A lively month can always be guaranteed for the Ithumba orphans and October has been no exception. They have had to chase off jackals drinking at their Stockade waterhole, expel flocks off guinea-fowl doing the same, target the warthog families coming to drink and also deal with the dreaded wild dogs who have appeared on 3 occasions. They have had to disperse warring baboons, been traumatized by dikdik chases and Galana and Sunyei enjoyed seeing of a family of warthogs who came to share the mudbath, remembering the warthog games of their Nursery days.
On the 8th three wild dogs turned up to drink after the orphans had left, but hung around all day obviously hoping to ambush whatever came to drink, which happened to be an unfortunate kudu in the late evening, who was chased through the wire near the water-tank, and probably killed, because the Keepers saw a cloud of dust further afield, and the dogs did not return. The following day the dogs returned for another evening drink, but this time they were spotted by the elephants who saw them off in a charge initiated by the three Big Girls and Napasha, but which was joined by all the others once the dogs were on the run!
All trunks went up like periscopes when a light earthquake shook the ground on the 3rd, but since it only lasted a few seconds, both elephants and their Keepers resumed the normal day’s activities when the shaking did not persist.
Each morning at Ithumba is greeted with unbridled joy and happiness. The Bigger Elephants, Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika and Kinna usually run to the smaller elephants’ Stockade for a “good morning” greeting, and after slaking thirst at the Stockade trough, the compound games begin. Some enjoy scratching themselves against trees or the unloading bays, others play trumpeting hide and seek, yet others inspect the new Stockades, erected in preparation for the next intake (Kamboyo and Zurura) or the Water Bowser that has proved invaluable this month, carting water for both elephants and humans, the catchment tanks run dry and the Ithumba borehole, to which a de-salinator is attached, having given up the struggle (we hope only temporarily!) Were it not for this large Bowser which was funded by the Children of Bury Church of England High School in Lancashire, the lack of water would present us with a very serious challenge. Saline water for the elephants can be brought from the Tiva river, but every two weeks the Bowser has to make the journey to Voi to bring fresh water for the Ithumba Camp and KWS staff as well as our Ithumba Keepers. The Tiva water is too saline for human consumption.
The Ithumba orphans have enjoyed nocturnal visits from several large wild Elephant Bulls this month. Two came to drink at the Stockades at 8 p.m. on the l0th, communicating with our orphans in low rumbles which were eagerly reciprocated; 4 wild Bulls spent one full hour at the Stockades on the 16th, when all the older elephants stood in a line at the Stockade fence, rumbling and talking to them. A lone bull turned up at 8.30 p.m. during the night of the 21st.
Every morning, after fun and games in the compound, it is time to head out to feed, and one of the youngsters, often Sunyei but sometimes Kora, Kenze, Sian or Naserian, is allowed the privilege of leading the herd. Should the Matriarchs decide that a change of direction is necessary, Yatta normally steps forward to lead the way, and if the Keepers make a similar decision, then they do the same and the elephants themselves either decide to obey them, or lead the Keepers in a different direction. During the reintegration process, the elephants decide where they would like to browse, and the Keepers simply follow them. Often, once at the designated feeding spot, the orphaned group splits up, meeting up with each other much later, quite obviously in touch with infrasound in order to browse the thickets. The milk dependent youngsters, this month usually with Naserian leading, head for their milk venue and mudbath ahead of the older elephants, who follow in their own time.
An exciting event took place on the 27th, when the youngsters were heading back to the Stockades ahead of the others, and when they encountered a wild herd. Kenze, Lualeni and Kora left the orphaned group to go with this wild herd. Since it was getting late, the Keepers made the decision to take the other orphans back home before trying to find Kenze, Lualeni and Kora, but fortunately they were spared this task, for the three arrived in a hurry on their own, later. Kenze was over 2 years old when he lost his elephant family, so he remembers well his time as a wild member of a wild herd! That he decided to rejoin the orphaned group acknowledges the fact that he knows now where he is safe and that he needs milk and the protection of his orphaned peers and their Keepers.
Through the Diaries, it is interesting to take note of how young elephants who step out of line are disciplined by their elders. Any cry from a youngster always brings the Big Girls along to investigate the cause, and if the cause happens to be bullying by another youngster, the culprit is ejected from the fold and forced to spend time apart from all the others on his, or her, own. Yet, when Sidai deliberately pushed Rapsu from behind during the mudbath, making him fall down, and he rose and retaliated forcefully making her bellow, none of the older elephants paid a blind bit of notice, even though they were all just a stones throw away! On this occasion, they had observed that Sidai was to blame and got what she deserved! It is also interesting to find in this Diary that Wendi is beginning to see her place as one of the Big Girls, breaking up a pushing match between Ndomot and Buchuma, and expelling Rapsu after he had tried to mount her! Rapsu was at the sharp end of Yatta, when he pushed down her favourite, Olmalo! Woe betide anyone who tampers with Olmalo. And as Nasalot’s two “pet elephants”, Kenze and Orok also enjoy privileged protection. Pushing bouts are tests of strength and rank amongst the young bulls, and one of their favourite pastimes, rank being extremely important within male elephant society. Young bulls also like to display dominance by trying to mount the females, also something that is not accepted by the older females.
Olmalo displayed ingenuity when she picked up a stick to scratch an itch in one ear, and became so engrossed in this exercise that she bumped into a tree, and emitted a startled bellow. This immediately brought Yatta to her side to investigate the cause of that cry. Nor is it just the older females that will break up what starts as a pushing bout but sometimes deteriorates into a fight. Napasha, the oldest male of the group, also takes it upon himself to sort such quarrels out through intervention.
The long awaited rains are due at Ithumba. The trucks are parked at the Nursery Loading Bays, ready to take Kamboyo and Zurura to Ithumba. Their arrival will bring the Ithumba Unit numbers to 27 young elephants in the process of rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the Voi Stockades are being rested, with just Mweiga and her escort enclosed during the hours of darkness. And proudly, we now have 36 ex Nursery elephants, orphaned as newborns (and 2 from the day they were born) fully reintegrated and living as wild elephants within the wild herds of Tsavo East. Over and above there are others that went directly to the Voi Stockades, namely Lissa, Chuma and Mpenzi making 39 all told reared by the Trust since its inception, not counting Eleanor and others orphaned during the time that David Sheldrick was the Warden of Tsavo East National Park.
Eleanor still keeps in touch and now has 3 wild born young, Lissa has three, and Mpenzi lost her firstborn to lions. We believe that Emily and Aitong are both pregnant, their calves due therefore in late 2008 or early 2009.