Keepers' Diaries, March 2007

Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It has been a rewarding month for the Ithumba orphans, with one very significant event that took place on the 27th when a wild cow and her two calves visited the orphans at 7.30 p.m. on a bright moonlight night. The cow first drank at the Stockade trough, and then positioning herself just l0 meters from the Stockade fence, facing the orphans. Nasalot rumbled, and was desperate to make contact, pleading with the Keepers to open the gates and let her and the others out, and even trying to dig underneath the wire.. However, lions are also frequent nocturnal visitors around the Stockades these days, even sometimes drinking at the trough, so the Keepers dare not oblige for fear that the wild cow would take the youngsters off, putting them at risk from lions. However, the fact that this wild cow has come and obviously communicated with the Ithumba orphans is indicative that soon wild contact will be possible. The next morning, the orphans followed the tracks of the wild group, but eventually gave up.

01 March 2007

Another cloudy morning for the Ithumba orphans, who noticed the presence of new Keepers. Led by Wendi, Selengai and Mulika, all the elephants came to give the newcomers the “once over”, after which the old Keepers ordered them back to browse. At the mudbath Kinna enticed Orok away from Nasalot, and the two fed together for half an hour with Selengai beside Orok to keep an eye on him. After the mudbath Nasalot kept rolling on the ground as though suffering stomach cramps, whereupon Yatta came to take a look. Having communicated together for some minutes, Nasalot got up and together with Yatta wandered off to join the others, shoulder to shoulder. In the evening Sidai enjoyed a pushing exercise with Orok, but Nasalot rapidly came to intervene, making Sidai hurriedly leave Orok with Nasalot. Wendi then teamed up with Sidai to comfort her having witnessed the event. After all the elephants had vacated the mudbath, Mulika returned alone to enjoy sole occupancy, but became scared when an eagle flew overhead.

02 March 2007

Madiba and Olmalo spent time testing one another’s strength in the morning, but soon joined the rest of the orphans feeding. In the evening, the group split into three according to how they share the stockade. Naserian took with her Orok, Sidai, Lualeni and Kora and went to feed apart from the others. When the time came to return to base, Naserian’s group had not yet rejoined the rest, so Yatta and Nasalot waited for them. When Naserian’s group eventually turned up, Yatta and Nasalot were obviously irritated that Naserian had returned late, and reprimanded her by pointing their trunks at her and giving her a shove.

03 March 2007

The orphans left in a jovial mood, the youngsters given priority at the Stockade water trough. They enjoyed a prolonged wallow, since the temperature was hot. Sunyei, Madiba, Challa, Yatta and Mulika remained in the wallow whilst Kora led the rest back to the feeding area, where all browsed without incident throughout the afternoon.

04 March 2007

The day began promising to be hot but prior to leaving, Rapsu and Buchuma enjoyed a test of strength, which was won by Rapsu. The orphans fed until mudbath time without incident, and all enjoyed the mudbath, the youngsters waiting for the older elephants before going in.

05 March 2007

Sunyei led the way out today, heading for the Eastern slopes of Ithumba Hill. Shortly afterwards the orphans split into two groups, Sunyei, Wendi, Ndomot, Tomboi and the other youngsters splitting from Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot, Kinna, Orok, Olmalo, Selengai and Napasha. The two groups fed l00 meters apart, but rejoined on the way to the mudbath. In the afternoon the orphans settled along the Kalovoto watercourse where they browsed happily for the rest of the day.

06 March 2007

Having reached the feeding ground, Kinna and Napasha challenged each other in a pushing game which deteriorated into a fight forcing Napasha to retreat. Having won the dual, Kinna trumpeted and walked majestically back to where Yatta and Nasalot were feeding, as though to boast to them. Because it was very hot, the orphans took to the shade to rest after the mudbath, but resumed feeding when it cooled down.

07 March 2007

Today Kora, Lualeni and Naserian led the group out, but chaos broke out when all of a sudden 4 wild dogs broke out of the thickets making a strange noise as they chased two dikdiks. The orphans panicked and scattered in all directions, so the Keepers had a hectic time trying to round them all up and calm them down. After the tension died down, Naserian, Kora and Lualeni, who have become inseparable, clung to the Keepers for safety. Meanwhile Yatta, Kinna, Mulika, Napasha and Nasalot charged around trumpeting in order to scare away the dogs, who had long since disappeared, still chasing the dikdiks.

08 March 2007

Having taken a drink, the orphans left the Stockades, leaving Challa and Rapsu engaged in a pushing game that soon turned into a fight. Nasalot and Wendi, who had not yet left, intervened to separate the two boys, and escorted them into the feeding area. Kora had lagged behind, as the rest disappeared into the bush, but Yatta sensed that one of their number was missing, and came back to whisper something in his ear. Kora then walked alongside her to join the rest. It was a fairly cool day, which suited the group.

