Temperatures soared at the beginning of the month, so much so that on the 1nd the younger orphans were forced to draw stomach water to spray over themselves. However, Ithumba was blessed with very heavy rain on the 8th and 20th March, with a veritable cloud-burst on the 26th, which overflowed the rain-gauge, so must have been in excess of 4 inches overnight! These large storms have turned the vegetation lush and Ithumba once again resembles the primordeal Garden of Eden, with blossoms and butterflies everywhere. Hence, the Ithumba orphans have enjoyed a month of plenty; every depression filled with fresh rainwater, making a treat from the usual saline borehole water, and mudbaths and wallows at every turn.
As usual, the group often split into two. On the 9th Yatta led the older orphans eastwards, returned to drink at the Stockades at 2 p.m., and met up with the youngsters out in the bush to spend time with them during the afternoon. The orphans separated into two groups again on the 11th, again joining the youngsters for the afternoon, and on the 12th Nasalot and Wendi returned ahead of the others to escort the youngsters back to the Stockades in the evening. On the 13th, the older group led by Yatta split away from the youngsters at the Stockade compound early in the morning, leaving the babies in the care of Galana, who accepted their departure without question. Galana is taking on more leadership duties nowadays. Whenever Yatta takes the older group off, the youngsters are left in the care of their Keepers, and one of the ex Nursery Matriarchs assumes leadership, there being no shortage of younger ex Nursery Matriarchs amongst the younger set - namely Sunyei, Galana, Lualeni, Loijuk, Sian, and Sidai and on occasions, Wendi, who always has difficulty deciding which group she should join for the day and so divides her time between the two. This sort of dilemma is highlighted in the March Diary when Selengai felt that she should be in the Yatta’s Senior group rather than the younger set on that occasion left with Galana in charge. She bellowed loudly, which brought Mulika back at the double, followed by all the older elephants who also came to determine the cause of Selengai’s distress. Mulika blamed poor Galana, pushing her aside roughly. Selengai as always been her chosen one. After that the older elephants decided to remain with the youngsters, much to Selengai’s delight, and also the delight of Olmalo, who is Yatta’s favourite, and Kenze, Orok and Zurura who share Nasalot as their surrogate “mother”. Another youngster who faced the dilemma of choice one day was Olmalo, and when Buchuma found himself left behind with the babies, he decided to do something about it independently, , raising his trunk to test the wind, and having picked up the scent of the older group, taking himself off to join them.
On the 14th, having led the entire herd out to the Kalovoto river area, Yatta and the older elephants crossed the river, leaving the babies on the other side in the care of the younger Matriarchs and the Keepers and on the 15th the orphans split into three separate groups, Yatta, Nasalot and Mulika leading one group, Kinna another, while Galana was left in charge of the youngsters who remained behind with the Keepers. On the 16th the reunion between the groups took place at the mudbath venue,,and was, as usual, filled with happy trumpets and loving rumbles, expressions of joy that always accompany every reunion even if the two groups have only separated for a few hours!
This month Kinna on three occasions has opted to escort the babies rather than join Yatta’s Senior set, once accompanied by Tomboi, who is definitely in the Senior Group and one of the most independent of all. Nor is it unusual for one of the young bulls to be alongside a Junior Leader, Rapsu often choosing to accompany Sunyei whilst Kamboyo enjoys heading the column when Sian is Leader. On the 3rd Zurura joined Loijuk as leader from the noon mudbath but Kamboyo (the time Keeper) is usually the Leader when it is time forth noon milk and mudbath venue, or alternatively time to begin the journey back home at the end of each day. All the Junior Matriarchs seem to amicably share Leadership responsibilities, with Galana now playing an ever more active leadership role. This Diary also indicates that Sian is taking a leaf from Kora’s book, by choosing to shun going into the mudbath. Kora has never been overly keen on bathing and perhaps Sian had her fill of this at her Amboseli home where the elephants spend a lot of time immersed in the swamps.
It is interesting to read about a new development involving the main Matriarch, Yatta, who, having escorted the youngsters back to the stockades in the evening of the 21st, hurriedly left with her group before the Keepers could close the Stockade Gates on them, and didn’t come home until after 8 p.m. at night. Then on the 23rd uncharacteristically Yatta decided to leave on her own, walking away from the herd at the Stockades despite protests from the Keepers which she chose to ignore. On that particular day she arrived alone at the youngsters’ noon mudbath, and having checked that they were all present and correct, again walked away on her own to join up with the Older Group somewhere out in the bush, for she was back with them when they joined the youngsters to escort them back in the evening. What is obvious from all the reports in the March Diary is the very subtle communication that takes place between the various groups, independent of the Keepers who merely provide a “family” presence for the youngsters. Only on one occasion when there was thunder and lightening threatening a heavy downpour did all the orphans obey the summons of the Keepers without question to return earlier than usual to the Night Stockades. On other occasions, however, they act entirely independently of their Keepers, leaving the Keepers astonished by the silent sophistication of messages that pass between them. When the older elephants decide to separate and go their own way, this normally causes no concern amongst the youngsters, unless of course one of their number decides that he or she is in the wrong group!
Interludes involving other species include another encounter with 4 dreaded wild dogs out in the bush, when the youngsters were thrown into panic mode, rushing back to their Keepers, whilst the older elephants,( namely Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot, Wendi, Napasha, Tomboi and Taita) roundly expelled the intruders, chasing them well and truly away, so much so that they only returned to join up with the others in the evening. Some noisy baboons also upset the tranquility of the group on another occasion, but were likewise dispatched by the older members of the unit who always assume this responsibility.
Our Ithumba elephants continue to inspire amazement, wonder and awe - teaching us so much about the sophistication of elephant communication as they grow up, as well as the lasting bonds of friendship and the responsibilities of ”family”. It is, indeed, a great privilege to have been able to interpret such very human behaviour.