Keepers' Diaries, March 2021

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Ithumba was a hive activity during March, with different groups of ex-orphans and various familiar faces visiting throughout the month. We were delighted to see ex-orphan bulls Challa, Tomboi, and Zurura, all of whom are in their mid- to late teens and looking very impressive. Another frequent guest was ‘Dad,’ a magnificent wild tusker and father to a number of our ex-orphans’ babies, including Yetu and Mwende. With so many visitors filtering through, it was often hard to know who was wild and who was an orphan during the midday mud bath. The afternoons were so hot that the orphans added a second mud bath to their routine, taking every opportunity to cool off. Storm clouds began to build towards the end of the month, which is always a welcome sign that the rains are on their way.

Normally, our Keepers are so excited when our ex-orphans visit, as nothing is more gratifying than seeing the babies they raised for years now living wild lives. The sight of Mutara’s ex-orphan herd approaching, however, now fills them with dread. Some of the more devious members of her herd, namely Suguta, Sities, and Turkwel, have started spiriting away their favourite dependent orphans. They artfully whisk them away from under the watchful eyes of the Keepers, so that they can have the babies all to themselves as they browse. Suguta is the worst offender of the trio. She always targets Dololo, and occasionally Musiara, too. These two babies are also beloved by the older females in the dependent orphan herd, particularly Roi, Oltaiyoni, Kamok, and Maramoja, so they are certainly not lacking attention. Despite the Keepers’ best efforts, Suguta and Turkwel managed to abscond with their favourite babies for a day of doting. This month, whenever the Keepers saw Mutara’s herd approach, they would spring into vigilant mode. They knew that if they didn’t keep an extra close eye on the youngsters, they would have to spend hours tracking them and their well-meaning kidnappers down in the dense bush. The girls sometimes bring the babies back to the dependent herd to save the Keepers the ordeal, but not always!

Female elephants adore babies and want to fawn over them as much as possible. Another notorious ‘baby-snatcher,’ as the Keepers used to refer to her, was Lualeni. Now that she has her own calf, Lulu, she seems cured of her kidnapping ways. Lualeni and Lulu arrived on the 8th of the month in the company of fellow ex-orphans Ithumbah and Kilabasi. They spent the night just outside the stockade compound, waiting for their dependent herd to be let out in the morning. After years of honing her nurturing skills, it is wonderful to witness Lualeni as a mother. Instead of trying to abscond with the dependent orphans, she is now content to bring her daughter close to home, just to spend some quality time with her human-elephant family.

Suguta isn’t the only elephant who signals a long afternoon ahead for the Keepers. Rapa has started to test his independence, venturing deep into the bush and returning to the stockades on his own schedule. He is occasionally joined by Jotto, Tusuja, and Mundusi on these adventures. Even if the Keepers can’t locate them, they always show up at the stockades later to put themselves to bed for the night.

Yatta’s entire ex-orphan herd remained in the area throughout the month. Yatta is heavily pregnant and has been denying three-year-old Yoyo, her second born, the opportunity to nurse. She gently nudges Yoyo away, just to let him know that a newborn is on the way and he won’t be able to have milk anymore. This seems to rankle Yoyo, as he surely notices that his friends Nusu and Kama, who are slightly older than him, are still nursing from their mothers, Nasalot and Kinna.

The dependent orphans were thrilled to have Yatta and Wendi’s ex-orphan herd remain in the area, as it gave them ample opportunities to play with their wild-born babies. Ukame and Namalok, who recently joined Yatta’s herd, are thriving in their wild lives. Ukame takes her newfound nanny duties very seriously, particularly when it comes to looking after Lenana and Chyulu’s babies, Lapa and Cheka. Dependent girls Maramoja, Malkia, Roi, and Esampu must be rather envious of Ukame’s station, as they covet any opportunity to interact with Lapa and Cheka. 

10-year-old Kanjoro continues to come and go freely, without hitching himself to any particular group, as bulls are wont to do. Sometimes, he was with Mutara’s group, or occasionally in the company of Kibo and Kilaguni. These three bulls spent an entire day with the dependent orphans, waiting for them to come out of their stockades in the morning and escorting them back home in the evening. The youngsters were very happy to have these older friends around and clearly felt comfortable in their presence.

