Gripped by the severest drought in the history of the country, the water trough at the Ithumba Orphans Stockade has become a very popular venue with wild elephants trickling in to drink all day long, and every day, often mingling with our orphans who remain mainly in their three groups. Yatta is the Matriarch of the Senior Group, Wendi often separates from Yatta’s group to travel independently, taking with her anyone who would like to come along. This month, both Yatta’s group of Seniors as well as Wendi’s splinter group have met up with the Keeper Dependent youngsters almost every day, either at the Stockade water trough, out at an obviously predetermined place in the bush, or at the noon mudbath. The ex orphans usually have wild elephant friends with them, aside from the wild recruit known as Mgeni who still remains part of Yatta’s orphaned group.
Up until very recently the wild elephants who habitually turn up to drink at the Stockade water trough have been mainly bulls, with the cow herds and their calves keeping under cover of darkness to venture close. This month, however, one cow herd with some small calves has broken the mould, and have turned up regularly, usually every second day and during daylight hours. Lualeni particularly has been fascinated with the wild babies, always anxious to fraternize more closely with them, but having been warned off by a mother on the 12th, she is careful now not to be overtly too forward. Elephant mothers are very suspicious of other females who pay too much attention to their offspring, since the abduction of calves from their rightful mother does happen. All female elephants love the babies, and none more so than orphans who have lost their natural family, and long to build another one. However, all the orphans, including the Stockade dependent Juniors are comfortable mingling with the wild herds whom they meet on a daily basis during the dry season, either at the Stockade water trough, out in the bush or at the noon mudbath venue. Often wild elephants join the Youngsters out in the bush, even when accompanied by their Keepers, who simply keep their distance, while the ex orphans are seldom without wild hangers on..
On the 1st the ex orphans plus 2 wild friends joined the Juniors out in the bush to spend time with them while another 2 wild elephants joined the Youngsters at their noon mudbath on the 2nd. Yatta’s group had 2 wild elephant friends in tow on the 4th and 1 wild stranger with them when they passed by the Stockade water trough on the 5th. That same afternoon all the ex orphans were joined by their old friend Rafiki, (the first wild elephant to actually walk with the orphans and their Keepers who rapidly spread the word around his male friends about the presence of good water at the Stockades and the fact that the humans with the orphans were somewhat different in that they were definitely ele-friendly. This had been established during 6 years of nocturnal surveillance by the wild bulls.) Whenever in the area, Rafiki makes a point of spending some time with the orphans, even with the Juniors as they feed out in the bush. He is a very old favourite of them all.
Two wild friends were with the ex orphans on the 12th and on the 14th 3 others at the noon mudbath. Wendi and her group along with the Juniors were joined by a wild elephant at the mudbath on the 20th, 3 wild elephants joined the Juniors a few days later, and on the 24th the ex orphans brought a very large wild bull with them to join the Youngsters at their noon mudbath. Whereas, previously the fact that the orphans were in the company of wild elephants was a talking point, now it would be unusual if they weren’t.
However, what is unusual is the independent behaviour of Ol Malo, (born in January 2003, and who came to the Nursery as an orphan of 4 months old). As Yatta’s favourite calf and previously inseparable, now Ol Malo has become extremely independent and self sufficient, comfortable to turn up at the Stockades on her own, or sometimes in the company of Challa and Rapsu as happened on the 3rd. Challa came to the Stockades at dawn on the 5th with 3 wild elephant friends and left them to join Naserian’s group when the Juniors left the compound. That day at 9 a.m. Ol Malo showed up alone again and left on her own having taken water. Challa spent the day with the Juniors, and when they returned in the evening, he hung around until Wendi arrived with her group to scoop him up and return him to Yatta. On the 8th Ol Malo again had Challa with her, plus Rapsu and l0 wild elephant friends and on the l9th Nasalot came to the Stockade at dawn with Rapsu, Orok, Challa and Taita in tow, met up with the Youngsters and escorted them out to the Kalovoto area to browse for the day. Once they had left, Ol Malo again arrived alone, took water, and then left. She returned in the evening, again on her own, but hung around the stockades waiting to join Nasalot’s small group of ex orphans and on this occasion she left with them.
The Keepers believe that Ol Malo prefers to walk at a slower pace than all the others, sometimes accompanied by the young bulls from Yatta’s group, who have recently up-graded themselves from the Junior lot and would rather not walk too far afield in the heat of the day. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear, and that is that Ol Malo behaves differently to all the others and appears to be quite comfortable walking alone or with Challa and Rapsu and other wild friends. No doubt, wherever she is, she is still in touch with her orphaned family, whether from the Naserian’s Junior Group, of the Splinter Group led by Wendi, or Yatta’s main Senior group.
This month Kamboyo has undertaken a trial run at upgrading himself to being a Senior, breaking away from the Juniors to join his friend Kenze and stay out late with Yatta’s group. However, he obviously had second thoughts because he turned up at the Stockades after dark, and wanted to be let back in with the Juniors. However, the following day (25th) he remained overnight with Yatta’s group, absent from Naserian’s group when the Juniors returned for the night. He was back at the Stockades early in the morning, with all the ex orphans, (minus Ol Malo) none the worse for his first full night out as a Senior.
It was an unusual day on the 28th, after all three orphaned groups had met out in the browsing area. On this occasion, and out of character, the three Matriarchs either formed an alliance of their own with some of the permanent members of their various groups, or opted to remain on their own. Having browsed together for some time, Wendi, Lualeni, Naserian, Sunyei and Rapsu dodged the Keepers and headed back to the Stockades whilst members of the Senior group (still with Ol Malo missing) headed eastwards without Yatta who was left with just some of her usual group. Yatta, along with Madiba, Galana and Ndomot decided to remain behind with the Juniors and went with the Youngsters to the mudbath, but later peeled off and headed out. At around noon Kinna, Mulika, Buchuma, Orok, Nasalot and Selengai joined Wendi, Sunyei, Naserian and Lualeni at the Stockades to form a different alliance and having taken water, left together to an undisclosed destination. Meanwhile the Keeper Dependent group settled to browse along the slopes of Ithumba hill, and at 4.30 p.m. began making their way back to the Stockades, joined en route only by Lualeni and Sunyei. By 7 p.m. neither Naserian, nor the group she had left with at noon, had returned to the Night Stockades. .
The following morning Ol Malo arrived at the Stockade water trough with yet another wild friend, whom she left at the trough to join the Juniors as they headed out, this time without their usual Matriarch, Naserian. Once out in the bush, Ol Malo peeled off from the Junior Group, and went off alone. Having enjoyed the usual dustbath and sand shower, the Juniors settled to browse for the rest of the afternoon at the foot of Ithumba hill until it was time to return in the evening. At 6 p.m. Naserian turned up, having spent 24 hours away from her usual group. The Stockade Gates were opened to allow her back in with Sidai, her usual room mate. Ol Malo came just before dark on her own, took water and then left.
On the 30th, the sky was clear, promising a hot day, so the Juniors took water before leaving in the morning. Chyulu, Makena and Lenana then went to scratch themselves against the Unloading Bay until Sian decided it was time to head out. The day did, indeed, turn very hot, so Wendi and her group came for water at l0 a.m. and later joined the Juniors at the mudbath, where all enjoyed a lengthy wallow. They then took to the shade, waiting for the temperature to fall before returning to browse as they made their way back in the evening.