Keepers' Diaries, November 2020

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The excitement around the arrival of the short rains this month was terrifically evident to see – as not only were our orphaned elephants thrilled but all species great and small celebrated the onset of the wet weather. Dung beetles were everywhere fashioning their perfectly round nests from elephant dung, while birds flitted around and chattered excitedly from dawn until dusk feasting on the insects which hatched with a flourish with the onset of the first rains. While we were overjoyed to wake up one morning and find ex-orphan Wendi with her two wild-born calves Wema and Wiva with the other ex-orphans at the Ithumba compound, having not been seen since March, their visit was only temporary and short-lived – for it is so interesting that the first rain showers also signal the dispersal our ex-orphans and other wild elephants, and after those first few showers around the middle of the month we didn’t see any other elephants as the herds boldly stepped out across the plains now with a renewed confidence in their water sources.  

Interestingly Wendi arrived with a piece of her trunk missing at the end, the reason for which remains baffling. The end is ragged as oppose to a clean cut which suggests it could be an injury from a predator, or possibly a crocodile, but it didn’t seem to hamper or bother her in any way. Once again we found ourselves marvelling at the extraordinary ability of our now wild-living orphans such as Wendi and Kinna - their methods of communication and understanding; the very idea that they can meet up together again after months apart, so effortlessly and seamlessly, is extraordinary to our Keepers, who were in awe yet again of Kinna’s ability to always discern the whereabouts of her friends out there across the vast landscape of Tsavo. The very next day on the 8th, Mulika and her two offspring Mwende and Mkuu also joined the ex-orphan group, having been away for the last eight months, and just a week later after the rains, they were gone, off exploring the wilds of the Park with Kinna and the others in tow. 16 year old Challa also put in a couple of appearances at the mud bath this month too.

Junior ex-orphans Mutara, Suguta, Sities, Turkwel, Kainuk, Kithaka, Garzi and Lemoyian reappeared at the beginning of the month having been away for a week, and they too stayed in the area for a short while and then wandered off deeper into the Park with the other ex-orphans with the onset of the rains. While with the dependent orphans, Sities, Kainuk, Turkwel and Suguta love to fawn over little Dololo and smother him with love and affection, but luckily when they are away Siangiki and Roi step up to fill that role and love to dote on the young boy, while Musiara and Sattao are a little more independent. 

Another young baby that needs a little supervision from the likes of Siangiki, Naseku and Kamok is Ambo. Now four years old, Ambo has started to strike out on his own a little and often likes to lead the herd, even if he’s never quite sure of the best direction, but this has brought him to the attention of some of the older bulls as well and they have started to bully him a bit in the morning, perhaps to keep him in his place in their eyes. The Keepers have started feeding Ambo his Lucerne separately so he can eat in peace. It is sweet to watch the older females like Kamok or Naseku watch over Ambo and whenever he rumbles that he wants to carry on with the day and starts to amble off in any which direction, they are quick to run to his side and escort him out to the bush, mindful of the fact he is young and doesn’t really have the experience yet on the best direction for the herd to take.

Once the rains broke it only took a matter of days and a few very heavy rain showers for the waterhole to be full to the brim. Tusuja and Olsekki are always the last to leave the waterhole as the thing they love most in the world is a pushing game in the water. The Keepers thought that perhaps once the water hole was full of water, that the orphans might not want to wallow in it quite so much as it would be colder, but the truth is they haven’t missed a day this month. On some days it was very humid, with all the weather build up around, and even though it wasn’t necessarily sunny, the orphans still enjoyed swimming. The Kalovoto seasonal river, which only fills with the rains, also started flowing from the middle of the month, and became a raging torrent, and the orphans had fun playing on its banks before returning home to the stockades. Some days it was so obvious to the Keepers that the orphans had had the best possible fun,  enjoying swimming and rolling in the mud and getting up to all kinds of antics, and they returned back to the stockades in the evening very tired indeed with drooping eyes and a slow gait, but clearly deeply satisfied.

