Keepers' Diaries, May 2006

Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The Ithumba Unit appeared an incredibly happy group of young elephants this month. With good rain, and as a result lots of vegetation growth, every mud hole and water hole and river full it has transformed into a paradise.

01 May 2006

Early in the morning, after the orphans enjoyed their drinking water at the stockade trough, young ones had a pushing game while the big orphans scratch the smooth nearby rocks as they waited for the Keepers to get organised to take them into the bush. There was a spectacular mudbath today due to beautiful weather conditions, lots of rolling around in the mud, climbing on each other, squashing the mud in their trunk, throwing it over themselves, each other, everywhere. In the evening Napasha and Yatta spent some time pushing and shoving in a playful way while the others concentrated on feeding on the beautiful bountiful vegetation everywhere.

02 May 2006

The day started pretty well following a huge downpour that pounded the stockades at midnight. In the early morning Kinna, Yatta, Olmalo, Nasolot, and Buchuma all enjoyed the rain water puddles, wallowing in the natural dams. Later on, before mudbath time Tomboi and Taita engaged each other in a pushing game as the boys always do, this lasted about half an hour before Tomboi surrendered and quit the game, much to Taita's pleasure. At mudbath time they all seemed waterlogged and chose not to mudbath, as with the cloud cover it had become cold. At two o'clock in the afternoon, a light shower pounded the area and that prompted Sunyei, Madiba, Buchuma, Selengai and Tomboi and Rapsu to enjoy soil bathing, rolling on the grounds, slipping and scratching against each other.

03 May 2006

It was another cold morning when the orphans went out browsing. The chilly weather didn't deter them from carrying on with their normal daily routine. At seven in the morning Sunyei emerged out of the thickets running and trumpeting for her own pleasure, this drew the attention of the entire herd and before they turned to their Keepers for safety the Keepers were quick to call and caution Suneyi since they know Sunyei's character, and she is always out to frighten the rest of the group! It gives her enormous pleasure. At mud wallow time the weather was still chilly hindering the mud wallowing. The orphans quenched their thirst then left to continue browsing. In the evening Napasha engaged Nasalot this time in extensive pushing games, trying terribly hard to win but Nasalot didn't allow that to happen hence angering Napasha who had to give in, surrendering and sulking in defeat.

04 May 2006

As soon as they left the stockades they had their fill of the fresh water, then scattered to scratch and browse for nearly half an hour. The Keepers then called them from their browsing points and led them to the grazing fields, now filled with butterflies, dragon flies, wild flowers everywhere. The young ones took their milk bottles eagerly and the big ones did some soil bathing before heading back into the grazing fields again. Taita and Yatta were at it again, pushing while Rapsu looked on enviously. Selengai and Olmalo played together too and Wendi constantly welcomed the opportunity to show off for the Keepers.

05 May 2006

Kinna and Nasalot enjoyed soil bathing, Naserian and Madiba too, they all seemed to soak in the warmth of the morning sun. Only Rapsu, Napasha and Olmalo and Yatta enjoyed the wallow, all the others opting to browse and rest. In the morning there was some great excitement as a big male lesser kudu bumped into them and quickly disappeared into the bush, afraid of the Keepers. This actually scared the young babies who immediately turned to seek comfort from the Keepers. Yatta, Mulika, Kinna and Napasha in a show of bravado ran around trumpeting, knocking down tickets and they trailed the lesser kudu from a safe distance. Nasalot remained behind to look after the little ones.

06 May 2006

Yatta led the group eastwards today, where the group came across the footprints and fresh dung and broken branches form some wild elephants. Yatta sniffed the air to detect any more signs of them but unfortunately they were never located. The orphans browsed along the footprints, sniffing and very interested in the scent of the wild herd. Galana and Tomboi suddenly had a big fight over something that never did become clear as to what it was. Mudbath was a huge joyful one, all the elephants participating. Rapsu, Wendi and Olmalo and Selengai were left in the water while the rest were heading off. The four remained there for a very lengthy mudbath before joining the rest who had already gone quite far into the bush.

