Keepers' Diaries, October 2023

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

October bought two new additions to our extended elephant family, with the birth of a grandbaby and a great-grandbaby. But first, it began with some buffalo drama, courtesy of Naleku.

As the orphans were drinking, a lone buffalo joined them at the trough. Naleku charged and the interloper retreated, giving her the courage to charge further and even trumpet a little, too. But then the buffalo changed his mind and decided to fight back. Naleku promptly lost her courage and ran away — until Sattao came to the rescue! He ran forward to defend Naleku against the buffalo, and soon the entire dependent herd was united in their effort to vanquish the ‘enemy.’ The poor buffalo couldn’t believe what was happening and made a hasty retreat. The elephants pursued him for about four hundred metres before deciding that their mission was complete.

Revisiting their old tradition, Mutara’s ex-orphan herd spent the night just outside the stockade compound on several occasions this month. When the dependent orphans awoke, they were delighted to have the opportunity to play with baby Mambo. In fact, sleepovers were quite common throughout October. One morning, the Keepers were surprised to find nine-year-old Namalok sleeping outside the compound!

On 4th October, we were treated to a light drizzle. We hope this is a sign of better rains to come, but it still sent the orphans into a frenzy of excitement. Jotto, Suguroi, Lodo, Naleku, and Ambo joyfully threw wet soil in the air, while Kuishi and Larro drank fresh rainwater that had collected between the rocks.

We had no wild visitors the day after the rain, as they were enjoying all the greenery to be found further afield. Although this was predictable, it felt strange to wake up to an empty compound — it’s been so dry lately, bringing dozens and even hundreds of elephants to the area. The orphans were more than happy to have the whole area to themselves, as they ate their lucerne in peace without any competition. 

A few days later, however, the scant rains had already faded and the wild visitors resumed. A totally new wild herd who we have never seen before visited the stockade water troughs. They hastily drank water, looking around at the unfamiliar sight of little elephants and their human carers, before leaving and heading south east. We suspect we will see them again.

Hours later, ex-orphans and their kids — Naserian, Njema, Wendi, Wiva Wema, Wimbi, Galana, and Gawa — came through, after an absence of nearly a month. The dependent orphans only raised their trunks up to acknowledge the presence of the ex-orphans passing by, as they didn’t want to pause their browsing session. We were also treated to a visit from 19-year-old Orok a few days later.

We are happy to see how our newly wild-living orphans are thriving. Little Neshashi is loving her independent life. During one of her visits, she spent a long time chatting with Larro, perhaps telling her what life is like out there in the wild. Mid-month, we were pleasantly surprised to have a visit from Kithaka, in the company of several wild bulls. He was looking very healthy and his limp has much improved. 

We suspect that several more members of our dependent herd will hear the call of the wild soon. Ambo, Kuishi, Dololo, and Sattao have been testing their independence, splintering away from the Keepers and showing up to things on their own schedule.

In fact, the only thing holding Kuishi back from a wild life is her love for Esoit. She fusses over him like a mother hen! One day, Esoit decided to take a break and relax on the ground. Kuishi and Kindani rushed over and stood over him as he rested. Another day, Esoit engaged Bondeni in a prolonged strength-testing exercise. Kuishi soon stepped in to encourage Esoit to allocate more time for browsing — a subtle, sisterly reminder to prioritise nourishment over pushing games. 

We saw nearly all our ex-orphan mothers throughout the month. Sunyei and her baby Saba were mainstays at the mud bath — they love wallowing. Wendi and her three girls were frequent visitors, as were Yatta, Nasalot, Mulika, Naisula, Nyx, Ithumbah, Kinna, and their respective families. Esampu, Mteto, Maramoja, Roi, Siangiki, and Oltaiyoni have been spending time with Mulika’s herd, while Kinna seems to be recruiting a few more additions! One day, the senior girl convinced Jotto, Ambo, Sagateisa, Sattao, and Suguroi to leave with her group. It took the Keepers two hours to find the wayward group of five. 

