Keepers' Diaries, May 2005

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

With plentiful green browse at Ithumba, brought on by odd showers of rain during the month, the Ithumba group have enjoyed the month of May, especially as temperatures fell. However, contact with wild elephants remains elusive and has yet to be made. The wild elephants remain extremely fearful of any hint of human presence, but we hope that this will change with time, and that they will gain confidence from the orphans. The Orphans’ days are dominated by who will have the privileged position of Leader, either from the Stockades, to the mudbath at noon, and back home again in the evening; who is dominant to whom, etc., etc.. The older elephants, namely Yatta (the Matriarch), Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna indulge the smaller elephants by allowing them to take the lead, but it would appear that Wendi and Napasha seem to get the lion’s share of this privilege, although Taita and Selengai have had their turns during the month.

With plentiful green browse at Ithumba, brought on by odd showers of rain during the month, the Ithumba group have enjoyed the month of May, especially as temperatures fell. However, contact with wild elephants remains elusive and has yet to be made. The wild elephants remain extremely fearful of any hint of human presence, but we hope that this will change with time, and that they will gain confidence from the orphans. The Orphans’ days are dominated by who will have the privileged position of Leader, either from the Stockades, to the mudbath at noon, and back home again in the evening; who is dominant to whom, etc., etc.. The older elephants, namely Yatta (the Matriarch), Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna indulge the smaller elephants by allowing them to take the lead, but it would appear that Wendi and Napasha seem to get the lion’s share of this privilege, although Taita and Selengai have had their turns during the month.

As usual, Napasha features prominently in the Diary, surprising the Keepers on the 25th by quietly sidling up to Selengai as she was taking her milk, quickly snatching the bottle from the Keeper’s grasp, and downing the contents, holding the bottle himself whilst in full flight! Having finished the last drop, he then had the audacity to stroll back, throw the empty bottle at the Keepers’ feet and “majestically” walk away, leaving the Keepers (and Selengai) dumb-founded! Napasha’s greed is legendary. Often, having finished his ration of milk, he picks up a stick to suckle, although, having succeeded in hijacking Selengai’s bottle, no doubt he will be trying that trick again. He threatened to do the same to Tomboi, but Tomboi saw him coming and took evasive action. No doubt, the Keepers will have to be on their guard during the babies’ noon milk feeds from now on!

Napasha aspires to dominance over the entire group, even the older female elephants. On several occasions he has deliberately challenged the Matriarch, Yatta, to a test of strength, which has left her exceedingly irritated, and ended up by her driving him away at speed. So far, he has not succeeded in getting topsides of any of the older females, but this is something to which he definitely aspires. Yatta will have the backing of her friends, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna, if push comes to shove, so his chances remain slim!

Yatta’s special baby is still Olmalo, of whom she is extremely protective, rushing to the rescue whenever Olmalo has difficulty in the mud, or is frightened by anything they encounter on their travels. Olmalo is never far from her side, whilst Mulika adores Selengai. Kinna remains the disciplinarian of rambunctious little boys. All the older females gang together to put on an impressive display of aggression against anything that scares the group, charging about trumpeting, and downing small shrubs in their path whilst the babies gather around their Keepers for protection. Taita and Tomboi remain firm friends, but being little boys, are also very competitive, often indulging in shoving matches which usually end up being interrupted by Kinna or Nasalot. It is interesting to see Taita beginning to stand up to Napasha. He remains also very close to Wendi, another forceful member of the group, and it was he who came to discipline Tomboi when Tomboi held onto Wendi’s tail in order to try and mount her. Taita dislodged Tomboi and then did the same to him! Such is the trivia that dominates the days of the Ithumba group, who are a very cohesive and happy little unit, who watch out for one another, and are a cohesive “family, interacting with each other at the mudbath and during dusting sessions, and dealing with any alien species they happen upon during the course of their travels. Amongst these have been “sprinting” dikdiks, lesser kudus, whose alarm call scared the group, the usual baboon encounters, which the elephants now enjoy as long as the baboons take to the trees, putting a flock of guineafowl to flight, and scary encounters with two canine species – firstly a passing jackal and more terrifying still, a nocturnal visit from 2 noisy hyaenas who turned up at the Stockades at 2 a.m., woke the elephants up, and seemed impervious to any display of threat from the traumatized elephants, simply standing by taking a keen interest until the Keepers appeared armed with clubs, pangas and sticks. Upon seeing the men the hyaenas fled, and although they could not possible get into the Stockades which have been reinforced, their visit leftall the elephants extremely fearful - not surprising in view of the rabid dog episode! It took most of the next day for the elephants to calm down, and become brave enough to feed a short distance away from their Keepers. A mother warthog with 2 tiny piglets, on two occasions perplexed the elephants by disappearing in a trail of dust, and then down a pig-hole!

So, apart from the above episodes, the month of May has been a happy, feeding, and playing month for the Ithumba orphans, all of whom look in prime condition.

May 2005 day to day

01 May

Yatta with her favourite, Olmalo, close beside her, led the group from the Stockades heading South of Ithumba Hill. At the mudbath hour Napasha, as usual, led the young ones for their milk, whilst Kinna and Nasalot went to quench their thirst. When Selengai had finished her milk, she went to join Mulika under the shade of a nearby tree.

Olmalo leans on Yatta

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