07 May 2006

The sky was clear signalling a hot day. As expected it turned into a scorching hot day, and as a result the orphans split into small groups to seek shade under the trees. The one group which consisted of Napasha,Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot, Buchuma and Olmalo emerged with a drama when Napasha pushed Buchuma while squeezing into more shade. Nasalot wasn't having this, and forced Napasha into the sun, causing a huge disturbance. Buchuma is Nasalot's precious baby so she is very protective of him, and wasn't going to let Napasha bully his way into the shade displacing the rest.

08 May 2006

In the morning, water was all over following a rainfall that pounded the area overnight. The orphans were in jovial mood as they left the stockade happily all swinging their trunks and others skidding on the already wet soil. On the grazing fields, the orphans enjoyed an early mud bath when they came across waterpools - they enjoyed themselves enormously with all the water and mud. At the official mud bath the young ones took their noon bottle feeds with the big orphans waiting a metre away for them before they all went back to the grazing fields.

09 May 2006

For the second night running the rain poured down, with dramatic lightening and thunder throughout the night. Every hole, rock crevice and footprint was filled with water. The valley and the streams were full, inhibiting vehicles from crossing. The orphans had a wonderful day in this wet and slippery environment. Wendi, Sunyei and Rapsu started smearing themselves with mud immediately as they came out of the stockades in the early morning. All the orphans soon looked like anthills with red soil all over them. At nine in the morning the orphans were busy browsing with Sunyei feeding as usual close to her Keepers. Sunyei's aim for staying so close to the Keepers is to help them trace the others as they wander far off into the dense bush. Orphans that walk ten meters into the bush sometimes cannot be detected by the Keepers, but with Sunyei's steady guidance she always takes us to them all when the time comes.

10 May 2006

A lone wild bull visited the campsite at around nine at night and stayed within the vicinity until dawn when it left. We wondered if this could be Imenti visiting again. According to the campsite staff the elephant browsed just a stones throw away from his residence unbothered by the structures, but left before just as dawn broke. The footprints showed that the bull headed East from the Camp.

11 May 2006

As the Keepers left to follow the orphaned herd they took a short cut that goes around a rock hill just some twenty metres from the stockade. What they saw left them watching with their mouths rather than their eyes. A big puff adder lay just two feet away along the path holding a rock hyrax in its mouth. We were grateful for snake proofing around the stockades, and the Keepers were quite jumpy for the rest of the day.

12 May 2006

The sky was clear as the orphans left to the browsing fields. At seven in the morning, Madiba, Sunyei, Buchuma and Naserian charged two dikdiks that they had spotted. This attracted Ndomot's attention so the group charged through the undergrowth, breaking down the thickets and continued to do so long after the dikdiks had gone. In the evening at around four Tomboi and Rapsu spent some time doing the pushing thing again, this didn't go on for long before Wendi, who has lately shown an interest in joining Sunyei's group, intervened prompting Rapsu to withdraw. this left Tomboi to tackle Wendi but this also didn't last for long before Wendi knocked Tomboi so hard that he soon ran away knowing who was boss.

13 May 2006

In the fields Olmalo, Galana, and Yatta the matriarch found a suitable rock surface and scratched against more to remove ticks than for pleasure. The tick repellent ointment is still being applied to the tick prone areas of the orphans bodies. The ticks are only in great numbers during the rainy season. An uneventful day with the orphans enjoying the beautiful green shoots everywhere, the mudholes, the fresh water caught in every rock indentation. Ithumba is a garden of Eden at this time of year, with flowers, lilies, butterflies, birds feeding on pollen filled flowers everywhere.

14 May 2006

The BBC filming crew joined the orphaned herd just before they left to go into the browsing fields. Yatta, Olmalo, Mulika, Selengai and Nasalot performed all sorts of drama in front of the camera for a while before disappearing into the dense thickets to enjoy the wide variety of green pastures on offer since the rain; Yatta and Mulika were left behind. Wendi came later to hang around the BBC crew, showing off in front of them for some time as she is prone to do with visitors. Tomboi and Taita pushed each other testing their strength, but eventually Wendi intervened, pushing Taita away, protectively supporting Tomboi. She later ambled off browsing some distance from the Keepers with Sunyei, Ndomot, Buchuma and Nasalot leaving Mulika and Yatta rolling around in the dust, all of whom opted to remain close to the Keepers. BBC all the while were filming the various interactions going on throughout the day with Jonathon Scott doing the presenting.

