Keepers' Diaries, March 2009

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

:- The first three months of the year are the hottest time in Kenya, and this year following the poor rains at the end of last year, has been drier and hotter than most, forcing the Ithumba orphans on several occasions to draw reserve stomach water to spray behind their ears in an effort to cool their bodies. Wild elephants have been continually pouring in to drink at the Stockade trough throughout both the day and the night, and on one occasion a large bull put his forelegs in the trough as he took water into his trunk from the inlet pipe. The Keepers closed the Gate Valve, not wanting the elephant’s drinking water to be sullied by the dirty feet, something that instantly infuriated the visitor who clearly wanted only fresh water to drink. He promptly charged the Keepers who were busy cleaning the Stockades nearby, even threatening to enter the Gate and only calmed down when he returned to find the clean water flowing again from the inlet – an example of elephant frustration and an indication that the bull knew that the Keepers were in control of the water! Another very large bull who is a habitual late night visitor to the Stockade trough, turning up usually long after it has been drained by others, is much more tolerant. He waits patiently and quietly beside it until dawn when the Keepers turn on the Gate Valve again, surely yet another indication of elephant intelligence.

:- The first three months of the year are the hottest time in Kenya, and this year following the poor rains at the end of last year, has been drier and hotter than most, forcing the Ithumba orphans on several occasions to draw reserve stomach water to spray behind their ears in an effort to cool their bodies. Wild elephants have been continually pouring in to drink at the Stockade trough throughout both the day and the night, and on one occasion a large bull put his forelegs in the trough as he took water into his trunk from the inlet pipe. The Keepers closed the Gate Valve, not wanting the elephant’s drinking water to be sullied by the dirty feet, something that instantly infuriated the visitor who clearly wanted only fresh water to drink. He promptly charged the Keepers who were busy cleaning the Stockades nearby, even threatening to enter the Gate and only calmed down when he returned to find the clean water flowing again from the inlet – an example of elephant frustration and an indication that the bull knew that the Keepers were in control of the water! Another very large bull who is a habitual late night visitor to the Stockade trough, turning up usually long after it has been drained by others, is much more tolerant. He waits patiently and quietly beside it until dawn when the Keepers turn on the Gate Valve again, surely yet another indication of elephant intelligence.

Yatta’s group of older Keeper independent orphans have been having a very social time with their wild friends, turning up on an almost daily basis either at the noon mudbath or the Stockades accompanied by wild companions or having wild companions join them at both venues, encountering wild elephants already at the Stockade trough on a daily basis whenever they return in the evenings and early mornings for a drink, and often allowing their wild friends to drink first, knowing that they can always rely on a drink whenever they need it. Likewise, the Juniors frequently join any wild elephants still drinking at the trough when they emerge from their night quarters in the mornings, and on occasions wild companions have accompanied the Junior Group out into the bush to the feeding areas before separating, leaving the Keepers trailing behind at a safe distance.

As usual, Yatta’s Seniors have been keeping in close touch with the Keeper dependent Youngsters regularly meting up with them to feed or wallow with them, and often returning with them to the Stockades in the evening before leaving again once the youngsters are settled in their Night quarters. As usual there have been exchanges between the two groups and once involving wild herds as well. Wendi, Tomboi and Napasha were absent from Yatta’s group when the Seniors joined the Juniors out in the bush on the 8th but instead turned up at the Stockades in the evening with a wild herd! Yatta’s group arrived a little later to take them over again! On the 13th and 14th Wendi decided to remain with the Junior Group, known as Galana’s group and on the 17th separated from Yatta’s group at the Stockades, and headed off alone in the opposite direction to that taken by Yatta, meeting up with Galana’s group at a point out in the bush – surely again evidence of elephant infrasound communication at work! Sunyei and Madiba have also had a spell with the Seniors, while Rapsu and Challa have opted for a quieter time with the Juniors and their Keepers. On the 26th it was Nasalot and Orok who decided to join the Juniors for the day, reuniting with Yatta’s group again in the evening at the Stockades, amidst the great fanfare of a joyous reunion as if the separation had been extensive!

