Prior to the first substantial rain which fell during the night of the 15th, and continued for just two days, releasing the wild elephant community from their dependence on the stockade water trough, wild elephant female family units with calves were beginning to appear regularly to drink at the stockade water trough, last month for the first time during daylight hours. This month family units arriving at the stockade water trough to drink have not been uncommon, which is a very recent and welcome development for the North. In fact, up until recently female herds were few and far between in the Northern part of Tsavo, but they are now beginning to venture in and recolonize an area they abandoned in the late seventies due to the pressure of wholesale poaching. It is interesting that when a family group consisting of 4 adult females, 2 sub-adults and 2 small calves came to drink on the lst, they were greeted very warmly by Loijuk who rushed up to them, but also that our orphans gave them priority at the water trough only drinking themselves after the wild herd had taken their fill. The Keepers were sure that the orphans were aware that the wild herd’s need was greater on that particular day during the height of the drought, probably having come from afar.
The behaviour of Ol Malo has long been a puzzle, but the reason as to why she appears to have left Yatta’s group and remain closer to home has become clear as the dry season progressed. Like Mweiga, she has always been a rather slow elephant, who has had difficulty keeping pace with the others. During the current prolonged very dry period, she has not weathered the dry season as well as the others, coming regularly to drink at the stockades either alone, or accompanied by Challa, a young bull who has probably been detailed by Yatta to remain with her and keep her company in the same way that others in the South from Emily’s unit kept ailing Mweiga company until she suddenly dropped dead on her way back to the stockades one day. Ol Malo’s condition this month is indicative of a chronic health problem, possibly a heart defect. Challa is usually part of Wendi’s group of ex orphans and it will be interesting to see whether his watch over Ol Malo changes to another ex orphan bull, as did that of Mweiga.
The orphans’ first wild bull friend known as Rafiki, who spear-headed the influx of wild bulls to the stockade compound and was first to befriend the orphans and their Keepers, has again spent time with Yatta’s group along with some of his own wild bull friends. Mgeni, Yatta’s wild recruit is still very much part of her unit, at ease amongst all the orphans as an integral part of the greater orphaned herd. This month Yatta’s group have made more frequent appearances and mingled more often with the Keeper Dependent Juniors, often accompanied by wild friends, than that of Wendi. This is also unusual, although Wendi and her group, (which normally includes Challa), are obviously not far away, and have mingled with the Keeper Dependent orphans on several occasions, for instance on the 11th when they came to drink at the stockades and again towards the end of the month. On the 6th Challa was accompanied by Sunyei from Wendi’s group when he came to join the Juniors and whilst other members from Wendi’s group also joined the Juniors at the mudbath, Challa and Sunyei remained with them, returning with them to the Stockades in the evening, before heading off again into the bush.
The onset of rain bringing natural rainfilled puddles and mud wallows is always an extremely happy time and a huge relief for elephants generally, and our orphans have made the most of the fruits of the only two substantial storms Ithumba has enjoyed so far. However, a lot more rain is needed to alleviate the results of the very long and extremely severe drought of 2009, arguably one of the most devastating the country has ever experienced. At least the northern elephants have not had to contend with the numbers of domestic livestock as has the southern area of the Park,, thanks to the electric fence that segregates the community land from the Park on the northern boundary. However, Orma livestock have infiltrated as far inland as Ndiandaza on the Park’s North Eastern boundary. The illegal intrusion into the Protected Areas of domestic livestock in competition for scarce resources with the resident wild animal community is a very serious issue that the Government will have to address if they are to keep their wildlife resource and the lucrative tourist industry that is so vital for the economy.
At month end, on the 29th Naserian, Kora, Zurura and Kamboyo were unusually extremely reluctant to go back into their stockades and it took the Keepers a long time to persuade them to do so. However, the next day Kora, Naserian and Zurura flatly refused, instead leaving the compound with Yatta’s unit. The Keepers left the Stockade Gates ajar in case the three had a change of mind during the night, but it was not to be, and the next day Kamboyo decided that he, too, could now join the Keeper Independent group. This leaves just Makena, Lualeni, Loijuk, Sian and Kenze still Keeper dependent returning regularly to the stockades for the night. Our Ithumba orphans are all growing up and flying the fold!