Keepers' Diaries, March 2019

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The month of March is definitely the hottest month in Kenya, just before the long rains are due to break in April. The hot weather means Yatta’s ex-orphan herd with their eight wild born babies, in the absence of Malkia and Mwende, Bongo, Teleki and Ololoo, have also stayed around the stockade area this month, with its assurance of water points topped up by the Trust’s water bowser, and the extra food supplements for the lactating mothers in the form of Lucerne grass which the Keepers supply mainly for the dependent orphans, but which they always make sure they have extra of for the graduate orphans as well. 

Kithaka, Barsilinga and Garzi are still coming back to the stockades at night as well, although are choosing to browse separately to the dependent orphans sometimes during the day. Sometimes they were in the company of Olare’s herd too, who are all back together and reunited with Olare now that Lualeni’s baby Lulu is getting older and doesn’t need as many nannies anymore. Chemi Chemi is also a part of Olare’s herd, but he has inherited the nickname from the Keepers of ‘Lone Ranger’ as he prefers to walk alone much of the time, although sometimes he arrives in the company of Mutara and Narok’s graduate orphan groups in the morning as well. Orwa moved away from Narok and Bomani for a while, and Chemi Chemi did join up with Bomani for a few days this month, enjoying his company, and he does spend increasingly longer times morning and evening in the company of the dependent herd too.

In the hot weather the orphans spend most of their afternoons under the shade of trees, before getting in a quick bout of browsing to fill their tummies before making their way home in the evenings, usually via their favourite road-side puddle or even the main water hole to cool off again. Even Kauro, who hates mud baths and tries to avoid them at all costs, was found bathing in the mud bath on some days, although he nearly got stuck once when he used the wrong side to get into the water. 

The hot weather brings out all sorts of behaviour in the elephants, and even the normally well-behaved Oltaiyoni was forced into trying to sneak an extra milk bottle one day. She was so thirsty, and when she noticed the Keepers weren’t looking, she grabbed the bottle from the ground and ran off with it, since she knew the Keepers would not allow her to have it for long. By the time the Keepers managed to get her, Oltaiyoni had already finished half of the milk! Naughty Mteto tried her best to sneak her trunk into Namalok’s unguarded bucket of milk as well, and even though the Keepers caught her just in time, she managed to get one trunkful and run off before the Keepers could reprimand her. It seems she still has some of her naughty Nursery traits! In this dry weather, the elephants resort to trying to extract nutrition from the bark off branches and trees, stripping what they come across and chewing them for a long time; they also spend most of their time browsing and less time playing, conscious of the fact they have to fill their tummies before returning home for the night. Our orphans however and particularly spoilt however, with lucerne pellets available to them morning and evening.  

One day Namalok and Karisa had a disagreement over some green leaves of a shrub which Namalok had found, but which Karisa was also interested in. The two boys decided to sort out their disagreement by pushing one another. As the boys were sorting out their differences, Enkikwe passed by and helped himself to the green leaves. By the time Namalok and Karisa had reached an agreement to share the leaves, Enkikwe had already polished them off leaving little left! The two boys certainly regretted not just sharing in the first place. 

The orphans of course don’t stop playing entirely, they are babies after all, and the bulls in the herd are always particularly lively. Mundusi is the most playful of all and he is as fat as a tick, thriving in Ithumba, which is remarkable given what a desperate figure he cut when he came to us skin and bone in the drought year of 2017. He enjoys challenging his older peers especially to wrestling games, which he never wins of course! One day Rapa attempted to climb on Mteto, something which didn't go down well with the girls in the herd especially as she is two years younger than Rapa. Dupotto single handedly pushed him down and warned him to behave when he is with his adopted sisters. The orphans always enjoy playing with the wild-born babies too, particularly Malkia who is so fond of babies and always makes a bee-line for them when they are around. One day Olsekki was lucky enough to have a brief pushing game with Galana’s baby Gawa. Their game ended when Olsekki saw Gawa's mum approaching however, and he ran off fearful that Galana would discipline him for playing with her baby, so made a hasty exit.  For the dependent babies, time with the babies is a closely monitored affair by the older nannies making sure no funny business takes place. Elephants are simply obsessed with babies, and to spend time with the babies is treasured time indeed. This makes the joy of their own wild born babies all the sweeter for the herd, with the joy shared by all.  

We sometimes wonder if poor Nasalot ever knew she was going to give birth to such a rascal in the form of Nusu. He is definitely a handful and so characterful.  Naseku loves playing with the babies as much as Malkia, and when Nusu challenged her to a pushing game she handled him softly, knowing full well he is just a mischievous naughty youngster. Esampu on the other hand is very happy to fight back, and one day had a small fight with Nusu when he pushed her over for no reason at all. Esampu turned to retaliate and the two had a pushing game until Esampu saw Nusu's mother Nasalot approaching, at which point she dissolved into the herd!

We only saw wild-living orphans Chyulu and Rapsu, who were together with a wild bull, on the 2nd of the month when they stood in the stockade compound and welcomed the babies out in the morning. After that they must have moved off further into the Park, which in the northern area is easy to do given that it is an area of 3,000 square kilometres.  We only saw ex-orphan bull Tomboi once as well, on the 16th, when he arrived with two wild bulls and immediately joined the orphans for lucerne in the morning. Tomboi took a whole bale to himself and moved a distance away to enjoy feeding on it on his own. Chaimu tried to join Tomboi but he wouldn’t let her, although amazingly enough when little Tusuja joined Tomboi to feed, the big bull allowed the small boy to share his food. 

March 2019 day to day

01 Mar

Soon after leaving the stockade, the orphans settled for lucerne. Olsekki, who apparently did not have enough sleep last night, decided to take a nap on the ground. He found a nice soft spot with grass that was so comfortable. The nap didn't last long though, as he woke up and continued feeding on lucerne. On the way out to browse, Barsilinga, Kithaka and Garzi parted ways with the juniors only to report back at the stockade late in the evening. The three boys, who consider themselves grownups now, have a tendency of disappearing and coming back in the evening, simply because they don't want to be told what to do anymore. Narok, Orwa and Bomani joined the dependent orphans to browse, but normally they like to be independent. At mud bath time, Yatta’s ex-orphan herd showed up but they continued walking to wherever it was they were going and did not stop to interact with the dependent orphans for long.

In the afternoon, the sun was still hot. Orwa, Bomani, Sapalan and Rapa decided to relax under a tree with Orwa opting to lie down. In the evening, Orwa, Bomani and Narok escorted the juniors back to the stockade. 

Olsekki on the ground

Lualeni and her baby Lulu

Mundusi playing with Mteto