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.