Up until the middle of the month the two reunited best friends Bomani and Orwa spent quite a bit of time with the dependent orphans as well, and sometimes with Chemi Chemi too. 13 year old ex-orphan bull Meibai even showed up one evening and joined Bomani, Orwa and Chemi Chemi who had escorted the dependent orphans home one evening. In fact until the rains Bomani and Orwa sometimes spent the night not far from the stockade compound only to welcome the dependent orphans in the morning and escort them out for the day. This was nice for eight year old Barsilinga too, who is slowly recovering from his foot injury, to spend some time with age mates like Orwa and Bomani too, wrestling and testing his strength against them. It is invaluable for the younger orphans to have such lovely older role models around too, and it forms such a helpful part of their reintegration back into the wild. One day little four year old Esampu spotted some guinea fowl birds walking ahead of her. These are her favourite little creatures to play with, and the mischievous little girl charged at the tubby birds trumpeting with her ears spread wide, and wasn’t disappointed when the birds noisily flew up into the air in fright. Esampu felt very pleased with herself. Bomani, Orwa and Chemi Chemi, who were accompanying the dependent orphans, patted Esampu with their trunks as if congratulating her for a job well done. 

Kamok and Olsekki have become quite close friends evidently, and these two seven year olds are often spotted playing and wrestling with each other. The two rascal bulls Tusuja and Namalok managed to sneak away from the Keepers one late afternoon, leaving the Keepers unaware and they only realized when they were rounding up the orphans in preparation of walking them back to the stockades in the evening. The thick bush and waterlogged ground hampered the Keepers efforts tracking the two naughty boys, but just after six o'clock, an hour after the other orphans had settled in for the night, Namalok and Tusuja brought themselves back to the stockade compound, sauntering along as if nothing were amiss, thus ending the search for the two bulls and the Keepers’ anxiety of their whereabouts! 

After a spate of bush fires across the Tsavo region this dry season we are delighted that the rains have finally broken in Tsavo north including here at Ithumba, and we have welcomed the transition from parched and smoky grey to a brilliant lush green – such is the brilliance of Tsavo now that it is very much a jungle. We were overjoyed to catch a glimpse of ex-orphan mothers Wendi and Mulika too, even if it was only a fleeting greeting, it was in some ways even more meaningful that they stopped by deliberately to see us and say hello.

November 2020 day to day

01 Nov

Karisa walked hand in hand with Ambo and settled for water before deciding which way to go. Soon after they had enough water, Mapia arrived and picked on Ambo for a pushing game. Ambo must have wondered why Mapia picked on him yet he was standing next to Karisa who was more his size and equal in strength. Ambo didn't retreat but tackled Mapia like a brave boy, knowing that he could send signals to the big boys for help if things turned nasty. As it turned out, Galla was standing close by and swiftly intervened to help Ambo before Mapia could go full force on the little boy. Ambo left happy that Galla came in to help him wrestle Mapia. 

Out in the bush, the orphans were joined by Orwa and his friend Bomani. Bomani hugged Barsilinga and for some time they enjoyed a pushing game that reminded them of the good old days when Bomani was still stockade-dependent. Bomani must be wondering why it is taking Barsilinga so long to become independent and leave with them again, but it is Barsilinga’s sore foot that is preventing him from doing so, since their human family, the Keepers, are still tending to him and making sure he is alright before he leaves. 

Rapa ran into trouble with Sapalan today for some unknown reason – and a wrestling fight ensued. Rapa, who is light, defended himself from the attack and when he realized that he was losing, he decided to run away. 

At mud bath time the orphans had fun in the water and went for a mud bath. Kauro, as usual, and Galla didn't have a swim but had some drinking water, then waited for their friends to finish wallowing. Ambo came out of the mud and led the way back out to the bush to browse. The orphans settled to browse in the upper Kalovoto area for the rest of the day.

Karisa and Ambo at the water trough

Barsilinga playing with Bomani

Kauro after having a drink at the mud bath