15 May 2006

Today the birdsong from the weavers that have chosen to nest close to the stockades, enjoying the elephants company was deafening. The day was a beautiful one, clear sky, shafts of yellow sunlight streaming down in the early dawn. The orphans seemed eager to get out into the fields and left the stockades in a hurry. However, Wendi couldn’t resist showing off to the BBC crew again while the opportunity presented itself. Where in the past she would have lingered with the visitors and the Keepers she moved off fairly quickly into the mainstream with the others and went about her daily routines. Because of the hot day it was a particularly busy mud bath with all of them rolling around enjoying the cool mud and water. Dragon flies and Butterflies flew around the elephants as they played, the scene was quite beautiful.

16 May 2006

The orphans left the stockade in a jovial mood and Wendi and Sunyei spent the morning together browsing. They soon took shelter from the scorching sun and rested under the shade of a tree together. Tomboi, Galana and Madiba dug the cool soil up from under the rocks to spray over their backs, they did this by kicking the rocks with their fore feet, dislodging the rocks, and then scraping up with their trunks the cool earth. Sunyei joined them after a while, leaving Wendi resting on her own under the tree. All the orphans participated in the wallowing exercise with an exception of Tomboi who seemed to have given the wallowing exercise a wide berth for some unknown reason. He didn’t even step into the water.

17 May 2006

No sooner were the orphans in the grazing fields did Sunyei decide to do her usual game of scaring the other orphans. It is so amazing to watch, as one can see her thinking about what she is about to do, and sure enough once again she did it, trumpeting loudly within the dense undergrowth, bursting out of the bushes charging towards the Keepers with her ears out. The other orphans, and especially the babies, all froze in their tracks hearing the trumpeting and seeing her gamboling towards them, so they too all charged towards the Keepers desperate for protection. The bigger orphans, who have got to know Sunyei’s character didn’t fall for the trick and continued to browse undisturbed. It seems to be a daily routine now for Tomboi and Taita to do their pushing performance, and this day was no exception, as they challenged one another testing their strength. Napasha, the big boy of the group soon ensured the game came to an abrupt halt when he forced his way into the game. Since neither Tomboi nor Taita wanted to be shown up by him they decided to immediately vacate the area and went to join the other orphans leaving Napasha annoyed.

18 May 2006

The orphans left the stockades early in a hurry and headed to the wonderfully green browsing fields. Most spent the morning browsing and feeding with Ndomot spending some time pushing Buchuma. Galana hovered around to watch this pushing game, as she is very protective of Ndomot here favorite calf, but Buchuma withdrew and went to join his special friend Nasalot. Again being a very hot day the orphans spent a long time thrashing around in the mudbath.

19 May 2006

It was a very cold day, but the orphans seemed unaware as they were overjoyed by the array of wonderfully green pastures, so feeding was a variable feast. They headed into the grazing pastures fast. An interesting ritual was performed by Selengai, Olmalo, Tomboi, Wendi, Sunyei, Madiba, Naserian and Rapsu. They charged around the thickets, knocking down everything in their way, a real display of pure joy and happiness. Because of the cold overcast day they all avoided the cold mudbath, and instead concentrated on feasting off all the new lush browse and grass everywhere as a result of the rains.

20 May 2006

The orphans enjoyed their mudbath today with Buchuma climbing all over Ndomot in the mud, Ndomot supported himself up and Buchuma would slide down into the mud. They continued with this for a long while. All the other orphans had a really good romp in the mudbath too, which with all the rains is a very good size now.

21 May 2006

Madiba left the stockades early in the morning and went straight to have a drink from the trough. Kinna came up behind him and really pushed him hard, which upset him enormously. Obviously he didn’t have the strength to avenge; he stepped aside and gave way but was clearly holding a grudge. When the rest arrived at the trough he slinked back in to take a drink unnoticed by Kinna. It was a day full of browsing calmly without any major observations.

22 May 2006

It was a beautiful day again today as the group were led out to feed. Sunyei led the group east today. Sunyei, Rapsu, and Naserian then enjoyed the morning rays by resting on the ground, rolling around in the dust as it warmed up. At 11.0’clock, as if the babies had an alarm in their head, they just immediately stopped browsing, and moved towards the mud bath. It was so hot on the way to the mud wallow which prompted Madiba and Ndomot to draw water from their stomachs and sprayed it under their ears in an effort to cool themselves down. They all had great fun in the wallow today.