We are happy to report that Barsilinga is doing much better. It has taken our poor, patient boy nearly two years to heal from a mysterious foot injury that left him lame. We believe that a thorn penetrated deep into his foot and, even after two medical interventions, remaining slivers inhibited his recovery. At the beginning of this year, we had a breakthrough when an abscess formed on the side of his leg. It finally popped, expelling the offending object once and for all. Now that he is feeling better, we expect that Barsilinga will seek his independence once more. Tusuja is very close friends with him, and we wonder if they will take this bold step together, or perhaps join up with one of the ex-orphan herds.

Before his injury brought him back home, Barsilinga originally went wild with Kithaka, Garzi, and Lemoyian. These old friends visited on several occasions this month, in the company of Mutara’s herd. Even at nine years old, Kithaka remains extremely naughty — so much so that the dependent orphans and Keepers prudently give him a wide berth! He and Barsilinga have been best friends from the outset, but they have opposite personalities. Barsilinga is loving and tolerant, while Kithaka is always plotting some disruption or other. We wonder if that is the reason why Barsilinga has not teamed up with his troublesome friend quite yet.

While he is no Kithaka, ex-orphan Lemoyian succeeded in own roguish activity this month. He finally managed to sneak into one of the stockades and raid the dairy cube stash, which is something he had been attempting for weeks. We must admire the ingenuity that went into the heist: As the orphans were coming home one evening, Lemoyian nonchalantly entered the oldest group’s stockade and proceeded to spend the night with them, feasting to his heart’s content! He came sauntering out in the morning looking most pleased with himself. Mutara’s herd retrieved their naughty friend later that day and took him deep into the Park with them.

Sana Sana still likes to lead the orphans out to browse in the morning, while Roi, Kamok, and Oltaiyoni uphold matriarchal roles within the dependent herd. Roi is the enforcer, putting misbehaving orphans like Mundusi in their place and providing much-needed discipline. Oltaiyoni is the designated referee, curtailing any games she deems too rough by walking between the opponents. Kamok is the nurturer, with a particular soft spot for little Ambo. While Ambo relishes this special attention, he is also becoming reluctant to head back to the stockades in the evening. Several times this month, he opted to sneak off with older friends like Rapa, Naseku, Siangiki and Enkikwe, savouring extra browsing time. These orphans know that they are not quite ready to fly the coop, and always make their way back to the stockades just before nightfall.

March 2021 day to day

01 Mar

The sky was partly covered by clouds when the orphans came out of their stockades this morning. Ambo was left behind as he tried to see if he could get an extra bottle. When he realized that an extra bottle wasn't forthcoming, he left complaining and asking why Enkikwe always gets an extra bottle whenever he comes for treatment, yet he is older and bigger than him. The big girls Naseku and Kamok heard his complaints and ran back to pick up their little brother Ambo, and escort him out to the browsing field. 

Barsilinga had a light pushing game with Oltaiyoni while Karisa picked on Mundusi to play with. 

At around ten o'clock in the morning, the orphans were joined by Mutara’s ex-orphan herd. In the process of preparing to go to the mud bath, Suguta and Turkwel snatched Dololo and left with him. The Keepers couldn't understand how it happened, because it happened so fast! It appears it was a well-calculated move carried out by the two girls. The Keepers knew very well that since the rest of Mutara’s herd stayed with them that Suguta and Turkwel would come back to reunite with their friends later on, bringing Dololo with them too! At around three o'clock in the afternoon, the two ex-orphans with Dololo showed up at the mud bath where they met with all their friends. The Keepers took their Dololo and safe guarded him until they made sure that he returned back to the stockades with his age mates in the evening; for he is still too small to be out in the wild. 

Challa visited the mud bath and the two boys Jotto and Mundusi stood close to him, wondering when they will ever reach Challa's size. After admiring him for some time, the two boys left looking forward to the day they might reach Challa’s mighty size. 

Naseku and Ambo

Barsilinga playing with Oltaiyoni

Sities, Dololo and Suguta