The Ithumba Diary is very interesting this month, all the Keeper Independent orphans now regularly choosing to travel in two distinct groups, one led by Wendi and the other by Yatta. However, various members from either group swap from time to time, all the orphans obviously viewing one another as an extended bonded “family” who keep constantly in touch with all members, irrespective of where they happen to be. On many occasions Wendi’s group and that of Yatta join up to spend time as one large family with the Keeper Dependent youngsters who still return each night to their night stockades. When the youngsters are escorted back to the stockades in the evenings, either by Wendi’s group, or that of Yatta, or both, they are often accompanied by wild friends who make the journey back with them. Once the youngsters have settled into their stockades for the night, the independent group, or groups, leave with their wild friends. I would urge all our foster-parents to read the daily entries of the Ithumba Diary this month, for they give a fascinating example of elephant communication, elephant responsibility, caring and intelligence, of the special relationship the Ithumba orphans have with one another as well as their Keepers and of mysterious elephant communication, which is both fascinating, and wondrous.
Yatta’s group has a new recruit amongst them, who seems to have become a fixture and is fast becoming accustomed to the presence of the Keepers. He has been with our ex orphans every day this month, often leading the column in their comings and goings. This wild recruit is a sub-adult bull the same size as Napasha (about 7 years old) and is likely to also be an orphan who has attached himself to our lot. He is usually with Yatta’s group but on one occasion turned up at the stockades in amongst that of Wendi but he is now accepted as part of the orphaned unit by the Keepers.
It is interesting that Wendi has been assigned the role of Sub Senior Matriarch to Yatta’s splinter group of younger members. She is an orphan who was hand-reared from the date of birth, still clad in foetal material upon arrival in the Nursery, and whose life was saved by an infusion of elephant plasma to kick-start her immunity, since she had never benefited from her mother’s first colostrums milk. Wendi keeps in very close touch with the remaining Keeper dependent Youngsters. On all but a few days this month her group have either been waiting at the stockade compound first thing in the morning for the youngsters to be let out, or joined them out in the bush, spending all day in amongst them and their Keepers, sharing the mudbath with them and accompanying them back to the stockades in the evenings but sometimes remaining out in the bush and leaving that chore to the Keepers. There are occasions when Wendi escorts the youngsters to join Yatta’s senior group somewhere out in the bush, usually at the Imenti waterhole, which is a favourite haunt of both our orphans and their wild friends. The orphans often meet up with wild elephants there. Likewise Yatta and her group of Senior orphans sometimes suddenly turns up to join the youngsters out in the bush and spend time with them, but during the first part of this month she and her group of Seniors were absent for up to 2 weeks at a time, obviously spending time further afield with wild friends. Yatta’s group are often accompanied by wild elephants, usually bulls, and at such times the Keepers trail the herd at a safe distance. Wendi’s group are also sometimes accompanied by wild elephants so all our ex orphans are now fully integrated into the wild elephant community of the North.
The composition of Wendi’s splinter group usually comprises of Sunyei, Ndomot, Madiba, Napasha, Tomboi and Galana, but sometimes members from Yatta’s group come and join them. This month there was a day when Nasalot and Taita turned up to be with them, spent all day with them, escorted them back to the Night Stockades in the evening and then left to rejoin Yatta and the others. On another occasion Kinna and Selengai did the same. What is very evident is that all the orphans are always in touch with one another and know exactly where every member of their extended family happens to be at any given moment.
The Night Stockades are viewed by all the orphans as Home Base - a safe haven where they feel secure and can opt out of the hectic travels of the herd for a day or two to enjoy a quieter and more relaxing time. A case in point is Ol Malo, Yatta’s special calf and normal shadow, who has never been quite as physically robust as others in the Senior group. She has obviously found the distances traveled by the Seniors this month somewhat exhausting, for she chose to separate from Yatta’s group and returned alone to the stockades on the morning of the 26th to join the Youngsters. Then having been with them and their Keepers all day, as well as at the mudbath, she persuaded Challa to keep her company as she slowly made her way back to the stockades rather than join the others for an afternoon’s browsing session on the slopes of Ithumba hill. When the youngsters returned to the stockades in the evening, Challa rejoined them for the night, but Ol Malo hung around the compound, without leaving with Wendi’s group, who turned up later, or even that of Yatta, who also came back that day. Instead, she remained behind, and at l0 p.m. the Keepers ushered her into the stockades with the others for the night to ensure that she would be safe from lions. How she silently persuaded Challa to keep her company that day is a mystery, for he is a very fit young bull and certainly no weakling. He and Rapsu are big buddies who sometimes peel off from the youngsters and head out on their own to join the Seniors somewhere out in the bush, turning up with them as part of the herd, and who also sometimes opt to spend nights out with their older peers.
Sunyei is another member of Wendi’s Sub Senior group who took time out this month. She returned to the stockades alone on the 18th, spent the day feeding close by, then met up with the youngsters who were on their way out, before heading off to join Yatta’s group who were obviously on their way back to the stockades for a drink for Sunyei returned with them and left with them, later rejoining Wendi’s group.
The absences of an individual from one group or the other are obviously sanctioned by the Matriarchs, otherwise they would be searching for a missing member as has been the case in the past! I believe that elephant infrasound is something the orphans have to gradually learn by exposure to a wild situation, and which takes time. Now that the ex orphans are obviously all proficient in that respect, they can communicate their intentions to the Matriarchs in order not to cause alarm amongst their groups. On the 17th only Sunyei and Madiba joined the juniors out in the bush, spent the morning with them, were at the mudbath with them, and in the afternoon were joined by Yatta’s group at the Imenti waterhole, Yatta having been absent for a long time. Surprisingly Wendi and the rest of her group were in amongst that of Yatta, so had obviously met up with them as they were on their way back to the Imenti waterhole area from a distant location.
The presence of Wendi’s group with the Keeper dependent youngsters on so many occasions has released Yatta and the older members from this chore, enabling them to explore more distant pastures and spend more time with the wild community. At the beginning of the month Yatta’s group spent quite a lot of time away, but towards month end as the natural rain-waterholes rapidly dried out, they returned more frequently to drink at the stockades and interacted with the youngsters more often. More wild elephants have also been coming to drink at the stockade trough as the dry season progresses, so there will be a great deal of pressure on the Ithumba borehole. The Trust is seeking permission to sink another borehole to top up the Imenti waterhole and relieve pressure on the Stockade supply, which also has to yield a desalinated supply for both our staff and that of KWS at the Ithumba Headquarters. The Trust manages the water needs of all at Ithumba, whether four-legged or two.
This month there was an occasion when only some of the Juniors chose to peel away from the orphaned herd, who were enjoying time at the Imenti waterhole (a favourite place of both the orphans and the wild herds) having been called by their Keepers to begin their return home in the late evening. Others decided to remain with the older orphans but ended up being escorted back to the stockades by Yatta at l0 p.m., long after dark. Once the youngsters were safely ensconced for the night, the older elephants then left. Then on the 22nd the youngsters were in a hurry to leave their Night Stockades in the morning, not even pausing for a drink which was very unusual. Instead they swiftly made their way directly to the Imenti waterhole area where they found both Wendi’s group and that of Yatta waiting for them. It was very unusual for them to leave the stockades in such a hurry, so they must have been summonsed – another clear example of elephant communication. On that occasion all the orphans browsed together in this area until the evening, when they were joined by 4 wild bulls, who walked back to the stockades with them, the Keepers keeping their distance behind the herd.
The resident small pack of wild dogs have come to drink at the stockade trough on two occasions this month, once when 4 dogs turned up, snatched a quick drink and left in a hurry and on another when only 3 came.