Keepers' Diaries, March 2015

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

March was a hot month with soaring temperatures. This can be challenging for both the Keepers and their elephant charges but the midday mud bath provides respite at the hottest time of day. This month, on a number of occasions, the dependent Ithumba orphans have been joined by the ex orphans and their wild friends. The mud bath on these days was heaving with activity. On one occasion just as the orphans moved to browse a short distance from the mud bath thirteen wild bulls came and wallowed with abandon, with the juniors pretending not to stare, but clearly interested in all that was going on. While the Keepers took their lunch under a shade of a tree close to the mud wallow these bulls, old regulars, were completely unperturbed knowing full well the Keepers mean them no harm. Come rain or shine, Bongo is predictably always the one junior who will always take a wallow. Coming from Mount Kenya he appears to be immune to chilly days, and is always more than willing to submerge himself at any opportunity.

March was a hot month with soaring temperatures. This can be challenging for both the Keepers and their elephant charges but the midday mud bath provides respite at the hottest time of day. This month, on a number of occasions, the dependent Ithumba orphans have been joined by the ex orphans and their wild friends. The mud bath on these days was heaving with activity. On one occasion just as the orphans moved to browse a short distance from the mud bath thirteen wild bulls came and wallowed with abandon, with the juniors pretending not to stare, but clearly interested in all that was going on. While the Keepers took their lunch under a shade of a tree close to the mud wallow these bulls, old regulars, were completely unperturbed knowing full well the Keepers mean them no harm. Come rain or shine, Bongo is predictably always the one junior who will always take a wallow. Coming from Mount Kenya he appears to be immune to chilly days, and is always more than willing to submerge himself at any opportunity.

Suguta’s semi independent group are all intact, with splinter groups arriving at the stockades or joining the juniors separately from time to time. These splinter groups include Makireti, Kilabasi and Kasigau, and Chaimu with Kamboyo, with Ishanga roving between. Interestingly Suguta’s are reluctant to spent protracted time with the older ex orphans headed by Mulika and Yatta. This is because they love the feeling of leading their own herd and family, and are fearful of loosing any of their group to the older orphans, who can be quite persuasive. This month some of our independent orphans have visited the stockades with new wild friends, wild friends we have not met before and who are not yet familiar with the unusual scene of humans mixing so comfortably with the orphans.

Ex orphan Lualeni has been hovering close to the dependent orphans this month, and this is because she is eyeing who in the group might be ready to pluck for a night out. The Keepers have to keep a close eye on Lualeni, mindful that their charges are still too young and remain milk dependent so need to be in the safety of the stockades at night out of harms way, as they are vulnerable to the hyenas.

Dependent orphan Orwa is big on his strength testing games, and Vuria, Kanjoro, Garzi, Teleki, Bomani sometimes oblige as these games are extremely important in bull development and they are always extremely physical. Girls Sities, Narok, Turkwel, Kainuk and Shukuru, Laragai and Mutara are long suffering and are very often the targets for the pushing, shoving and mounting games of the little boys, but they certainly can show their displeasure too when not in the mood to be harrassed. There are very firm bonds and friendships between the sexes, and these do last a lifetime.

When the ex orphans or Suguta’s group join the fold the younger bulls relish the opportunity of sparring with the big boys and they have a hero worship on some of the older ex orphans. This month Rapsu gave them all a great thrill by spending a good long time with them one day. He is growing into a magnificent boy. Tomboi too has given generous attention to the little bulls, while the slightly younger bulls Kibo, and Kandecha spending sparring time with them, and Ololoo, Kilabasi, Kasigua are always available for some good strength testing shoving.

All the orphans with the exception of Napasha have remained close to home this month, which is of course comforting for us, knowing they are all safe and well. Napasha is now of the age when he heads out for protracted time with his wild friends, and this time away can last months. Last year he was gone for just over six months. This is quite normal bull behavior as they team up with older and wiser wild friends who teach and mentor them. When the rains break, and the signs have been there this month that the rains are on their way, it is highly likely that our independent ex orphans will take the opportunity of plentiful water to head further a field broadening their horizons too.

Aside from the constant elephant movement close to home, this month has seen the arrival of our wild dogs again who visited the stockade waterhole, but did not remain for long before disappearing again, their territories are huge and they can cover extraordinary distances. Numerous other animals are regulars and share the precious water points at Ithumba, this month included warthogs, bushbucks, duikers, dikdiks, kudus, impalas and jackals, with lion leopard and hyena regular visitors at night. Towards the end of the month some nice showers of rain filled some waterholes and created lots of mud which was cause for celebration. The mood of the orphans changed, and there was more time and less concentration needed on feeding, as new green shoots were exploding with each new day. The comings and goings throughout March are chronicled in the Keepers daily complemented by some stunning photographs.

March 2015 day to day

01 Mar

The partially independent group led by Suguta, reported at the stockade in the morning. Kalama and Melia walked up to the stockade fence with their trunks held up and communicated to the juniors, the dependent orphans still in their night stockades. Once the stockade gates were opened, Kalama, Suguta, Melia and Tumaren entered into the stockade to scrounge around to see whether the babies had left anything to eat like left over green, the grewia bark which they love so much, or perhaps some Lucerne. Kalama left the stockade with a branch in her mouth having found something to her liking. She then tried to block Orwa from leaving the stockade and the keepers were forced to intervene before the situation escalated as Orwa was eager to get out and face the day. On her way out, Kalama met with Sities. Sities tried to engage her and play but Kalama was not interested and so she pushed Sities out of the way. Again the keepers had to reprimand her. Clearly she was in a mischievous mood. Semi dependent Chemi chemi picked on Orwa to play which was a thrill but soon Orwa surrendered. Kanjoro rumbled as she walked east of the stockade. The juniors followed him. Orwa and Bongo decided to stick with the partially independent group for some time before the keepers called them. Kibo followed the two boys and joined the juniors. In the browsing fields little Vuria picked a fight with much bigger Kibo but clearly this was no even contest and very soon Vuria sidled away and pretended he had better things to do. The baby bulls love their interaction with the older boys as strength testing games is very much part of their daily routines, infact outside of feeding that is there most favourite pastime. At mud bath time, all except Orwa participated in wallowing. After the wallowing, the orphans went for their red soil dusting and later Shukuru, Teleki, Kanjoro, Bomani, Garzi, Turkwel and Narok scratched against the nearby trees. Laragai and Vuria had a brief strength testing exercise that ended soon when Vuria surrendered. In the afternoon the sun was extremely hot, sapping the energy out of the orphans and their keepers. Turkwel, Bongo and Sities sensibly stood under a tree waiting for temperatures to go down. Shukuru continued to feed but she continuously flapped her ears in an effort to keep her body temperature down. In the evening, Shukuru led the way back to the stockades, setting a steady pace. The cooler temperatures were welcomed as the long shadows fell and the sun became gentle as she slipped low on the horizon. The orphans fed on their milk, savouring every drop and set about eating their grewia branches that the Keepers had cut for their night time snacks. The water trough in each of their stockades was frequented a lot, not just to drink but to splash on their backs. Later once they had their fill one by one they lay down to sleep with their heads resting on the freshly dug earth in their stockades. They were lined up in a row sleeping extremely deeply relaxed and happy knowing they were safe for the night.

Kalama with a branch in her mouth and Orwa

Kibo pushing with smaller Vuria

The orphans wallowing

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