09 March 2007

Out in the feeding area, Rapsu engaged Sunyei in a pushing bout, obviously confident that he had the edge on her because of his long tusks. However, Sunyei used cunning to overpower Rapsu and emerge victorious! Only half the babies wallowed with the older ones today, because Kora escorted some of them away to feed.

10 March 2007

Today, Wendi and Rapsu had a dispute over who should have the scratching rights on a log of wood. Since both wanted possession of the log, a fight was inevitable, which was won by Wendi, leaving Rapsu with no alternative but allow her first possession. At the mudbath only Sunyei and Madiba participated, the rest wading through the wallow to the opposite side before disappearing into the bush. Madiba and Sunyei followed later.

11 March 2007

Today, once again, the orphans bumped into the wild dogs who were on a hunt. Tension ensued, the babies rushing back to the Keepers, and the older elephants moving up to deal with the dogs who were not bothered by their presence, but simply changed direction and walked off. Tension eased, and the elephants continued on their way in a happy mood.

12 March 2007

Before leaving for the field, the orphans milled around the Stockade area, Nasalot, Olmalo and Wendi scratching their bodies against the rocks, whilst the rest went to drink. Kora and his two best friends, Naserian and Lualeni led the way out to feed, but Challa waited for the Keepers. At the mudwallow, the babies having taken their milk, the group decided for a change and went to take a mudbath in a different place between some rocks. Having enjoyed a wallow, they utilized the rocks to scratch themselves.

13 March 2007

Out in the feeding grounds, Nasalot, Kinna, Buchuma and Sidai found some loose soil and enjoyed a soil bath, with the rest soon joining them. Prior to the mudbath, Tomboi found a patch of mud and immediately began rolling in it to cool off, since it was a hot day. Kora led the way to the official mudbath, whilst Yatta came at the back, making sure that none of the orphans were left behind.

14 March 2007

It was an uneventful day, but for Sunyei and Olmalo enjoying a dustbath and a pushing match that lasted just a few minutes. Tomboi and Madiba’s pushing match lasted for quite some time before Tomboi and Buchuma took over. In the evening Kinna and Yatta enjoyed a dustbath before returning for the night.

15 March 2007

Today was uneventful, except that Orok left Nasalot to feed alongside Kinna for a while.

16 March 2007

Ndomot led the group out today. The orphans concentrated on feeding, and after the mudbath, rested under shade until the temperature dropped, since the heat was unbearable. They all flapped their ears constantly to cool their heated bodies.

17 March 2007

Again, feeding was the priority of the day, the only activity being a pushing match at mudbath time between Napasha and Kinna. Yatta and Nasalot came to intervene by driving Napasha away, after which Nasalot led the group back to feed before returning in the evening.

18 March 2007

During the night, the lions roared very close to the Orphans’ Stockade, which made them all rumble. In the morning the footprints of the lions were seen all around the Stockade water trough, indicating that the lions were not far from the Stockade. Following the mudbath, the orphans headed to another waterhole to enjoy themselves because it was very hot, but two lions emerged from the thickets, ending the wallowing there and then! Bellowing with fright, the youngsters ran to meet their Keepers, who were on the way to see what was remiss. The Keepers then spotted the two lions disappearing into the thickets, whereupon Yatta, Kinna, Nasalot, Mulika and Napasha plucked up courage and charged, trumpeting and breaking vegetation to scare away the intruders. The Keepers rounded up the entire herd and changed direction. In the evening, whilst going to watch the news at KWS Headquarters, again the Keepers came across a lone lioness that crossed the road in a leisurely way and disappeared into the bush.

19 March 2007

Early in the morning, Kora and Lualeni enjoyed chasing one another as they waited for the big orphans to signal the exit time. At around 11 a.m. Lualeni, Kora, Naserian and Sidai had a busy time negotiating the thickets as they charged and trumpeted having been scared by a dikdik that jumped up in front of them. Kinna and Wendi then joined in to find out what was remiss. The dikdik disappeared rapidly. Because it was cool, none of the orphans wanted to go into the water today.

20 March 2007

Today Tomboi, Buchuma, Madiba and Ndomot spent time in a tug of war, each trying to prove his superiority but Tomboi emerged as the clear winner. Shortly before the mudbath, the orphans split into two groups, Yatta dodging the Keepers with her group and heading for the mudbath. Meanwhile, Sunyei, Madiba, Naserian, Buchuma and Ndomot were feeding near the Keepers, who had not noticed the absence of Yatta and her satellites. When the time came to go to the mudbath, the Keepers tried to call the missing orphans, but only Sunyei responded, following the path the others had taken and leading the Keepers to Yatta’s group, who were just l00 meters from the mudbath. Sunyei can always be counted upon to show the Keepers where the other orphans are.