23 May 2006

The day was extremely chilly with mist covering the atmosphere accompanied by light showers. The orphaned herd had a jovial morning of mud bathing frequently in the field whenever they came across any stagnated water that is now beginning to dry up. The babies spent most of their time mud bathing in the field while the other older herd concentrated on feeding. In the evening just before the time of folding up the field activities, Napasha and Taita had a tough pushing game that didn’t last for long a Mulika interrupted by pushing both of them out of her way.

24 May 2006

Sunyei led the group to the field soon after they all took their water from the trough. At around eight in the morning the Baboons were heard making an enormous noise, this frightened the young babies who all ran to their Keepers to seek refuge. Rapsu strode off in the direction of the noise, his ears out ready to charge and protect. He returned a little later with trunk swinging from side to side content that all was in order and we never did find out why the Baboons were so distressed.

25 May 2006

The orphaned herd moved out of the stockade in the morning in a jolly mood. They came across the baboons who were dashing about. Sunyei, who was heading the group, abruptly turned back wailing causing great alarm to all whole herd. Yatta and Mulika played a prominent role in controlling the herd to gain its normal mood before the Keepers took control. Yatta lagged behind, charging the bushes and trumpeting, chasing off the baboons. There was a spectacular mudbath today with the orphans fully involved in frolicking mood.

26 May 2006

In the morning the orphans spent a long while at the rocks near the stockades rubbing themselves and taking in their fill of water. Then the groups split with Nasalot staying with the little milk dependent babies, and Buchuma, who has fast become her most favorite calf, being singled out for very special attention, which of course he basks in! The older orphans moved off quite some distance, independent of the young ones and the Keepers. They automatically met up with us all at the mudbath, and then in the afternoon, all the orphans together, Sunyei and Madiba were frightened by a couple of Dik Diks and spun around screaming which frightened the others, who were not sure if it was Sunyei up to her tricks of whether there was a genuine reason. It took time for the Keepers and the older orphans to get the whole herd under control. The babies scare easily!

27 May 2006

Early in the morning the orphans headed southwards from the stockade compound. Kinna enjoyed rolling around on the bare earth, and this playing attracted Olmalo, which attracted Yatta whose favorite calf is Olmalo. They really had a lengthy soil bath together. It was another really hot day, and the orphans enjoyed their routine mud bath. Later in the day the orphans had another mud bath in a wild elephant wallow that we happened upon, and this they really enjoyed.

28 May 2006

The orphans left the stockade and grazed westwards led by Yatta and her nanny Olmalo. Just past seven O’clock, Rapsu had a busy time pushing Ndomot, but before long Nasalot intervened and parted them so that they could get back to the serious business of browsing. At mudbath time Yatta and Nasalot had a prolonged wallowing as the rest of the group proceeded for a soil bath. After leaving the mud wallow the orphans went to rest for a couple of hours under the shade of a big tree.

29 May 2006

The day started with all the orphans in jovial mood, they lined up, bumped each other, and headed off into the fields. Taita and Tomboi opened up the field activities with the usual boys pushing strength testing games, and this attracted Rapsu who joined them to learn pushing tactics. He exchanged pushes with Tomboi, which he freely enjoyed. The mudbath time was a fun one, pushing and wallowing.

30 May 2006

The morning was cloudy as the orphaned herd made its way through the thickets gamboling as they streamed behind their Keepers. During mud bath time, the orphans did an amazing wallowing session where they all spent masses of time. They walked far into the bush and then all gathered under a big tree for a shady rest. Buchuma and Ndomot, still up to their usual games began pushing each other. Kinna who is always strict and serious took this as an act of indiscipline and therefore roughed up the two boys and drove them away from the others as they rested.

31 May 2006

Having enjoyed the usual pushing games out in the field, Sunyei led Ndomot, Buchuma, Naserian and Madiba to chase off some baboons. This chase ended abruptly when the males turned to defend a mother and her baby, causing the elephants to about-turn and retreat rapidly!