Keepers' Diaries, October 2008

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

It has been extremely interesting to monitor how caring and responsible the older elephants (known as “Yatta’s Group”) are of the other still milk dependent Youngsters remaining with their Keepers, who are regarded as “close family” by the older group who are now free spirits, free to go where they like, when they like, and if they like. This endorses what happened at the Voi Unit when Emily’s group left, followed by that of Natumi, and lastly by Thoma’s youngsters.

It has been extremely interesting to monitor how caring and responsible the older elephants (known as “Yatta’s Group”) are of the other still milk dependent Youngsters remaining with their Keepers, who are regarded as “close family” by the older group who are now free spirits, free to go where they like, when they like, and if they like. This endorses what happened at the Voi Unit when Emily’s group left, followed by that of Natumi, and lastly by Thoma’s youngsters.

Not a day has past in October when Yatta and the older group have not made contact with the Youngsters, on 9 occasions first thing in the morning, waiting outside the Youngsters’ Night Stockades so that Ol Malo and Orok (their two milk dependent protégés) could enjoy the early morning milk feed,, on another 12 occasions at a point out in the bush, or either on the way to, or at the noon mudbath, (where again the milk is available) or else back at the Stockades in the evening for an evening milk feed.

However, a very unusual occurrence took place on the 7th, when Yatta’s group returned minus Ol Malo, something that left the Keepers anxious. Their concern mounted when Yatta returned to the Stockades in the evening, again without Ol Malo. Then on the 8th, something very surprising happened - who should turn up at the Stockades in the early morning but Ol Malo, escorted not by Yatta or any other member of the Keeper Independent group, but instead by a totally wild bull elephant, who handed her over to the Keepers and the younger group, enjoyed a drink at the Stockade trough, and then meandered off again. The next morning, Ol Malo went out with the Youngsters, led by the Junior Matriarch Sunyei, but was restless, rumbling and calling, obviously missing Yatta’s group. She left the Younger set to go in search of her surrogate “Mum”, (Yatta) but this obviously proved fruitless, for she turned up back at the Stockades in the evening without them. However, Yatta and her satellites arrived later, and the usual very exuberant reunion was re-enacted.

Another interesting development in this month’s Diary is the fact that Wendi and Tomboi left Yatta’s Group to spend time with the Youngsters on the 5th and on the 26th, at the mudbath venue Sunyei and Challa left with Yatta’s group for the first time, leaving Ol Malo and Wendi behind with the Youngsters!

We ponder the reason for Ol Malo’s new found independence from Yatta which is totally out of character. Perhaps she now has q wild friend of whom she is very fond and with whom she would like to spend more time – perhaps a friend in amongst another wild group. When the wild bull brought her back, had she communicated to him her need to return to the Stockades for her milk? We know that elephants can communicate very sophisticated messages to one another, but this particular one has surprised us.! Then there is the occasion when Ol Malo left the orphaned herd whilst en route to the noon mudbath (despite the fact that her milk was there), only turning up later long after the others had wallowed and left. Anticipating this, some of the Keepers had waited and were there to escort her out to join the others.

There have only been some 4 days this month when Yatta’s group has opted to spend the entire day with the Juniors, something that is always a great treat for the Youngsters. However, when the older group decide to separate, instantly the Junior Matriarchs take charge without question as though silently instructed to do so. The role of principal Junior Matriarchs is shared between Sunyei and Galana, both now 5 years old. Wendi and Tomboi from Yatta’s group remained with the youngsters once, rather than travelling further afield with their older peers.

Remarkable this month is the almost daily contact the Ithumba orphans have enjoyed with wild elephants, mainly bulls, who have turned up at the Stockade either in the evening, enjoyed a drink, patiently waited for Yatta’s group to finish their Copra handout which is placed in their erstwhile Stockade, and left along with them when they were done. For instance:-
• 3rd 4 wild bulls left with Yatta..
• 8th the wild bull brought Ol Malo back and 3 wild bulls turned up at the Stockades in the evening to join Yatta’s group for the night’s outing.
• 9th 2 wild elephants joined Yatta’s group at the Stockades, and acted as a deterrent who had been spotted by the Keepers as they were also on their way to take a drink.
• l0th a wild elephant arrived in the morning, accompanied the Youngsters (and their Keepers) to the Kanziku area, and then peeled off. That same evening 3 wild bulls arrived, followed by another7, making l0 in all, all of whom accompanied our older orphans when they left.
• 12th saw 4 wild bulls at the Stockade waiting for Yatta’s group to leave in the evening.
• 13th Yatta returned with 2 wild bulls in tow and at 8 p.m. that evening another 12 arrived, and having had a drink, left following the direction Yatta and the others had taken.
• 19th 2 wild bulls came to drink. That evening, the bull to whom we gave the named “Rafiki” turned up with “many” wild friends to escort Yatta and her group out for the night.
• 21st there were 2 wild bulls at the water trough in the morning.
• 24th “Rafiki” and friends again arrived at the Stockades at 5 p.m. and hung around the Compound for several hours. The friends then left along with Yatta’s group, but Rafiki remained behind, exchanging greetings with the Youngsters in their Stockades.
• 28th 4 wild elephants came to join Yatta’s group and left along with them.
• 30th 2 bulls were waiting at the trough for the Gate Valve to be opened by the Keepers because the trough had been drunk dry by others during the night. These two bulls then accompanied the youngsters and their Keepers again to the Kanziku area, (the place where Yatta’s group often meets up with the Juniors) before peeling off and going their own way. It is interesting that the youngsters are also now comfortable mingling with some of the wild bulls that frequent the Stockades.
Therefore, in short, on most days throughout the month our older orphans have enjoyed the company of wild friends; days when wild elephants are at the Stockade trough first thing in the morning even as the Youngsters are being fed their milk and let out; some when wild elephants are there waiting for the Gate Valve to be opened by the Keepers because the trough has been drunk dry during the night by others; occasions when wild bulls have accompanied the Junior orphans and their Keepers out into the bush, leaving them at Kanziku where Yatta usually joins them at some point during the day. In view of the fact that it has taken 6 years of nocturnal monitoring of the orphans by the wild community of Northern Tsavo to get to this point, and that now they are there in numbers, is very heartwarming for us, especially when we know how difficult it has been for Yatta, as the Matriarch, to break the barrier of suspicion that segregated the orphans from their wild very anti-human peers for so long; how Yatta had to entrust her precious elephant family to the Keepers and her Junior Matriarchs in order to travel further afield devoid of human company in order to make contact and persuade the wild elephants that not all humans are evil! As mentioned so many times before, the orphaned elephants are teaching us humans so much about themselves and their wild counterparts; about their conscientiousness and caring capabilities, about their sophisticated communication, their firm family ties; all their other very human emotions and how the transition from a human family back into the wild system has to take place.

Different other wild visitors to the Stockade water trough during the month were three wild dogs which turned up for a drink on the 5th and were there again on the l8th.

October 2008 day to day

01 Oct

Kamboyo and Zurura enjoyed a pushing match to open up the early morning activities, whilst Kora enjoyed a roll of the ground. This attracted the attention of Challa, who came to try and mount on him, but Sunyei interrupted this procedure by Sunyei signaling that it was time to head out to the browsing area. Yatta and her group checked in at the Stockades a little later to allow Ol Malo and Orok to take their milk, and then followed Sunyei’s group, meeting up with them out in the field. All the orphans enjoyed the mudbath because it was a very hot day.

Kamboyo and Zurura playing

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