habitat at their disposal, and days filled with anticipation of a happy reunion with their wild kin and loads of unexpected adventures.

27th Feb IU:- Soon after 6 a.m. as the orphans were going out to feed, they came across a pack of African Hunting dogs who were heading for the Stockades to drink. Spearheaded by the Matriarch, Yatta, the older orphans charged the dogs at close range, trumpeting loudly, whilst the youngsters ran to their Keepers for protection. Thereafter the orphans remained nervous for a long time. The day turned exceedingly hot, so much so that the younger orphans such as Madiba, Sunyei, Naserian and Ndomot had a busy time drawing reserves of stomach water to spray behind their ears. The orphans enjoyed a spectacular mudbath at 11 a.m. and then sought shade. At about 2 p.m. light rain fell, which made the elephants very happy, as they took to rolling around in the damp earch and playing in the puddles.
28th Feb IU:- During the night, a wild bull came to the Stockades and hung around overnight, leaving as dawn broke. Yatta led the orphans to follow this wild bull for sometime, but could not catch up with him. In the evening Taita and Wendi spent some time challenging one another. At 9 p.m. at night, a group of 4 wild elephants came to drink water at the Stockades.

March 2006 day to day

01 Mar

Heavy cloud obscured the sun today, so the orphans left in a jovial mood, swinging their trunks and bumping into one another. Yatta and Mulika led the group the same route as before, hoping to encounter a wild friend, but sadly they were disappointed. By mudbath time, it had turned hot, so the orphans enjoyed a prolonged wallow. On the way back to the Stockades Madiba and Buchuma drew stomach water to cool themselves down.

Mulika one of the group leaders

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