Keepers' Diaries, May 2022

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Incredibly, Ithumba still hasn’t received rain. Every morning they awoke to a clear, blue sky, the orphans and Keepers knew that it was going to be another hot day ahead. At this point, it would take a miracle to receive any rain before the long rains in November, so we are bracing ourselves for long, difficult months ahead.

Karisa has earned himself the nickname the ‘streetwise boy,’ because he likes to lead the way and decide which direction the orphans should take in the morning. Nabulu and Larro also get their share of the leadership glory, as they each guide a group to the noon milk feed or back to the stockades in the evening. Our Ithumba orphans often let the youngest females lead the herd, which helps build their confidence and gives them great experience. 

Meanwhile, our older orphans are rapidly gaining their independence. The ‘late-night gang,’ led by Oltaiyoni, continues to come and go as they please. They show up at the stockades long after the rest of the orphans have gone to bed, if they show up at all. Rapa and Karisa are flirting with their independence. They used to invite Dololo to sneak off with them. However, they quickly realised that his presence would cause the Keepers to come after them, because he is still too young for independent forays, so now they leave Dololo behind.  

Mukkoka is one of the youngest bulls in our Ithumba herd, but he feels right at home amongst the other orphans. He now feels confident challenging the other bulls to wrestling matches. He loves to spar with Sattao, because he never plays too rough and they have a lot of fun together.

All the young bulls hero worship wild visitors, but few are bold enough to actually approach them. However, Sapalan has no such qualms. If he sees a wild bull at the water trough, he will walk right up to him and engage him in a friendly chat. To the Keepers, it looks as if Sapalan is asking these older visitors lots of questions! 

Mutara, baby Mambo, Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, Kainuk, and Kalama continue to remain in the area. Mutara understands that she has a small baby with a big appetite, so she needs to eat enough food to produce ample milk for him. She may be a first-time mother, but she has excellent maternal instincts. She is wise to remain around Ithumba, where she has a wonderful support system to help her through these challenging times.

Since Mambo was born, Malkia has made it her mission to become his honorary nanny. This was no easy task, as Mutara’s team is very vigilant! Finally, her persistence paid off and now the nannies feel comfortable leaving Mambo in Malkia’s capable care for short spells. Her friends are proud to see her taking on this role. One afternoon, Ndiwa, Maramoja, and Musiara saw Malkia babysitting and decided to take the opportunity to get involved, too. Mutara’s herd understood that the young orphans just wanted to help look after Mambo, which they graciously allowed. 

Mambo is such a daring, mischievous baby. One morning, he and Mutara came face to face with a buffalo at the water trough. Mambo charged at it, not realising what a formidable opponent he was taking on. The nannies acted quickly, surrounding Mambo and blocking him from making any further moves towards the buffalo. 

Sana Sana loves Naboishu and unabashedly plays favourites with him. However, she is not so magnanimous towards some of the other young bulls. She started persistently bullying Mapia in Class Three, the stockade where the mid-aged orphans sleep. This behaviour earned her an express ticket to the next class, where the Keepers hope she will learn some discipline! The morning after she was moved, Sana Sana decided to vent her anger at an unsuspecting buffalo at the water trough. The buffalo stood his ground and continued to drink as if nothing happened, much to Sana Sana’s chagrin.

Compared to Kamok, however, Sana Sana is an angel. She has always been a notably unfriendly elephant, especially towards younger elephants. One afternoon, Lualeni’s wild baby, Lexi, walked over to Kamok to say hello. Rather than acknowledge her greeting, Kamok rudely pushed the baby out of the way. Mteto and Esampu stepped in and guided Lexi back to her mother, as if apologising for their friend’s bad manners. Kamok didn’t seem bothered that she had disappointed her friends; Ambo is the only younger elephant she likes, and she will not apologise for that!

Kamok may be cut from the same cloth as Wendi. Even as a wild-living, 19-year-old mother of two, Wendi remains resolutely uncouth. During one of her visits, she pushed over Turkwel for no apparent reason. This set off a chain reaction of events, because Turkwel fell on Mambo and the Keepers had to intervene to save the situation. As everyone rushed to free Mambo and help Turkwel to her feet, Wendi walked off without a backwards glance. Perhaps she was embarrassed about causing such a fiasco, or more likely, she thought she had done nothing wrong. 

Little Ambo is singularly focused on stealing a private stash of lucerne. Nearly every morning, he turns right out of his room and sidles over to the lucerne store. By now, the Keepers are wise to his tricks and put up barriers to foil his thievery. At the end of the month, however, Ambo finally found the lucerne store open. He snatched a bale of lucerne and ran off with it, clearly very proud of himself. After his old friend Jotto grabbed some of the bale, he considered going back for more, but the Keepers had already shut the lucerne store. 

Because of the drought conditions, the orphans know they must get down to business and focus on browsing. To beat the heat, they were also very enthusiastic about the mud bath this month. One day, Pare and Sattao observed a wild bull who had sprayed himself with red spoil after bathing in the dark mud. The effect was striking, as if he had painted himself. They decided to copy the bull and busied themselves in the loose soil after their mud bath, decorating their bodies in a similar fashion. 

We have been receiving fewer wild visitors, which is an indication that most elephants have moved to parts of Tsavo that were lucky enough to receive rain. However, we still had a steady stream of elephants pass through, including many of our ex-orphans. This month, the dependent herd enjoyed spending time with the likes of Chyulu, Cheka, Wendi, Wema, Galana, Lenana, Lapa, Naserian, Njema, Loijuk, Lili, Kitirua, Naisula, Narok, Lualeni, Lulu, Lexi, Olare, Nasalot, Nusu, Noah, Ithumbah, Kilaguni, Kibo, Tomboi, and Teleki. 

Always, but especially during such difficult conditions, we continue to support our wild friends as best we can. One morning, six wild bulls arrived before dawn. However, they found that the water troughs were empty, as many elephants had been drinking from it throughout the night. The bulls waited patiently until daybreak, when they knew the troughs would be refilled. No sooner had our water bowser topped up the trough than a wild herd with several babies also arrived to drink. We are glad that northern Tsavo’s elephants know to come to us for the resources they so direly need.

May 2022 day to day

01 May

The sky was clear and blue this morning so we knew it was going to be a hot day ahead. The orphans settled for their morning lucerne grass soon after finishing their bottles. Ndiwa, Malkia, Kuishi, Esampu, Mapia and Pare walked down to the water trough and helped themselves to enough water that would take them through the entire morning. Karisa, the ‘street wise’ boy led the way and decided which direction the orphans should take this morning.

It was a quiet morning as the orphans concentrated on finding enough food before the end of the day. Mother nature has still not yielded any rain in the area, and the drought continues.

Ambo led the first group to the mud bath while Nabulu led the second one. After finishing their noon milk bottles, Kuishi, Mukkoka, Dololo, Musiara and Maramoja settled for soil a dusting exercise. The afternoon was quiet and hot too. This prompted the orphans to head to the roadside mud bath to cool down. Later the orphans took a break and relaxed under a tree for some time before resuming their browsing activities. In the evening, Larro led the way back to the stockades for the night. Malima and Mteto made a brief stop as they walked in to interact with some wild babies who were in the company of their mothers. 


Mukkoka and Kuishi

Larro leading