On 16th October, we were treated to an almighty storm. Late afternoon, dark clouds gathered on the horizon, and before long, it was raining heavily. This caught everyone unaware, including the orphans! They were already making their way back to the stockades, but they quickened their pace to get back to the sheltered compound. More rain continued throughout the month.

Kindani, Bondeni, and Kinyei remain an inseparable trio. Other friendships aren’t quite as firm. Lodo, who shares a stockade with Olorien, tried to join her in snacking on a shrub. Unfortunately, she promptly banished him from the scene — they may share a bedroom, but Olorien drew the line at sharing food. A few days later, however, we saw Lodo and Olorien having a wonderful time playing together in the wet soil. Perhaps Lodo is making inroads after all!

Suguroi is so clever. One morning, Bondeni and Roho were trying to pick lucerne from the same pile. Neither was willing to share, nor were they willing to give it up. As the two boys were fighting, happy-go-lucky Suguroi passed by and took the lucerne for herself. 

We don’t think of Kindani as a diva, but a funny moment this month suggested otherwise. One afternoon, she really wanted the water trough all to herself. First the dependent orphans came for a drink, followed by a group of wild bulls. But petulant Kindani stood off to the side, making her demands clear. The Keepers realised they had no option other than to respect the spoiled baby’s wishes, so they asked the wild bulls to move back. Kindani majestically walked up to the water trough and drank ever so slowly. Once she had enough, she started playing with the water, while the bulls patiently waited for their turn to drink. The Keepers couldn’t tolerate such frivolous behaviour, so they signalled to the bulls that they could come forward. Kindani made a hasty exit, as she knew to remain any longer would be to push her luck!

On 22nd October, we welcomed our second Ithumba ‘great-grandbaby.’ An otherwise normal afternoon took an unexpected and joyful turn, when Mwende appeared with a newborn baby girl! Mwende was the very first wild baby born to our Ithumba ex-orphans (she is the daughter of Mulika, one of Ithumba’s founding females), so this was a beautiful, full-circle moment. We named her little girl Mala. 

Two days later, on the evening of 24th October, another surprise was in store for us: Tumaren, who was present the day prior with her friends, arrived at the stockades with a newborn baby at her feet! She didn’t yet have any nannies accompanying her, but we are sure it won’t be long too before she has many applicants for that position. We named her first baby boy Tembo, which means ‘elephant’ in Swahili. 

Now, we are just waiting for when Makena and Olare might deliver their own wild babies. It is an exciting time at the Ithumba stockades!

October 2023 day to day

01 Oct

The orphans slowly ambled over to the lucerne feeding area soon after leaving their night stockades. Several bulls were present. Melia, Milo and Mutara’s herd joined in too. Milo pushed Olorien as she walked by, but Olorien decided not to retaliate as his mother Melia was right there, and she didn't want any trouble. Esoit, Naleku, Sattao, Roho and Sagateisa walked down to the water trough and joined a wild bull drinking water. 

A buffalo showed up and wanted to join the orphans drinking, but after taking just one sip, Naleku decided to charge at the buffalo. The buffalo retreated, giving Naleku the courage to charge further and even trumpet a little, too. But then the buffalo changed its mind, and decided to charge back at Naleku. This is when Naleku lost her courage and turned to run away. Sattao stepped in and ran forward to help his adopted sister Naleku. Soon the other orphans joined and in unison ganged up against the buffalo. The buffalo couldn’t believe what was happening and was left with no option other than to run away, as the elephants pursued him for about four hundred metres before deciding that was enough distance to have scared him away. Clearly, the elephants like to dominate the water trough while they are the ones drinking there, but the buffalo made a mistake in trying to stand up to one in the herd!

Out in the bush, Lodo engaged Roho into a strength testing match while Jotto briefly joined a wild bull who was also browsing nearby. The rest of the morning was quiet until Kindani led the first group for their noon milk feed, and after finishing their bottles, all the orphans went to cool off in the mud bath. In the afternoon the orphans settled to browse west of Ithumba Hill. Sattao and Ambo led the way back to the stockades for the night.

Olorien and Milo facing off

Naleku charging the buffalo

Lodo and Roho wrestling