Keepers' Diaries, March 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

March began with a big moment for our young bulls. 18-year-old ex-orphan Orok joined the orphans at dawn, then led Roho, Sattao, Ambo, Jotto, and Dololo down to the water troughs. The five boys were incredibly happy to be in the company of Orok and surrounded him adoringly. In fact, it looked as if they were asking him lots of questions. When Orok departed, the boys followed him a short distance and bid him farewell by raising their trunks up in his direction.

It was very, very hot in Tsavo this month. As the Keepers remarked, it felt like the sun had dropped several inches closer to the earth. Many days, the orphans chose to extend their midday mud bath, then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing under trees. On the way back to the stockades, they often passed by the smaller roadside mud bath to cool off once more.

Ithumba is our largest orphan herd, and sometimes out in the bush, the orphans take it upon themselves to divide into two groups: seniors and juniors. The senior group consists of Kamok, Kauro, Rapa, Ndiwa, Malkia, and Sana Sana, while the juniors make up the rest. One afternoon, the seniors stood under the shade of a large tree while the juniors stood beneath another. Kauro took things a step further and settled down for a proper rest. 

Among the dependent orphans, Sana Sana is one of the lead females in charge. She often decides when the day begins, telling the rest of the herd that it is time to go with a decisive rumble.

After a stint on his best behaviour, Ambo is back to his old tricks! The Keepers can immediately tell when he is plotting a lucerne heist — he really is an open book. As soon as he emerges from his stockade, he makes a sharp right and sidles over to the lucerne store, hoping that the Keepers have left it open. Once this month, he was in luck and managed to grab a small bale of lucerne before the Keepers caught him in the act. They tried to stifle their laughter as they told him to join the rest of his friends.

In fact, sweet Ambo was the source of lots of amusement this month. One afternoon, he slipped and fell as he tried to cross a small valley. He found his footing quickly and surreptitiously looked around, as if checking to see if anyone had seen him fall. We often think elephants can feel embarrassed, as if they’re ‘losing face’ if they take a tumble or something! Ambo is always trying to prove his strength, so he was probably happy that the other bulls didn’t witness his gaffe.

Naboishu is also trying to establish his position amongst the boys in the Ithumba dependent herd. He is not the largest or the strongest, but he has determination on his side. After losing a pushing game to Sattao, he moved on to conquer Ambo. Again, he lost the match, but luckily sweet Kauro intervened and stopped Ambo from pursuing Naboishu. Mapia, who had been watching from a distance, came over to wrestle Ambo, as if to ascertain whether he had won fairly against Naboishu.

We had such a funny warthog moment this month. Early in the morning, two warthogs darted past Sattao. This gave the young bull a huge fright, as he hadn’t seen what was running by at such high speed. With his ears raised and head high, Sattao trumpeted, alerting his friends to a potential danger. Rapa, Dololo, Mukkoka, Roho, and Mapia heeded Sattao's call and reported immediately to the scene. A dramatic search ensued, but the warthogs were long gone!

After an unusual absence, Mutara is back to spending lots of time in the Ithumba area. She and her team usually reported to the compound at first light. On these occasions, Malkia would hustle out of her stockade and make a beeline to Mutara’s baby, Mambo. She often spent the entire day with Mutara’s herd, looking after her darling charge. Come evening time, Mutara would deposit the young babysitter back at the stockades, where she reunited with her friends.

Ithumba welcomed two ‘classes’ of Nursery graduates at the end of last year. Now several months into their Tsavo residency, each newcomer is feeling comfortable and confident within the herd, revealing new sides to their personalities. For instance, Suguroi and Naleku are following in the footsteps of Mteto, Malkia, Malima, and Esampu, forming the new guard of ‘baby lovers.’ The girls are so excited when wild elephants arrive with babies in tow. When it comes time to leave, ever-jovial Naleku and Suguroi escort their tiny friends a short distance, before returning the orphan herd.