Elephant intelligence was graphically illustrated on the 22nd when 3 lions turned up at the Stockades, hoping for a drink, only to find wild elephants in residence along with Yatta’s group of Seniors. Immediately Yatta, Mulika and Kinna shepherded the smaller elephants in their group,(Buchuma, Orok, Ol Malo and Napasha) into the narrow corridor between the back of Galana’s stockade and the Staff quarters, leaving them under the care of Napasha before returning to join their wild friends in the stand-off with the lions. The elephants were resolute in refusing the lions access to the water, despite intimidation in the form of loud roaring mock onslaughts in an attempt to drive the elephants away. However, they were going nowhere, and the elephants stood vigil all night, even long after the lions had given up and taken themselves off. Only when daylight dawned the next morning did Napasha, Buchuma, Ol Malo and little Orok leave the security of their safe refuge to rejoin Yatta’s group and embark on another day’s adventures.

Wild dogs have been visitors to the Stockade water on the 7th, when four took a hurried drink, and again on the 16th when only 3 turned up. And on the l0th a wild leopard had to await his turn, crouching only meters from the trough until the elephants had taken their fill and he was able to move in.

The Keepers were glad to see the bull given the name Rafiki again on the 14th, when he turned up for a drink with 3 male companions after a long absence and spent a long time at the Stockade compound rumbling to the youngsters in their Stockade. Rafiki knows them well, having spent many weeks loosely attached to the group in the past, sharing their noon mudbath and even walking behind them and their human Keepers, on one occasion sleeping outside their Stockade, his huge head using a large boulder for a pillow! In fact the presence of this totally wild bull, and his amazing tolerance and acceptance of an unusual situation motivated the special status he has been given at the Ithumba Stockades, especially as he was one of the very first wild elephants to present himself in daylight at the Stockade compound and drink from the Stockade trough.

An unusual event occurred on the 21st, when a baby bushbuck turned up at the Stockades and took a bottle of milk from the Keepers, who shepherded it into their compound. However, later on the bushbuck escaped, and has not been seen again. Meanwhile the orphaned duiker that was reared by the Ithumba Keepers has also gone wild, but is still seen occasionally coming to drink at the mini mudwallow near the water trough.

It has truly been a very “wild” time for the Ithumba orphans and their Keepers, the Stockade’s water supply proving a real boon for the wild elephants, as well as our orphans, during this exceedingly dry and very hot time of the year. Sian’s foot problem is very much improved, as has her general condition, allowing her again to lead the Juniors on many occasions as a Junior Matriarch. Galana remains the main Matriarch, often assisted by Makena, while Sunyei is obviously considering upgrading herself to the independent group led by Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna. The usual sparring matches between the boys continue as usual, the main players being Kamboyo and Zurura and Madiba and Kora. That elephants can predict rain was illustrated when all the boys of the Junior Group, namely Madiba, Kora, Kenze, Kamboyo, Ndomot and Zurura took time off from feeding to celebrate for a full 20 minutes during the morning of the 27th, and, sure enough, that afternoon there was a light drizzle of rain! The celebration involved excited trumpeting and chasing each other around the bushes, something uncharacteristic on a hot day during a very dry month when the search for sufficient browse usually takes priority! Such uncharacteristic playfulness must surely have been the prediction of rain later that day!

March 2009 day to day

01 Mar

A very strong easterly wind today, and the promise of an extremely hot day. By l0 a.m. the orphans had to seek shade under which to feed, and all enjoyed an extensive mudbath. Later they rested under shade until temperatures dropped, before continuing to browse. At 6.30 2 wild bulls came to the Stockade trough, and stayed there until after dark before leaving.

Wild elephants at the stockade water trough

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