Kora, whose best friends are Naserian and Lualeni, features prominently in this Diary. The month has alternated between extremely hot days, and light drizzles (the April/May rains having been disappointing)so on days when temperatures soar, the orphans often have to seek shade early on in the morning, and thoroughly enjoy, and need, their noon mudbath when even Kora, who normally would rather not go into the mud, of necessity gets in to cool himself. The fact that the older elephants consult with one another before making a decision as to where to lead the group to feed each morning is clearly illustrated, the Big Girls gathering together in a tight group, before heading out each morning after the usual Stockade drink at the water trough. Each morning is usually greeted with joy, trunks swinging from side to side displaying happiness, as the orphans file out to browse in the bush, usually one of the youngsters allowed to lead, with Yatta bringing up the rear to ensure that there are no stragglers left behind. Sometimes even the younger set, led by Wendi, Sunyei and Naserian consult together and head off independently, meeting up with the others somewhere out in the bush, or back at the Stockades in the evening. An interesting event occurred on the 23rd, when the Keepers tried to persuade the herd to head out eastwards, and instead, unusually, the older elephants led the herd in the opposite direction, disobeying the order of their Keepers. Shortly afterwards, the reason became clear to the Keepers for a pack of wild dogs appeared from the direction they had chosen for the elephants. The wild dogs have disrupted the tranquility of the orphans this month only on two occasions, but the elephants are becoming more confident now, and the older Girls see them off.
Sunyei, who the Keepers describe as “very clever” again came to their rescue when they noticed that 6 members of the herd were missing. Sunyei got their attention, and deliberately headed off, raising her trunk to test the wind now and then, and led the Keepers directly to the missing six, who were on their way back anyway. This clearly demonstrates that the orphans can read and understand the body language and minds of their Keepers. Sunyei has solved the Keepers’ dilemma on several occasions in this way now.
As usual, the Diary is filled with the boys’ pushing bouts, again Kora one of the main players, whose jaw now seems to have completely healed. Ndomot and Buchuma old pushing rivals from their Nursery days, often challenge one another, and Madiba is becoming more assertive in this respect. Rapsu often challenges the older boys, Tomboi and Taita whilst Napasha, who is the biggest boy of the group, now acts as a help-mate to the four Big Girls when it comes to dealing with intruders, such as the wild dogs. This month baboons,, some warthogs, and the usual dikdiks have been expelled, Kora taking the initiative when it came to the dikdik! Any bellow from any of the youngsters instantly brings the Big Girls to the rescue, whether it is a case of disciplining a boy bully, sorting out a disagreement, or helping a member of the groupout of the mud at the wallow; again the compassionate, and caring nature of elephants clearly illustrated.
The arrival of the three Nursery babies on the 24th,was again mysteriously anticipated by the Ithumba elephants, who refused to wander far from the Stockades as normal on that particular day. How they know that others are on their way is a mystery, because Kenze, Sian and Loijuk were not previously well known to any of them!. As always, the three new arrivals were greeted enthusiastically and embraced by the entire group, the older elephants, and specifically Nasalot taking a great interest in Kenze who temporarily usurped the place of Orok, her chosen special “baby”. However, this lasted only for a few days before Orok regained his position, and Kenze instead chose to integrate into the middle group of sub-Matriarchs Wendi, Naserian, and Sunyei, Kora and Lualeni as usual inseparable, and firmly entrenched within this grouping. The three newcomers slotted into the Ithumba routine extremely quickly and easily, so this particular move turned out to be one of the smoothest on record, but for the initial difficulty in Nairobi of getting Sian into the truck. However, the three newcomers felt the heat and have had to resort to drawing up stomach water to cool themselves down prior to mudbath time. Sian, who obviously still aspires to her leadership role, took the orphans on a wild goose chase a few days after arrival, determinedly heading in the unusual direction of Kone followed by all the others, until the Keepers had to force her to turn round and head back to the Stockades. By the time they arrived back home, all were dog tired, especially the Keepers, having walked about 20 kms. Possibly, her genetic memory of ancient migration routes was at play because she seemed so determined, but we will never know why she behaved this way.
Athough the “short rains” (so named for the Tsavo area) have been unusually short this year, and temperatures well above normal, there is still plenty of browse for the Ithumba orphans, and some of the natural waterpans are still holding water. The elephants enjoy a real quality of life in the Northern Area, and the Ithumba unit are a very contented, united, and happy elephant family, ably led by Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, assisted by Napasha, who stick together, find one another when the group decides to separate, assist one another, and are firmly bonded, certainly with all the nobler quality of their human counterparts and spared a lot of the bad. Whilst they display possessiveness, as do humans, they are never deliberately cruel, but instead gentle and caring of each other, as well as their Keepers, who control them just with tone of voice, and the waggling of an accusing finger when necessary! None of the Keepers carry even a twig, and enjoy the respect and love of their charges, and what a rare privilege is this!