However, Suguroi has a tough streak! One day, Nasalot’s secondborn, the rascal Noah, gave her a firm push. Suguroi wouldn’t take such rudeness from the young bull and promptly defended herself. She managed to overpower Noah, who scampered away.

Neshashi, meanwhile, is emerging as Kamok 2.0 — in other words, she has no time for babies and doesn’t treat them very kindly. One morning, Naserian’s daughter, Njema, approached Neshashi and politely extended her trunk. The older girl responded rudely by grabbing Njema's trunk and pulling it. The poor calf cried out, and only then did Neshashi let her go. Some females just don’t have a nurturing streak! By contrast, Roho — who, like Neshashi, is four years old — is always polite and gentle when playing with younger babies, even though he is a bull. 

Sagateisa continues to march to the beat of her own drum. She is generally quiet and composed, but one day, she took a page out of Neshashi’s book. When a wild-born baby tried to push her, she retaliated by knocking him over. The baby ran crying back to his mother, while Sagateisa slowly walked away from the scene, perhaps annoyed that she had lost her temper with a little baby. 

Sagateisa and Roho have a standing date at the mud bath. They are the most enthusiastic wallowers at Ithumba — it’s a safe bet that they will be the first in and the last out of the water. On overcast days, when all the other orphans eschew wallowing, these two can often be found splashing to their hearts’ content. 

Towards the end of the month, our Ithumba herd grew by one when an orphan was rescued from nearby Mutomo in the community area. No one knows how he was separated from his family and ended up fifty kilometres away from the park, but he was found alone and in a bad way. Because he was on the older side, we decided to skip the Nursery stage and bring him directly to Ithumba. We named him Motomo.

On 25th March, Motomo joined the rest of the Ithumba herd. After interacting with the orphans briefly, he strode over to meet Challa and two wild bulls. Nabulu followed him, eager to get to know the newcomer, but he was more interested in interacting with the adult elephants. Because he is older, the memories of his herd are still fresh in his mind, so he probably feels most at home among his elders. 

March ended with the promise of rain. 28th March was a busy morning, as nearly all Ithumba’s ex-orphans showed up, along with a few wild elephants. Given the building clouds and grey skies, the Keepers wondered if they had gathered to bid them farewell, knowing rain was on the horizon. As soon as we receive good rains, filling up water pans across the landscape, the ex-orphans disappear for a while. 

Sure enough, the clouds gathered quickly and the heavens opened, giving way to an almighty thunderstorm. The orphans were delighted to finally have rain. They celebrated joyfully and playfully, covering every inch of their bodies in freshly wet earth. It was a perfect way to end the month.

March 2023 day to day

01 Mar

Ex-orphan Orok joined the orphans in the morning to share lucerne with them. Later he led Roho, Sattao, Ambo, Jotto and Dololo down to the water troughs. The five boys were incredibly happy to be in the company of Orok and surrounded him adoringly, and looked as though they were asking him lots of questions. Ten minutes later, Orok appeared to have answered all their questions as he slowly started walking off into the bush. The boys followed him a short distance then bid him farewell by raising their trunks up and directing them towards Orok. Kuishi and Musiara settled to drink water at the smaller water trough.

The sky was clear so we knew it would be a hot day ahead. The orphans browsed calmly throughout the morning. By the time they were heading to the mud bath it was so hot that all the orphans decided to swim after finishing their milk bottles. The intense heat continued into the afternoon and the orphans took a break from feeding to relax under some shady trees. In an effort to cool down further, the orphans then decided to head to the roadside mud bath where they splashed about and cooled off. After getting out of the mud bath Malkia, Ndiwa and Sana Sana took Naboishu with soon after mud bathing and browsed a distance away from the rest. They later, re-joined their friends on the way back to the stockade.

Orok sharing water with the orphans.

Malkia relaxing on the dust pile

Neshashi and Jotto