Keepers' Diaries, November 2008

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

For the first week of the month Yatta and the older orphans spent time with the youngsters on a daily basis, each day found them either waiting at the Stockade Compound early in the morning to welcome the youngsters as they were let out of their Night Stockades, or meeting up with them out in the bush to spend time with them, joining them at the mudbath and escorting them back home in the evenings before heading out for the night. Each and every reunion is always highly charged, with rumbling, trumpeting, and the intertwining of trunks, with the older members of Yatta’s group tenderly laying their trunks across the backs of the younger ones in an elephant expression of heartfelt affection. Likewise, each morning all the youngsters greet one another exuberantly, despite having spent every day together and the nights in adjoining stockades within view of one another! Elephant friendship is expressed in a very warm and touching way.

For the first week of the month Yatta and the older orphans spent time with the youngsters on a daily basis, each day found them either waiting at the Stockade Compound early in the morning to welcome the youngsters as they were let out of their Night Stockades, or meeting up with them out in the bush to spend time with them, joining them at the mudbath and escorting them back home in the evenings before heading out for the night. Each and every reunion is always highly charged, with rumbling, trumpeting, and the intertwining of trunks, with the older members of Yatta’s group tenderly laying their trunks across the backs of the younger ones in an elephant expression of heartfelt affection. Likewise, each morning all the youngsters greet one another exuberantly, despite having spent every day together and the nights in adjoining stockades within view of one another! Elephant friendship is expressed in a very warm and touching way.

Since the onset of the rains in early November the vegetation has turned ever greener and waterholes have filled with rainwater, so there is food and fresh water at every turn. At such times the wild elephants are released from the anchorage of their dry season haunts within reach of water and travel further afield to meet friends and family in distant places. Hence wild visitors to the Stockade drinking trough have been absent during the month but for the 6th when a wild teenaged bull was at the water trough first thing in the morning waiting to greet the youngsters on a day when Yatta’s group were not there as usual. Kora, Challa, Ndomot, and Rapsu rushed forward to greet him, but a loud rumble from him made Challa and Kora think twice about being too forward!. However, the wild visitor was friendly although obviously uneasy about the presence of the Keepers, who kept their distance so as not to disturb this special reunion. All the elephants then left together leaving the humans to lag far behind, stopping to enjoy a period of play in the mud and puddles beside the road as the Keepers watched from afar. Once the wild friend had taken his leave of the youngsters, the Keepers were able to join them and that evening Yatta and the older orphans were at the Stockades to greet them when they returned in the evening.

On the l0th Challa ( now in his 5th year), decided to join the older group and left with Yatta and her peers after a session with the youngsters. On this occasion the older group was absent all the next day as well, but reunited with the youngsters out in the bush on the 12th, when Challa decided to remain amongst the junior group rather than be elevated!

During the month, as the arid bush transformed into a Garden of Eden, Yatta and the older elephants began to spend more time away, no doubt going further afield to join their wild peers. In all there were 13 days during the month when Yatta and the older elephants did not join the youngsters, usually spending 2 full days away, and then treating the youngsters to their company all day. On one occasion, however, they were absent for four full days, from the l9th until the 23rdt and on this occasion Sunyei left with them for a wild outing. When they were waiting at the Stockade Gates again early in the morning of the 23rd the reunion that ensued was especially joyful. Sunyei was wildly excited to be reunited with the Juniors again, and the youngsters overjoyed to have her back for Sunyei (along with Galana) has always been one of the leading Junior Matriarchs who assume charge of the youngsters when Yatta and the older elephants decide to separate. This month Galana has been assuming a more prominent Matriarchal role, deciding where to lead the youngsters in the absence of Yatta, usually in conjunction with Sunyei while Kamboyo (the Time Keeper) is the one who often decides when it is time to head for home.

It was interesting on the l7th as Yatta was escorting the youngsters out, Kenze, Lenana, Makena, Chyulu and Loijuk became diverted playing in the mud. Yatta returned from the lead, rumbled to them, urging them to keep up, and upon this command, all instantly stopped their game and did as they were told – another instance of elephant communication.

The only other wild contact recorded in the Diary this month is when Yatta’s group returned to meet the babies out in the bush, and they were in the company of a large wild cow elephant, who fled the moment she spotted the Keepers. But that was proof enough for the Keepers to know that the older elephants have been fraternizing regularly with wild herds despite the absence of the usual Stockade trough brigade who come for a drink and socialize with the orphans actually within the compound perimeter.

The orphans’ usually stark mudbath has been transformed into a large natural waterhole, enabling the orphans to indulge in swimming competitions from one side to the other and generally frolicking around in water rather than just the mud. Orok has been eager to demonstrate his prowess in this respect, having had lots of practice when he was a wild Amboseli baby used to wading into the swamps with his natural family to feed on aquatic vegetation. He even left the side of his surrogate Mum, Nasalot, in order to show off to the others on a day when Nasalot arrived late, having obviously been apart from Yatta’s main group for a while.

Tomboi returned with Yatta’s group on the l8th limping heavily having trodden on a sharp object, so he joined the Junior set for a day or two to allow the sore leg to heal. Whilst convalescing, Kora, who is a great friend of his, kept him company, remaining close to him as though commiserating with his misfortune. However, within the week, Tomboi’s injury had healed and he was able to move further afield again with the Older Group.

All in all, it has been a very happy month for the Ithumba unit who have spent a great deal of time playing and having fun with food and water readily available. The only downside to the wet season is the presence of biting flies such as Tobarnids and tsetses which plague both the elephants and their Keepers at such times. But, the wet season is the Festive Season for all animals, and a time when the normal arid aspect of Tsavo’s thickets are transformed into the epitome of a tropical jungle. Flowers and flowering shrubs abound and even the orphans’ usually drab mudbath is adorned with glorious blue water lilies. The transformation is spell-binding and truly beautiful to behold and the activity feverish with all the birds busy building nests, the bees working tirelessly and thousands of insects of every hue also prominent players in the circle of life and renewal.

November 2008 day to day

01 Nov

Nasalot and her favourite, Orok were waiting at the door of the youngsters’ stockade early this morning. Once the door was opened all the youngsters rushed out, eager to get to the water trough. After taking water the Stockade games began – Tomboi ran around the compound with his trunk in the air and invited Ndomot for a pushing match, Buchuma enjoyed scratching his bottom against the unloading bay, while Lualeni, Chyulu, Zurura and Loijuk played a charging game. These activities lasted about half an hour until Wendi and Sunyei led the group out into the bush. All enjoyed the mudbath for about an hour after the younger elephants had taken their milk and until Galana and Sian led the group back out to browse around the slopes of Ithumba Hill.

Buchuma playing

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