21 March 2007

The orphans left the Stockades in a playful manner, deliberately bumping into one another as they went with Kora, Buchuma, Madiba, Lualeni and Buchuma competing for the role of leader, a position won by Kora. Later Kora and Buchuma engaged each other in a pushing game, which was cut short by the intervention of Napasha. Only some of the orphans had a mudbath today, whilst the others opted for a dustbath, because it was only partially sunny.

22 March 2007

It was a lovely morning as the orphans played around the Stockade water trough. Kora and Ndomot were enjoying a pushing game that ended when Rapsu tried to mount Kora, who broke off and ran away. Ndomot just began to browse. Because it was hot, all the orphans enjoyed the mudbath, wallowing for almost 30 minutes before Kora brought the activity to a halt by running out.

24 March 2007

Once the orphans were out in the feeding area, Wendi took Kora, Lualeni, Naserian, Sunyei, Buchuma, Ndomot and Rapsu away from Yatta and the others. Wendi led her group towards the Kalovoto watercourse, whilst Yatta and the rest browsed where Wendi had left them. Because it was already very hot by l0 a.m., the orphans took to shade. Wendi and her group returned to join the others shortly before 11 a.m. After the mudbath, Sunyei and Rapsu began pushing each other but Yatta intervened to separate them, and all browsed peacefully for the rest of the day.

25 March 2007

The day began fine, but soon rain clouds gathered and thunder rumbled in the distance in response to the occasional flash of lightening. Soon heavy rain was pounding the area. The orphans loved it, and rolled around in the wet soil. After half an hour the rain abated, giving way to sunshine, so the orphans enjoyed warming their bodies whilst browsing. In the evening, it again rained for quite some time, an indication that perhaps the rainy season had started.

26 March 2007

The orphans woke up to a damp morning following the rain of the day before. They enjoyed playing in the wet soil. At 9 a.m., chaos broke loose when something frightened the babies, who rushed back screaming to their Keepers. Yatta, Mulika, Kinna and Nasalot remained stationary, but soon began charging and trumpeting to scare whatever had frightened the youngsters. There was no need for a mudbath today, since mudbaths were everywhere for the orphans to enjoy.

27 March 2007

The orphans concentrated on feeding and scattered all over the feeding area, and when the Keepers tried to call them to return in the evening, only Wendi, Sunyei, Kora, Naserian, Taita, Challa, Lualeni and Madiba heeded the Keepers call and followed. At about 7 p.m. Yatta and the others came back, swinging their trunks from side to side, arriving to a rapturous greeting from the others. Sunyei had already shifted from her normal night quarters to that of Yatta, seeing herself in charge due to Yatta’s absence, but the Keepers took her back to her normal place. When the next group of orphans come from Nairobi, it is inevitable that Sunyei, Rapsu, Ndomot and Buchuma join the ranks of the older elephants to make room for a new intake. At 7.30 p.m., about 30 minutes after Yatta’s group had returned to their Stockade, a wild elephant cow with two calves visited the Stockades and drank at the Stockade trough before coming to position themselves about l0 meters from the Stockade, facing the orphans. Nasalot rumbled and tried her best to get out, including digging near the fence, but could not succeed. She looked at the Keepers as if requesting for the gate to be opened so that she could come out, but the Keepers were reluctant, fearing that the lions could pose a threat to the youngsters should the wild group move off leaving them. The moon was bright and the wild elephant and her calves spent some 30 minutes relaxing at the Stockade compound, and then disappeared into the bushes, leaving the orphans rumbling and raising their trunks in the air.

28 March 2007

The orphans were in high spirits this morning, hoping to meet up with their wild visitor. Led by Nasalot, the group followed the tracks of the wild cow, but lost them somewhere in the bush. After the mudbath, the orphans returned to the feeding area where they split into groups, one led by Yatta and the other by Nasalot. It was obvious that Nasalot was very interested in the wild elephant and her calves because she kept searching, raising her trunk in the air from time to time to try and detect the wild group’s whereabouts, but without success.

29 March 2007

The orphans left the Stockades as usual. Once in the field Kora and Buchuma had a serious disagreement, until Sunyei appeared from nowhere and separated the two warring boys. It was a hot day, so all participated in the mudbath.

30 March 2007

After the mudbath Kinna and Yatta enjoyed a pushing game. Later Kora and Lualeni split from the main group and went off alone. They were away for an hour before returning to an enthusiastic welcome from all the others, who touched them with their trunks and rumbled a “welcome back” greeting. Since it was a hot afternoon, there was a lot of ear-flapping to cool themselves down.

31 March 2007

It was a cloudy day, so the orphans shunned the mudbath, spending the day feeding quietly. Kora led the way back to the feeding grounds after the youngsters had taken their milk at noon.