The cruel poaching of precious 9 year old Ithumba Ex orphan“Selengai” has been another devastating blow that has left us extremely demoralized and anxious about the safety of all our orphans. Selengai was orphaned in 2003 when she was just one week old, and had been reared through the Nairobi Nursery from that tender age, so we knew her as one of our own. She was 9 years old when she died, her body found on the 6th just 500 metres from the Ithumba KWS Headquarters and the Stockades, with a deep wound in her back obviously caused by a Poisoned Spear dropped from one of the infamous Poaching Platforms erected by Wakamba poachers around watering places. She had obviously been trying to make her way back to the Ithumba Stockades and her human family for help, as have other wounded Ex Orphans in the past, but tragically she never made it, not that there could have been much we could have done for the wound was deep and a large amount of poison had already obviously been absorbed. On that same day the carcasses of another two poached wild elephants were spotted during an aerial survey by our Top Cub aircraft, one just below the Sheldrick Blind on the Yatta, and the other near the Tiva.
The Keepers believe that Selengai was accompanied by Ex Orphans Sidai (a close female friend) and Ex Orphan bulls Rapsu and Meibai when she died, since these three orphans turned up at the mudbath the day her body was found. They emerged from the direction of Selengai’s body and were visibly obviously distressed. They were probably with her when she died, even trying to help her return, but it was not to be.
The poisoned arrow poaching by Wakamba tribesmen in the Northern area of Tsavo East National Park drove all elephants out of the area entirely in the late seventies, eighties and early nineties, and unless brought under control, the same scenario could happen all over again, putting enormous pressure on the Southern Section of the Park so that many others will die of malnutrition. Poisoned arrow poaching is taking an enormous toll of elephants, who are dying on a daily basis. We have seen this for ourselves through daily aerial surveillance and the field patrols of our 7 anti-poaching De-Snaring teams. (Other Ex Orphans who have returned for help with poisoned arrows imbedded in their bodies have been Kora ( on two occasions), Napasha with a poisoned arrow in his face, and Ndara who had three, one in the foot leaving her so lame that she has had to recuperate back at the Voi Stockades for months. Ex Orphan Ndomot perished, also trying to return for help, and Ex Orphan Ol Malo has disappeared entirely, her body never found, so we suspect that she is also now dead.)
Selengai was last seen at the Stockades with Yatta’s Unit on the 2nd, but following a drizzle of rain which filled a few small puddles, the Ex Orphans were absent for the next few days. On the day that Selengai’s body was found Buchuma was also missing from the Ex Orphaned herd who were counted as they fed near the Stockades, so we feared for him as well, but mercifully he turned up alone the following day. No elephant is safe in Africa today, and especially not in and around Tsavo which has been infiltrated by armed Somalis, overrun with domestic livestock and surrounded by notorious poisoned arrow poachers of the Wakamba tribe.
Extreme drought conditions have persisted throughout the month, but for a few pathetic drizzles that have just been sufficient to settled the dust, so we have continued supplementing our Orphans with Lucerne, and with Dairy Cubes for the two Ex Orphan Mothers who are lactating and have milk dependent babies. It has been a challenging month for all elephants throughout the Tsavo Conservation Area with only seven days out of the entire month that the Ex Orphans have not showed up to partake of the Lucerne handout along with the Keeper Dependent Juniors. They have come not always as an intact herd, but sometimes in Splinter Groups, and nearly always accompanied by wild elephant friends as well as Yatta’s wild bull ‘recruits’ (Mgeni and Kijana) who now regard themselves as part of her unit. On the 2nd the Ex Orphans were accompanied by 12 wild bulls, and on the 27th at the mudbath over 20 wild elephants shared the Orphans mudbath drinking trough and the Juniors’ noon mudbath. Hence, the Keeper Dependent Juniors have had plenty of wild interaction during the month, Kasigau and Ololoo particularly bold when joining wild Visitors, barging in amongst them as they drink, with Ololoo undertaking a closer inspection by “sniffing” them in turn. Female elephants with calves are also now drinking regularly at the Stockade water trough. A large female with just one tusk brought her two large calves to drink on the l9th and the cow with the very small calf also coming on several occasions throughout the month.
On the 29th a Splinter Group of Ex Orphans who had been missing from the main group the previous day turned up at 3 a.m. in the morning, and lay down to sleep in the Stockade compound until dawn, when the Juniors were let out of their Stockades, sharing the Lucerne pile with them.
It was interesting on the 7th when a wild mother, attended by Ex Orphans Wendi and Sidai, came with her newborn baby to drink at the Stockades, our two Ex Orphans acting as caring “Nannies” to the newborn. Those of us who know elephants intimately know full well that this wild mother had obviously “told” by the Ex Orphans that the Stockade water trough was a safe place and that the Keepers who were there were different to other wicket humans, and could be trusted - touching evidence yet again of Elephant communication.
The wild elephants understand that when the water trough has been drained during the night, the Trust’s Water Bowzer swings into action at dawn to bring a refill. 14 wild bulls were waiting patiently at the empty trough on the 14th moving in to drink as the Tanker was actually refilling it. At such times the man holding the pipe could easily touch the wild elephants, such is their trust, and this is very touching. The Ithumba borehole’s yield has been compromised during this exceptionally dry period.
It was good to see the huge Tusker “Mshale” again, whom the Trust’s Mobile Veterinary Unit saved from certain death from a poisoned arrow wound some months back. He came escorted by Ex Orphans Rapsu and Kamboyo, who obviously have a hero worship on this magnificent monument, something that is very normal amongst junior bulls.
Normally the rains over Tsavo break in mid October, and in recent years have been late in coming, and short in quantity. We can only hope and pray that the predicted El Nino happens over Tsavo, rather than bringing misery to urban communities through flooding and landslides. An unusual visitor at the Stockade wallow at month end was a hyaena.