Keepers' Diaries, November 2004

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The build-up of cloud (and heat) at the end of the dry season and before the rains break to bring relief, is always a very trying time for both humans and animals in Tsavo, and this month’s Diary clearly illustrates this fact. The Ithumba elephants have felt the heat acutely, and when the rains eventually broke on the 25th, it must have been a welcome relief - a time for joy, playing in the puddles and plastering themselves in red mud – a great treat since their dry season mudbath is a natural depression of black cotton clay, which, incidentally, they also enjoy very much. The short sharp downpours that characterise the main Tsavo rains are usually accompanied by huge claps of thunder and daunting forked lightening, and this has obviously been a frightening experience for the ex Nairobi orphans, who are not used to electric storms of such intensity. However, the aftermath of fresh new greens of every conceivable variety will bring on a veritable banquet, the likes of which they have never experienced before, and this will be a very pleasurable experience for them, for when the rains break in the low country, the earth is transformed into a veritable Garden of Eden and resembles a tropical jungle.

The build-up of cloud (and heat) at the end of the dry season and before the rains break to bring relief, is always a very trying time for both humans and animals in Tsavo, and this month’s Diary clearly illustrates this fact. The Ithumba elephants have felt the heat acutely, and when the rains eventually broke on the 25th, it must have been a welcome relief - a time for joy, playing in the puddles and plastering themselves in red mud – a great treat since their dry season mudbath is a natural depression of black cotton clay, which, incidentally, they also enjoy very much. The short sharp downpours that characterise the main Tsavo rains are usually accompanied by huge claps of thunder and daunting forked lightening, and this has obviously been a frightening experience for the ex Nairobi orphans, who are not used to electric storms of such intensity. However, the aftermath of fresh new greens of every conceivable variety will bring on a veritable banquet, the likes of which they have never experienced before, and this will be a very pleasurable experience for them, for when the rains break in the low country, the earth is transformed into a veritable Garden of Eden and resembles a tropical jungle.

As usual, it is Napasha who dominates the Diary and is the main player during each and every day – first for the milk, first at the mudbath, first to initiate a tussle, and first to become involved in every adventure. Whilst he is a dominant character, he is also blessed with a carefree easy-going disposition and it is satisfying that he will obey just the warning waggling of his Keepers’ fingers when being reprimanded, particularly over the incident when he “lost it” and wanted to take revenge on Tomboi. Yatta and Mulika seem to share Matriarchal responsibilities, with Nasalot and Wendi more retiring in this respect.

On the 9th Wendi joined Mulika in leading the group - a privilege that is always a treat for the elephants and something about which they are competitive, so it is good to see them all having a turn this month – even little OlMalo, who is usually tail-end-Charlie.

The Diary indicates that Tomboi has been somewhat subdued this month, probably because Napasha takes centre stage. However, he and Taita are good friends, and together no doubt will give Napasha a run for his money in due course. Selengai is Mulika’s favourite baby, and Olmalo another favourite of all the older females. Wendi is her usual exuberant self, confident and self-assured, who loves playing to the gallery whenever there are onlookers at the noon mudbath.

A wild elephant visitor came to the orphans’ Stockade in the early hours of the morning of the 10th, but left at the sound of human voices, so it could not have been Imenti!. The orphans followed the tracks the next day, eager to make contact, but sadly were not able to catch up with him. Encounters with other species include Kinna sensing the presence of a buffalo, and rapidly heading back towards the Keepers, followed by the others; Wendi happening upon two sleeping dikdiks,( of which she was initially scared, but would have liked to chase when they obligingly ran away), and Ol Malo’s intense fascination for a crab! Yatta was alarmed by a rather forward warthog who was bent on drinking at the mudbath, but, who obligingly ran off when he spotted the Keepers, giving Yatta the pleasure of sending him on his way!

Otherwise, for the Ithumba orphans, it has been a question of searching for food during a tough dry season; trying to keep themselves cool; another rabies jab for those who suffered a nip from the rabid dog, and simply enjoying the contact of each other and their Keepers. The green season will bring the wild herds around Ithumba, and then hopefully, Mulika, Yatta, Kinna and Nasalot will introduce the ex-Nursery babies to some wild kin, for they have been used to mixing with wild elephants around Voi. For us, what is most rewarding, is the wonderful condition the orphans of Ithumba have maintained during this, their first Tsavo dry season, and a very dry one at that! All look in prime physical health.

November 2004 day to day

01 Nov

At around 11 a.m. Napasha heard the tractor which prompted him to rush off ahead of all the others to get his milk. After the mudbath, the orphans browsed, and on the way back to the Stockades, Napasha led the others back through the mudbath so that they could drink and cool themselves.

A Keeper attends to the orphans at the Mudwallow

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