November has been a very rewarding month for the Ithumba unit, not least because of the heavy rain storms which began in earnest on the 10th and continued throughout the entire month, filling the natural waterholes and promoting a veritable feast of lush green browse at every turn, not to mention endless mudbaths and puddles for the orphans, (and all elephants), to enjoy throughout the month. The usual artificial bush mudbath, which has to be topped up during the dry season, turned into a mini lake in which the orphans could actually submerge themselves.
An even more thrilling highlight was the unexpected arrival of Ex Orphan Mulika’s first wild-born baby – the very first wild-born baby for the Ithumba Ex Orphan herd led by Yatta, who is also heavily pregnant. Mulika was not with Yatta’s group (comprised of Nasalot, Kinna, Lualeni, Loijuk, Naserian, and Selengai accompanied by bulls Buchuma, and Orok,) when they met up with the Junior’s at their noon mudbath on the 6th, but the next day (7th) she brought her brand newborn to the Junior’s mudbath at 11 a.m. to proudly show her Keepers and the younger Keeper Dependent Orphans. Dame Daphne Sheldrick and guests Phillip and Esther Wolf from Switzerland (donors from the early days) were there at the time, which made their day particularly memorable.
Immediately Head Keeper Benjamin excitedly dashed back to the Stockades to pass on the happy tidings to Trust Headquarters in Nairobi and to collect the Unit’s Video Camera so that he could record the new arrival for the Trust’s website and social media pages. Back in Nairobi, where the news was received with equal joy, Robert Carr-Hartley and Pilot Nick Trent took to the air in the Trust’s l85 plane, in order to document this special event more professionally in high definition for Mulika’s many Foster-parents world-wide, interested Professional film units, and the Trust’s Archives.
Ex Orphan Mulika, orphaned in Meru National Park when just 7 months old and subsequently hand-reared through the Nairobi Nursery is now just 11, young to be a first time mother. She and Yatta were seen being mated by the same wild bull in February 2009 but the appearance of Mulika’s baby came as a surprise, since we had not expected it until at least December 2011. Added to this we all thought that Yatta, (who was also mated around the same time and by the same Bull, might give birth ahead of Mulika, since her breasts appeared more formed. Mulika’s baby is a tiny girl, named by Head Ithumba Keeper, Benjamin, “Mwende” the Mkamba tribal word for “the loved one” and a loved one she certainly is, adored and cosseted by all the members of Yatta’s Ex Orphan unit, her wild elephant friends as well as by the entire human family.
By the time Robert had landed, Mulika was back at the Night Stockades in the evening enjoying a hand-out of Dairy Cubes and Lucerne in her old enclosure. Thereafter Robert and the Keepers walked with her and her calf, accompanied by hordes of anxious would-be “Nannies” until darkness set in, and although they searched for Mulika’s group the next morning, she was nowhere to be seen. But she and her baby, accompanied by the Ex Orphans and some wild elephant friends, came to the Stockades briefly on the l0th and again on the l8th, little “Mwende” looking strong, happy and well with no shortage of doting carers! On both these occasions the Junior Group had already left for the bush.
With water and food freely available everywhere, and with Mulika’s baby being the focus, the Ex Orphans have not been such frequent visitors this month. Wendi and her group were waiting for the Juniors at the Stockades at first light on the 15th and interacted briefly with the Juniors before heading in the direction of the Kalavoto area, leaving the Juniors to head towards Kone to browse that day. On the l8th Ex Orphans Lualeni and Naserian came to the Stockades with boys Rapsu and Kamboyo to meet up with the Juniors, Naserian then leading them out to browse and spending time with them before peeling off.
On the 27th the Juniors met up with Wendi’s group at the Kalavoto browsing area, when Ithumbah was very tempted to join the Ex Orphaned Group rather than return with her peers in the evening. In the end, the Keepers encouraged Wendi and her satellites to come along as well in order to bring Ithumbah back with them, which they did, and having reached the Stockades, as soon as Ithumbah saw the others rushing for their milk, she joined them and was back in the fold again, leaving Wendi’s group to head back out.
Another Junior who has long been tempted to upgrade himself is Ololoo, who went off with a wild herd on the 4th. The following morning the Keepers went in search and came across him at the Kalavoto area in the company of 2 wild bulls, who fled the moment they spotted the men, enabling Ololoo to be rounded up and returned to his Junior Group. Orphaned at 2 years of age, Ololoo remembers his wild existence clearly, and though still milk dependent, clearly longs to be “wild” once again. He is often tempted to leave the Junior Keeper Dependent orphans and head off with wild herds.
Young Keeper Dependent bulls Kilaguni, Sabachi and Kibo are very competitive, indulging in frequent Pushing tests of strength daily, Kilaguni usually the loser, but never giving up hope of reversing this situation against Sabachi and Kibo. He seized the opportunity to pursue Sabachi who had pushed down smaller Chemi Chemi, and who obviously had a guilty conscience for doing so! Because of this Kilaguni felt confident of one-upmanship on this occasion. As for Chemi Chemi, he is quite capable of holding his own and has had a marvelous month slipping and sliding in loose mud and playing in rain puddles, as have all the Juniors, while Girls Olare and Melia have also enjoyed gentle Pushing bouts leaving Kalama and Kitirua to lead the Junior herd out in the morning, and back in the evening, on many occasions. November has truly been a very memorable month for the Ithumba orphans, both the 16 who are still Keeper Dependent, as well as those that are now Ex Orphans leading normal wild elephant lives. We now eagerly await the birth of Yatta’s first-born baby!