The same heat that has gripped the whole of the country this past month has necessitated several wallowing sessions a day for our orphans at Ithumba, as well as prolonged sessions of taking siestas under trees with ample shade. They always head to their mud bath as part of their routine and milk feeding time at noon, but often pass by there again or at the Kone Dam in the late afternoon for another refreshing dip in the water.
The partially independent and Ex Orphan herds have been moving around quite a lot this month, swapping members and changing herds but always remaining within the Ithumba Unit area, sighted by our keepers on an almost daily basis. An interesting development this month has been Suguta, Kanjoro and Mutara becoming more independent and choosing not to return to the stockades at night now. However they are more often than not waiting for the dependent orphans outside their stockades in the morning, or soon meet up with them at the noon mud bath in order to browse with their dear friends for the rest of the day, escorting them home in the evening and then meandering off into the bush until the following day. This independence is not new to Suguta who had been partially independent previously, but last year returned with injuries that required continuous treatment. Understanding this, she became again dependent of her own free will, and has been so now for over a year, seemingly relishing the extra attention. At 7 years old, she is 2 years older than Kanjoro, so her guidance and familiarity with life out in the bush will benefit Kanjoro and Mutara in the fullness of time.
The dependent orphans relish the opportunity to meet up with the now partially independent trio, embarking on pushing games and opting to browse close to them whilst they remain within their fold during the day. Later in the month 6 year old Sities also decided to join up with this trio and become more independent of her keepers. On the 19th she succeeded in spiriting Barsilinga away to join her group. He had been agitated of late, clearly anxious to join his older friends on their exciting more independent life out in the bush. However, at just 4 years old, he is still too young for such independence so the keepers went to retrieve him and walk him back to the stockades that the evening. Barsilinga still requires milk, besides which his best friends Kithaka and Lemoyian remain very much part of the dependent juniors.
Later in the month, it appeared that this partially independent group had decided to join up with Chaimu for a few days, and on the 23rd this group (consisting of Chaimu, Mutara, Suguta, Kanjoro and Sities) arrived at the stockade compound in the morning on what the keepers later realised was a recruiting mission! That night on the way back to the stockades, Kainuk and her long time friend Turkwel absconded with Chaimu’s new group and did not return back to the stockades that night. As the orphans were settling in to eat their morning lucerne the next day, this little herd arrived and immediately settled into socializing with the still-dependant herd who were obviously eager to find answers to their friends disappearance the previous evening. They fed together throughout the day but later the partially independent group separated themselves from the milk-dependents and went their own way.
There was great celebration when the same day 13 year old Ex Orphan bull Napasha, who had not been seen for many moons, also arrived at the mud wallow to bathe with the dependant group where he spent a long time, obviously having missed it immensely.
Often at their frequent mud baths the dependent orphans will be joined by other partially independent or Ex Orphan groups such as Yatta and Mulika’s herd. Almost half way through the month Wendi and her baby “Wiva” arrived at the stockade compound without either Yatta or Mulika but accompanied by other members of that herd namely Nasalot, Galana, Makena, Loijuk, Chyulu, Zurura, Challa, Sunyei and Sidai. Over the following days this little nuclear herd of Wendi’s continued to meet up with the dependent orphans to browse with them and check in – the keepers always relishing the opportunity to watch lively little Wiva play and grow up full of vigour in the company of her doting nannies - a youth that was not afforded to her mother Wendi who came to us as a newborn. Mulika and Yatta visited the orphans separately with their respective babies, Mwende and Yetu, along with a wild bull in tow around the 14th, confirming the separation of this Ex Orphan herd for the time being.
On the night of the 8th the hot weather gave way to a torrential storm which brought some much desired relief to both orphans and keepers alike. It also created some delightful puddles and small ponds for the orphans to play in over the next few days when gradually heat built up again. Our little ‘water boy’ Bongo particularly relished this. As the heat increased again throughout the month, the weaver birds (after whom our little Wiva was named returned to their favourite acacia tree in the stockade compound - a tell-tale sign heralding the onset of the long awaited rains in the coming weeks.
Ex Orphan Lualeni has also been a frequent visitor to the dependent orphans this month, normally up to mischievous kidnapping tactics to keep the keepers on their toes. On the 2nd of the month she joined the orphans at the mud bath and attempted to steal one of the milk bottles from the bucket, which resulted in a tug of war with the keepers ending in the Keepers being able to pull the bucket away from her. However, later that day the keepers realised that the free spirited Laragai together with Kithaka and Lemoyian were missing from the group. Attempts to search for them were thwarted by Madiba who can be defensive at times, mock-charging the keepers. The search resumed later in the evening when the trio were eventually located casually browsing on the road towards the Ithumba Camp, totally relaxed and undaunted by the late hour. (Back in 2013 Laragai was part of a group that managed to disappear for three nights!) The three dependents were escorted back to the stockade where it appeared that Narok and Barsilinga were waiting for them. Narok was among the group that disappeared those years ago and since then she has never repeated this. A few days later Laragai remained behind at mud bath again with a group of Ex Orphans and wild elephants but the keepers realised she was missing and came back to retrieve her. At only 4 years old Laragai is slightly too young to be independent but it is clear that she has quite an independent character!
Makireti, Kilabasi, Kilaguni and Kasigau are another Ex Orphan group that choose to frequently meet up with the dependent orphans throughout the day – either waiting outside the stockade or beside the mud bath at noon. The dependent boys, especially Orwa, immediately choose to practice their wrestling and tussling skills on the older and slightly more experienced boys such as Kasigau and Kilaguni. Olare’s group, still consisting of Kalama, Kandecha, Kibo, Kitirua, Melia, Murka, Naisula and Tumaren meet up with the dependent orphans on occasions and on the 4th they spirited Orwa away with their group, leaving Naisula and Chaimu, who had been browsing with this herd, as replacements. Naisula and Chaimu browsed with the orphans for an hour or so before leaving, only to return to the stockades later with Orwa in tow and to spend the night just outside the stockade having returned this dependent baby back to his keepers and his friends. At 5 years old it is clear that Orwa too is beginning to yearn for a wild life and often stays with the Ex Orphans and wanders off with them to browse for a while, but up until now has always returned to the dependent group (or is escorted back to them by other Ex Orphans). However, it is clear that he too is feeling the call of the wild and will become partially independent soon.
Rapsu, previously referred to as the ‘Lone Ranger’, sometimes visits the orphans when they are at mud bath and has been in the company of other wild bull friends this month as the wild elephants begin to congregate around more permanent water sources near our orphan unit. Wendi’s group and all their wild born babies have also visited the stockade area sporadically throughout the month for water, but often miss out on meeting up with the dependent orphans. Along with Madiba we have also seen Ex Orphan bulls Orok, Buchuma, Challa and Meibai as well in the company of Madiba, all in good health, enjoying the waterhole in the hot weather.