Keepers' Diaries, May 2021

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

May was a rather sedate month for our Ithumba herd, but all that changed on the 26th, when Maisha and Nabulu arrived from Nairobi. Everyone was delighted to have two newcomers in their midst, but especially their old Nursery friends. Maisha and Nabulu’s reunion with Ambo, Musiara, Sattao, and Dololo was beautiful to behold, as they rumbled and entwined trunks in greeting. Undoubtedly, these time-tested friendships helped smooth the girls’ transition — and what a transition it is! While the Nursery is cold and green, Ithumba is hot and drying up, full of intriguing new sights and smells.

For Maisha, Ithumba marks a homecoming. She was rescued from Tsavo East back in 2017, after narrowly surviving a brutal drought that gripped the country. It took just a matter of hours for she and Nabulu to acclimate to their new surroundings. By the second day, they were the first to emerge from the stockades and made a beeline for the bush. The Keepers had to shepherd them back, as they are still far too new to know the best browsing spots. However, they have been invited to lead the herd back home in the evenings, which is a privilege they have taken on with aplomb.

Our orphans graduate to Reintegration Units for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the opportunity to fraternize with and learn from older elephants. On the last day of the month, ex orphan Zurura and a wild friend stopped by for a visit. At 15 years old, he is growing into a very impressive bull, and Maisha and Nabulu seemed rather flustered to be in his presence! He watched them dart out of the stockade compound in the morning, forgoing the lucerne feed to investigate him from a distance. Zurura is such a kind bull and gently directed the awestruck young girls back to the water trough, where their friends were waiting.

Maisha and Nabulu have certainly been feeling the heat of Ithumba. Even our most seasoned orphans were a bit frazzled by the unpredictable weather. We received precious little rain early in the month, but the rest of May was tempestuous, either cold and windy or hot and dry. While most elephants reserve the mud bath only for sunny days, ex-orphan Kanjoro is always happy to wallow, regardless of the weather!

Mutara’s ex orphan herd have remained in the area, anchored by their infatuation with little Dololo. They disappeared for a spell after the rains at the beginning of the month, but ex orphan Kalama quickly stepped in to fill their void. At 12 years old, she was eager to act as older sister to the dependent herd, escorting them from place to place until Mutara’s herd returned on the 16th. The Keepers know Mutara’s herd always has one goal in mind: to spend as much time as possible with their favourite Dololo. No one is sure why this group is so singularly obsessed with this little bull, whereas his agemates Musiara and Sattao barely warrant a second glance from them. They used to steal Dololo away, but they were on their best behaviour this month and just mingled with the dependent herd.

Various ex orphans filtered through, including naughty Kithaka and his herd of Orwa, Garzi, and Lemoyian. Kalama, Melia, Chemi Chemi, Kibo, Kilaguni, and Kandecha were other frequent visitors. We were pleasantly surprised when 13-year-old Meibai turned up one morning. It had been quite some time since his last visit, so it was especially wonderful to see him looking healthy and happy. Little Mundusi walked right up to Meibai and exchanged greetings with him, which visibly pleased the older bull. 

Barsilinga, Olsekki, and Tusuja prefer to do their own thing these days. They browse on their own, before linking up with the dependent herd either at the mud bath or back at the stockades. Barsilinga and Tusuja have become absolutely inseparable, while Olsekki seems to be making a point that he is nearly to become fully independent. Olsekki enjoys sizing up all his friends and even tried to challenge ex orphan Tomboi one day. Tomboi is 18 years old, so he could present quite a formidable opponent, but fortunately he didn't react to the seven-year-old’s insolence. 11-year-old Chemi Chemi wasn’t quite as understanding, which sent Olsekki running off in the opposite direction!

The dependent bulls are constantly sizing each other up, testing their strength to understand the herd hierarchy. Perhaps that is how Kauro sprained his leg one morning, although by the afternoon his limp had disappeared. Pare enjoys playing with Mundusi and Karisa, but he also has a soft spot for the younger bulls: After Musiara landed himself in hot water with Mapia, Pare decided to diffuse the situation. Mapia scampered off as soon as he saw the older bull approaching and Musiara stretched out his trunk to Pare, as if to thank him for intervening. Just as some elephants are natural friends, others never quite get along. Mapia and Esampu fall into this category — they are constantly quarrelling with each other!

Early in the month, Ambo and his “big sister” Kamok started sneaking off just before it was time to return home. It was quite obvious when they had plans afoot, because they would lag behind the others so they could peel off unobserved. The Keepers don’t mind if “Class 5” — the furthest stockade, reserved for the oldest dependent orphans — spend time away, but Ambo is far too young for such antics.

We are thrilled by how well Maisha and Nabulu have settled into Ithumba life. Their reintegration journey will continue to unfold over the coming years, but this brings them a giant step closer to reclaiming the wild life that is rightfully theirs.

May 2021 day to day

01 May

The sky was clear in the morning as the orphans left the stockade to start another day. Led by Ndiwa, the orphans headed north east of the stockade. Dololo decided to start his day by rolling on the ground. Ambo joined Dololo and had a game of pushing each other for some time. Sapalan decided to play with Karisa but suddenly brought their game to an abrupt end when he realised that they were just wasting time and hadn’t started feeding yet. The two boys suddenly started concentrating on their browsing session because they didn't want the day to end without getting enough food.

 At mud bath time the orphans had their milk bottles but decided not to wallow. Ambo decided to team up with one of his big sisters Kamok, and they both walked a short distance away from the rest. 

Later the orphans enjoyed a roadside mud bath on their way back to the stockades. Kamok and Ambo deviated and took a different route from their friends, and as they were all walking back the Keepers realized Kamok and Ambo weren’t with them. Some of the Keepers turned back to look for them, but they met Kamok and Ambo on the way, as they were walking along the road to return to the stockades too. 

Orphans having a drink

Ambo playing with Dololo