Keepers' Diaries, May 2017

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Most of this month at Ithumba has been dominated by the disappearance of Kelelari, Karisa, and Dupotto a week after their translocation to Ithumba from our Nairobi Nursery on the 14th May. Kelelari had lived a wild life for over four years or so before being rescued, and apparently relishing his new surroundings in the expanse of Tsavo, we believe he performed a perfect ‘kidnap’ whisking his best friends away with him.

Most of this month at Ithumba has been dominated by the disappearance of Kelelari, Karisa, and Dupotto a week after their translocation to Ithumba from our Nairobi Nursery on the 14th May. Kelelari had lived a wild life for over four years or so before being rescued, and apparently relishing his new surroundings in the expanse of Tsavo, we believe he performed a perfect ‘kidnap’ whisking his best friends away with him.

On the day of their disappearance, something spooked the orphans close to the stockades and they scattered in all directions, necessitating the Keepers to round them up. It was at this point that the keepers became aware that the three newcomers had vanished. The search for the trio began immediately, however following some seriously heavy rain in the area, Ithumba has become a jungle-like web of vegetation, and making for challenging conditions in which to spot the orphans and to date we have not found the truants.

Our fixed wing aircraft and helicopter were scrambled from the outset, and despite extensive hours flown scouring the landscape they were unable to spot them. We are confident they are alive and well because they were sighted by a community member who knows one of our Keepers and was travelling from Kone through the Park on the back of a truck when he sighted three young elephants, one without a tail 25 kilometres away from Ithumba. Sadly the report came 24 hours after the sighting so while we swiftly attended the scene and tracked the elephants’ tracks, these soon merged into numerous tracks of wild elephants and it became impossible to distinguish between these various footprints. The aerial search revealed over 16 separate wild elephant herds in the area so we know our little orphans have quickly become embroiled within the wild herds, who are populating this area of Tsavo thanks to the exceptional rains experienced for the time of year.

It has been, and continues to be, a very stressful time for our Keepers who feel solely responsible for the loss of these orphans and have literally walked hundreds of miles along with our Anti-Poaching Teams in search of the missing trio. Safe to say the search continues, and we are hopeful we will manage to get them back into the fold eventually, maybe with the help of our ex orphans.

Shortly after Kelelari, Karisa and Dupotto made their journey to Ithumba we moved another trio from the Nursery. Galla, Ukame and Wanjala were each very much ready to begin the next stage in their journey back to the wild and having all been rescued from Tsavo they now find themselves back home! They have settled well, and needless to say our Keepers have been extra vigilant and a little paranoid too, because Ukame was also rescued as a fairly old elephant orphan, having lived two years prior to her rescue wild in Tsavo. So they are taking no chances keeping a close eye on the trio at all times as they disperse while out browsing in the dense bush. .

With the rain filling up the waterholes and vegetation so abundant the Ex Orphans in Yatta’s main herd have been away for prolonged periods of time, visiting with the wild herds and choosing to head much further afield while they can, with the plentiful water available throughout the region. They did return on 5th May for a short visit and again on the 9th with almost every member of the Ex Orphan herd in attendance, including Makireti’s herd of Kasigau, Kilabasi and on that occasion, Narok as well. During these visits the display at the mud bath was breath taking with close on 80 elephants wallowing, milling around, big and small, comfortable in the company of their human family. These scenes never cease to amaze us. At the end of the month they passed through the mud bath a few more times to enjoy a good wallowing session.

This rainy season the mud bath waterhole has filled up into a sizeable dam and as is usual in the rainy season, the smaller dependent orphans tend to avoid swimming in the main mud pool, preferring the smaller rain puddles in which they can splash behind the ears and roll in fresh mud. Bongo is usually the exception to this and likes to wallow in the main mud bath on all occasions. On one particular day in the month Olsekki, Tusuja and Enkikwe decided to experiment with the big mud bath but got nervous of all the water in it and sheepishly backed away.

Narok and her friends came to interact with the dependent orphans almost every day in May. Although they are now semi-independent of the keepers and no longer return to the stockades at night, they are still very attached to their friends and human family and seem to prefer their days in their company. Laragai especially still seems quite undecided whether she wants to stay out at night or not. Sometimes she escorts the dependant orphans back in the late afternoon and decides to stay the night in the stockades as well. One day she stayed outside the stockades but remained in the compound overnight, and managed to open the gate early before dawn to let Kithaka, Barsilinga, Garzi and Lemoyian out from their bedrooms! The four boys, who are still milk dependent, didn't walk far but remained around the compound until morning when they got their six o'clock milk feed.

The Ithumba orphans are thriving, growing so quickly, with one exception, Kauro. He has not truly thrived since arriving at Ithumba alongside Tusuja and Naseku on the last day of 2016, and despite his symptoms being extremely subtle, to those of us who know him well there have been telling signs, not just physically but in his general lack lustre mood. So towards the end of the month Angela Sheldrick made the pro-active decision to move little Kauro back to the Nursery where he could be more carefully observed under medical care, with regular blood works available. He arrived back at the Nursery on 28th May and remembered it well, embracing his old friends, and slotting back into the usual Nursery routine once more!

May 2017 day to day

01 May

Narok and Teleki visited their junior friends early in the morning. Enkikwe left the stockade holding a branch in his month and only dropped it when he joined his friends Siangiki and Olsekki. Narok spend shared some lucerne with Shukuru as Kauro settled for his lovely exercise of scratching on some rocks. Shortly later, Teleki and Narok escorted the juniors to the browsing field where Teleki and Sirimon took a break from feeding to participate in a mud bathing exercise. Their wallowing game attracted the rest of their friends who came to join them. At mud bath time soon after drinking their milk, the orphans were joined by Orwa, Bongo, Bomani and Vuria. Sokotei and Lemoyian kept themselves busy by engaging in a strength testing exercise that ended when Lemoyian attempted to mount on Sokotei. In the afternoon the orphans settled to browse at upper Kalovoto area and in the evening Kithaka engaged Barsilinga in a strength testing exercise while Olsekki, Garzi and Lemoyian enjoyed a soil dusting exercise. Later, Olsekki engaged Sirimon in a pushing game that ended in a draw. On the way back to the stockade, clouds that had been gathering gave way to showers that yielded to 10mm of rain.

Sirimon and Teleki playing in the mud

Sokotei and Lemoyian playing

Barsilinga and Kithaka

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