Keepers' Diaries, September 2007

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

September is always an extremely hot time of the year in Tsavo, and particularly so up at Ithumba. The orphans usually always drink their fill at the Stockade water trough before heading out to browse, but on the 3rd Napasha arrived first to find the trough almost dry, a wild herd having drained it during the night. Rumbling a complaint, he was soon joined by the others, who in unison marched back to alert their Keepers who opened up the Gate Valve to allow the inflow of more water, but Napasha then tried to refuse access to the others. He was soundly disciplined by the four older females, namely Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, who drove him away so that the youngsters could drink, establishing that selfishness is something else that breaches good elephant behaviour! Another lessen came when Napasha and Tomboi put their front legs into the water trough, muddying the orphans’ drinking supply. This angered Mulika, who along with Kinna drove the two out of the compound, and denied them access until all the other orphans had drunk their fill and left. Driving recalcitrant youngsters into “purgatory” is the way growing youngsters are disciplined, for elephants are very fearful of being alone when young, and indeed are extremely fearful of the unknown.

September is always an extremely hot time of the year in Tsavo, and particularly so up at Ithumba. The orphans usually always drink their fill at the Stockade water trough before heading out to browse, but on the 3rd Napasha arrived first to find the trough almost dry, a wild herd having drained it during the night. Rumbling a complaint, he was soon joined by the others, who in unison marched back to alert their Keepers who opened up the Gate Valve to allow the inflow of more water, but Napasha then tried to refuse access to the others. He was soundly disciplined by the four older females, namely Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, who drove him away so that the youngsters could drink, establishing that selfishness is something else that breaches good elephant behaviour! Another lessen came when Napasha and Tomboi put their front legs into the water trough, muddying the orphans’ drinking supply. This angered Mulika, who along with Kinna drove the two out of the compound, and denied them access until all the other orphans had drunk their fill and left. Driving recalcitrant youngsters into “purgatory” is the way growing youngsters are disciplined, for elephants are very fearful of being alone when young, and indeed are extremely fearful of the unknown.

The resident pack of wild hunting dogs, who drink regularly at the orphans’ Stockade trough, are obviously becoming somewhat blasé, since during the morning of the 6th, when they turned up for a drink, they paid no attention to the deterrent charge undertaken by the bigger elephants in an attempt to drive them away. This left the orphans non-plussed and back in a huddle at the stockade entrance, until the dogs had left, when the older Matriarchs and Napasha put on a spirited display of aggression! Encounters with others have been more successful – for instance, the usual dikdik and kudu chases as well as being able to dislodge buffaloes from both the thickets and at the airstrip dam. However, when a pack of rowdy hyaenas turned up at the Stockades during the night of the l0th, their scarey sounds so distressed the elephants that the Keepers had to intervene, and by shouting at the intruders, induce them to leave, but the elephants were still nervous when daylight eventually arrived..

Sian is a long distance walker, probably because her Amboseli elephant family were in the habit of crossing the Kenyan/Tanzanian boundary. Upon arrival at Ithumba, she led the Keepers and older orphans on a long wild goose chase towards distant Kone, and on the l4th of September, as leader of the column, she again got into walking mode, refusing to be deterred by Yatta and the older elephants, exhausting both the Keepers and the younger members of the herd and causing the milk dependent youngsters to be 2 hours late at their noon milk and mudbath venue. Then during the evening of the 17th, having been scared by some running warthogs, she and Kora fled in disarray and were absent so long that the Keepers plus Yatta, the Matriarch, and other orphans went in search of her and Kora, and as darkness fell, had still not caught up with her. The Keepers had then to give up since they could no longer follow the spoor, so the task of bringing back the two missing orphans was left to Yatta and the other orphans. Eventually they returned to the Stockades with the missing duo much to the relief of the Keepers, but not until well after 9 p.m. at night. Yatta, Mulika, Nasalot and Kinna, assisted by Big Boy Napasha are extremely caring and proficient Matriarchs, despite their tender age, so much so that the Keepers rely on them heavily to keep tabs on their twenty younger elephant orphans.

Another very scarey event happened on the l9th when the orphans inadvertently bumped into two very large wild bulls on their way to the airstrip dam. Mulika bellowed loudly when one bull held her with its trunk and this triggered high drama, with all the orphans running for the protection of their Keepers, and the Keepers trying desperately to avoid both them and the wild bulls who could be amongst the retreat! Only Napasha was brave enough to not only stand his ground but also attempt to follow the two bulls as they headed northwards, but upon finding himself alone, decided against going too far! Yatta and the older girls, who were in pursuit of some buffaloes on the 11th, came across two other wild bulls, who scared Sian. The Keepers called out to her, and the sound of human voices sent the two bulls into a rapid retreat. The Northern elephants have not yet forgotten three decades of rampant poaching during the seventies, eighties and early nineties, and remain extremely wary of any human contact.

As soon as the rains break at Ithumba, Yatta’s herd will swell yet further, with the addition of Nursery graduates, Zurura, Kamboyo and Lenana leaving Makena as the Mini Nursery main Matriarch, supported by Chyulu and Lesanju.

September 2007 day to day

01 Sep

Yatta, followed by Olmalo led the way to the Kalovoto river where the orphans settled down to browse. As noon approached, temperatures were very high, so the orphans walked slowly to their mudbath when Orok, Buchuma and Olmalo forwent their milk ration for the mud. Having cooled off, they returned for their milk. All participated fully in the mudbath, except Kora, who only splashed water over himself before leaving to wait for the others at a safe distance!

Yatta with Sunyei

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