There has been a great deal of wild contact this month between the older Ithumba orphans, led by Yatta (who have with them 2 little milk dependent satellites – Orok who is the shadow of Nasalot and Olmalo who has always been Yatta’s chosen favourite). It is the norm these days for Yatta’s group (as it is known) to separate from the younger set and head off independent of the Keepers, and the orphans that are still Keeper dependent have become quite used to this routine, Galana and Sunyei acting as the Junior Matriarchs. Yatta’s group usually joins them either somewhere out in the bush, at the noon mudbath, or back at the Stockades in the evening, usually very conscientious about the need to bring Orok and Olmalo back to enjoy their milk at least once a day and sometimes twice or three times. That said, however, this month Yatta’s group did not show up for 3 full days i.e. on the 9th and 12th returning the two youngsters for their milk the following day. On the 14th Yatta and her group were away for as long as 40 hours when Orok and Olmalo had to miss out on their milk, something that they obviously resented. Tthereafter they themselves made sure they received their milk at least once a day, escorted on the 23rd by Mulika and Kinna who left Yatta’s group to bring them back. Both Olmalo and Orok reported back for milk without their elders on one occasion, but the main group was nearby waiting for them to return.
The entire orphaned herd sometimes spend days all together i.e. on the 20th. One night they spent back in their erstwhile stockade with the Gate left ajar should they decide to join the wild visitors who have frequented the Stockade water trough this month.
Rafiki and many other wild bulls have been regular visitors to the Stockades for water this month, which has stretched the borehole pump!. On the 4th Rafiki brought a new friend and both joined Yatta’s group as they left for night to forage out in the bush. 2 wild bulls turned up at the Stockades for a drink on the 8th and another two turned up on the 10th, one of whom returned later and took a great interest in Kinna. Rafiki arrived with another wild friend on the 11th and although Yatta left the Stockades without them on this occasion, having first escorted the youngsters back, the wild bulls followed them later. On the 15th 3 wild bulls came to drink at the Stockades in the evening, soon followed by another 4 and by 7 p.m. the number of wild elephants had swelled to11 in total drinking from the trough!
On the 16th Rafiki and 2 of his wild friends followed Yatta’s group, on the 21st Rafiki arrived with 6 others to join Yatta’s group at the water trough in the evening and later leavet with them for night. On the 22nd 3 wild bulls drank at the Stockades and the 25th saw a newcomer who waited nearby and only came in after dark for a drink. Early on the 27th at 6 a.m. a lone wild bull came for a drink followed by another at 7.30 a.m. and yet another later. The morning of the 29th saw Rafiki back again with l wild friend, both of whom returned in the evening to be joined initially by Napasha, and then the rest of Yatta’s group, all then leaving together for night foraging. Whenever these wild friends meet the orphans, there is invariably a rapturous greeting of rumbling, trumpeting, urinating and “showing off” around them in a display of delight! Rafiki has obviously spread the word about the presence of water at the Stockade and all are well known to Yatta, as well as unafraid and un-aggressive to the Keepers if they happen to be around the younger elephants at the time.
Not only have our orphans brought the wild elephants back into the Northern Area of Tsavo, and habituated them to the presence of their specific human family, but they have played another extremely important role educating the neighbouring community about the nature of these gentle giants. The Trust buses school children regularly to the Stockades so that they can actually meet, mingle and learn about elephants. For the first time in their lives this particular very rural community have been given the other side of the story and the seed has been sown to view elephants in a different light, learning about elephants from those privileged to be loved by them and who have been accepted as part of the elephant family. They see how amazingly gentle and how very human the orphans are; and told how they protect and shelter their Keepers who walk with them out in the bush, how the elephants have compassion and care deeply about their young and one another just as do humans; how conscientious the older elephants are returning Olmalo and Orok back for their milk feeds, and how they have introduced their wild friends, so that they too also peaceful land trusting of the human family, understanding that these unique people are unlike others and pose no threat to them. No Wakamba tribesmen would ever believe such things had they not seen it for themselves and been able to have contact with the orphans, some of whom tower over them. The Warden related how a woman married to a poacher was so moved by what she had seen that she said she would divorce her husband should he ever think of harming an elephant again!
The school visits to the Ithumba orphans have proved such a hit amongst what has always been a hostile community that now even the adulst are begging to be exposed to the same phenomenon! No amount of lecturing could possibly have achieved the same impact. Resulting from this exposure, for the first time the Warden has even been given the names of known poachers by the community and has responded by intensifying foot patrols around Ithumba mountain to ensure that Rafiki and his friends, as well as our orphans are better protected.!
Two other events of note took place during the month of September 2008. Three wild dogs brought in two of their pups for a drink at the Stockade, and a spitting cobra got fried when it attempted to enter the Night Stockades through the surrounding electric fence. It has certainly been a very memorable month for the Ithumba Keepers, who also have in their care an orphaned baby duiker that wandered into a compound, obviously having lost its mother. Normally the little duiker would definitely have been killed and eaten by the community who are probably the most carnivorous of all tribes. Yet another small but significant victory that can be attributed to the Trust’s orphaned elephants and the word they and their Keepers have spread amongst this Wakamba community who are also extremely appreciative of the boundary fence erected by the Trust. This has enabled them to be able to grow crops that formerly would have been devoured by the large herbivores such as elephants and buffalo. Not one has been able to penetrate the Trust’s electric fence, which is maintained by the community themselves who are paid to keep it in good order.