Keepers' Diaries, May 2020

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It seems that with the rains behind us and as the area starts to dry out in northern Tsavo, more and more of our graduate orphans are starting to circle back close to home and visit the stockades and the other water sources in the area, and they have returned with many of their wild elephant friends as well. We saw big boys Challa, Zurura, Rapsu, return, and one day, along with Orwa’s herd of Bomani, Kainuk and Chemi Chemi who have been hanging around recently, came Kibo, Sities, Suguta, Mutara and Kainuk. Kainuk was very happy indeed to see Mutara and her other friends, but Mutara was having a torrid time, being pursued by amorous bulls as she was obviously in season. She had one handsome bull that she appeared to prefer and they spent some extended time together. Hopefully we will be seeing a baby for Mutara in a couple of years’ time.  

At the end of the month we were surprised yet again by some more return visitors, with Suguta turning up at the mud bath leading Turkwel, Kainuk, Kithaka, Garzi and Lemoyian. Proving that our orphans never forget, the first thing they did was to go and check whether there was any milk left in the crates, despite their absence of five months! We haven’t seen Turkwel, Kithaka, Garzi and Lemoyian since the 27th December last year, and everyone from Keepers to dependent orphans were delighted to see them. These orphans with the exception of Turkwel are known as our ‘rebel group’ with Kithaka leading the charge in this regard.  This hiatus with many months spent amidst Tsavo's wild herds was a significant independent step, because up until December 2019 while growing increasingly independent, they still remained close to home. Turkwel, an old hand, has spent a number of years fully integrated into the wild herds but her run-in with a lion attack last year saw us nursing her wounds as she chose to return back to the stockades at night, and she instinctively was happy to comply understanding that she needed this.  She provided the catalyst the ‘rebel group’ needed to take the plunge into a wild life for these past five months, and being the female in their midst has been keeping them in check. On arrival back home Turkwel was visibly surprised to see new arrivals from the Nursery, and immediately went to greet them, while Lemoyian wanted to gauge his new found strength by coaxing Tusuja into a pushing game. 

The new babies Turkwel was so excited to find were of course Musiara, Sattao and Dololo, who arrived at the Ithumba Unit from the Nairobi Nursery on the 17th. As the three boys were led out of the translocation lorry to a freshly prepared bottle of milk, they were welcomed on that day by Jotto, Ambo, Kuishi, Malima and Mapia, all orphans they remembered from the Nursery. Mapia tried to show the babies that now he was senior to them and attempted to bully them. The Keepers cautioned him not to try his naughty games and Maramoja, Kuishi, Malkia and Sana Sana spent more time with the new arrivals making them comfortable while showing them their new home, and over the coming weeks Malkia and Ndiwa in particular became very attentive to the young boys.

Their day of ‘firsts’ at Ithumba must have been overwhelming, especially for Sattao and Musiara who were tiny infants when they were rescued. They would not recollect much of their life before being rescued given their young age, but to see and smell the vast open space of Tsavo, with its favoured and varied vegetation, as well as see the sheer size of older and bigger elephants must have evoked something in them. From the oldest bulls in the Nursery, it must have been a momentous change for them to suddenly be the babies in the herd, and what a herd it has become with some 34 dependent orphans now at Ithumba, aside from the many ex-orphans living independent wild lives who seem to be back in the area now with their wild friends. 

The Keepers couldn’t help but laugh later their first day, when in the evening the new babies were being escorted back to the stockades by Jotto, Ambo and Malima, their new roommates, and as they walked they constantly glanced over their shoulders at the towering figures of 14 and 15 year old Zurura and Challa who were following behind them! Over the coming days, Ithumba must have seemed like paradise for the young boys. The abundant lush food coupled with the size of the main waterhole, perfect for the searing hot days, and they enjoyed some extended swims in the deep water; sometimes Musiara, Sattao and Dololo were the last out of the water! This was especially nice to see in Dololo’s case, considering his traumatic rescue when he was found completely stuck and submerged in a muddy pool. He could be forgiven for shunning water today, but clearly he has long forgotten that trauma and instead relishes his new beginnings.  

Our brave Barsilinga whose foot injury has caused him such discomfort for so long needed another operation this month to tend to his foot again. Originally caused by a deep thorn wedged deep underfoot, the infection has recently flared up again. The SWT/KWS Vet Dr. Poghon cleaned and lanced new pockets of pus and after that he felt a lot better and started walking out with the other orphans venturing further into the bush again, and thankfully looked to be improving for the rest of the month. Antibiotic pessaries were placed into the deep wound to help stave off infection. 

Orwa, Bomani, Kainuk, Chemi Chemi and their wild friend, who could easily be mistaken for a former orphan by his size and calm behaviour, love to spend their time with the dependent orphans at the moment it seems. Their wild friend has learnt the routines and the rather different ’set up’ to what he is use to, and has become so comfortable with it all that he is even joining these four orphans as they retreat to their 'bedroom’. When all the dependent orphans turn in for the night these elephants walk up behind the stockades, where they have created a place where they settle for the night by lying recumbent on the grass to sleep soundly with sleeping bodies clear in the moonlight and their gentle snoring sounds carrying on the breeze. Orwa, Bomani, Kainuk and Chemi Chemi along with their wild Friend's ‘bedroom’ routine takes place most nights that they are around the stockades now.

Yet again this month Roi upset the peace during the milk feeding times with her mischievous ways trying to steal extra milk bottles! Her attempts were quickly thwarted by the Keepers who are now very wise to her tricks, so they always have their eyes firmly fixed on her at feeding times, knowing full well she will be trying to come up with some plan to swipe extra milk bottles. With her failed attempts, Roi would always walk away rumbling in complaint, frustrated that her best efforts were met with resistance from the Keepers. 

Tusuja is still one of the most playful dependent orphans at the Ithumba Unit, always looking for a chance to play. He likes a challenge though, and not just anyone will do. One day he started playing with Malima but ended up changing his mind when he found she was too small and no challenge for him. Instead he prefers to size up to Mundusi, Rapa and Olsekki – although they need serious stamina to keep up with him! Olsekki is trying to test his strength these days as well with bigger ex-orphans, and one day even challenged 14 year old Zurura! Predictably he found that Zurura was too big and strong for him, and so ended up just walking away in order to save face.

May 2020 day to day

01 May

Malima was the first one to leave the stockades soon after finishing her milk bottles. Karisa and Namalok exchanged morning greetings by entwining trunks before disappearing off into the bush. Shortly after leaving the stockade compound, the dependent-orphans were joined by the usual gang of five, Orwa, Bomani, Kainuk, Chemi Chemi and the wild junior that can easily be mistaken for a former orphan by his size and behaviour. The gang of five spends their night just sleeping close to the stockade compound fence at the back. 

Out in the bush, Namalok had brief strength testing exercise with Sapalan that ended in a draw, while Tusuja played with Wanjala. At mud bath time, Tusuja played with Mundusi while Namalok played with Wanjala. Later, Olsekki engaged Bomani in a pushing game that saw Olsekki emerge as the winner. The afternoon was quiet as the orphans concentrated on browsing. In evening, Barsilinga lagged behind and reported back at around six o'clock in the evening. 

Namalok and Karisa entwining trunks

Tusuja playing with Wanjala

Olsekki playing with Bomani