September is an extremely hot and dry time of the year, so emphasis for the orphans this month is spending the hottest hours under welcome shade, complimented by mud bathing and red soil dusting. Since natural browse is in short supply, it is challenging for both the young dependent elephant orphans and for the ex-orphans now living wild. Lessons taught by the older elephants become extremely important at such times. These include how to access rich nutrients from the bark of dry trees and shrubs, plants to avoid that exude poisonous tannin in the peak of the dry season, and where reliable dry season watering points are, to name just a few. For many wild elephants Ithumba has become a dry season refuge, and this message seems to be getting out far and wide as each year we have seen an increase in wild elephants basing themselves there throughout the dry season. Not only do they find a reliable water source for this time of year, but have access to all our orphans as well, which include those dependent (Barsilinga, Bomani, Bongo, Garzi, Kainuk, Kanjoro, Kithaka, Laragai, Lemoyian, Mutara, Narok, Orwa, Shukuru, Sities, Teleki, Turkwel and Vuria), as well as the semi independent (Chaimu, Chemi Chemi, Ishanga, Kalama, Kandecha, Kasigau, Kibo, Kilaguni, Kilibasi, Kitirua, Makireti, Melia, Murka, Naisula, Olare, Suguta and Tumaren) and ex-orphans (Buchuma, Challa, Chyulu, Galana, Ithumbah, Kamboyo, Kenze, Kinna, Kora, Lenana, Loijuk, Lualeni, Madiba, Makena, Meibei, Mulika, Napasha, Nasalot, Naserian, Ololoo, Orok, Rapsu, Sidai, Sunyei, Taita, Tomboi, Wendi, Yatta and Zurura). All this makes for very interesting interaction.
In the early years it was the bulls that would visit in these dry months, but each year we have seen more and more female herds follow their cue. We have old regulars amidst the wild elephants who visit us year in and year out, some of whom we do not see from one dry season to the next, but who eventually return. We have others that stay close throughout the year, enjoying the company of their orphan friends which number 63 at Ithumba now. Each season newcomers arrive and news that elephant help is available has definitely got out amidst the wild elephant community. This dry season a number of injured bulls have converged on Ithumba, seemingly knowing that help would be on hand. Thankfully we have been able to ensure they have not been disappointed and have treated all the cases we have come across thanks to the DSWT funded Tsavo or Amboseli Mobile Veterinary Units timely response.
This month almost every morning the dependent orphans have awoken to wild elephants hanging around the stockades to have their fill of water and greet their little friends. On the 3rd of September two wild bulls arrived, both of whom we had not yet seen this dry season, and both unfortunately with arrow wounds. Thankfully we were able to arrange for the DSWT funded Amboseli Mobile Veterinary Unit to travel to Ithumba to treat them and the prognosis for a full recovery is good. On the 5th of September the dependent orphans woke up to eighty elephants surrounding their stockades – which included the ex-orphans, those partially independent led by Olare as well as many wild friends. The scene was memorable and every moment was savored by the on looking Keepers, who remember that when the Ithumba Rehabilitation unit was first formed, the presence of wild elephants was so scarce in the area that months would pass without any sign of them. Wild dogs have been regular visitors, remaining close this month reliant on the Stockade waterhole.
Kithaka remains a mischievous presence at Ithumba, with a habit of doing things his own way, normally first at the watering trough, first in the mud bath, first out of the mud bath, first to dust bath and first to head to the browsing field after the mid-day feed. He is still firm friends with Barsilinga and Lemoiyan but apart from that remains quite a loner while Lemoiyan is the favorite baby for ex-orphans Chyulu and Lenana both of whom cannot resist showering him with attention whenever he is in their company.
It was extremely heart-warming to have Napasha return this month after a lengthy absence for many moons, in fine condition despite the dry season. Ex-orphan bulls Rapsu, Ololoo and Madiba have been hanging out together and visiting the juniors regularly remaining in their company for long periods of time. Suguta, who used to lead the semi-independent group, has firmly stuck to being dependent again, seemingly in no hurry to return to her friends but choosing instead to remain with the baby group, enjoying the milk feeds and the extra pampering. The semi dependent group that she once led have been hovering around towards the end of the month trying to convince her that it is time for her to re-join them, Kasigau being particularly persuasive.
On the 14th of September our orphans were enjoying time with the semi-independent group who, as it turned out, had alternative plans. With the orphans spread far and wide in order to browse they managed to spirit away eleven dependent youngsters without the Keepers noticing. Thankfully they chose to pass by the stockades for a drink first before heading further afield and the canteen cook at the compound alerted the Keepers who were able to retrieve their kidnapped babies in time.
On the 25th the Keepers awoke to the stockade compound full of wild elephants, without an ex-orphan in the group. It was a spectacular sight. They did spot an injured elephant and veterinary intervention was hastily arranged.
With rain threatening towards the end of the month the baobabs began pushing out leaves; the acacia’s began flowering, and the skies are rumbling with thunder while temperatures soared as the parched landscape anticipated life-giving rain.
For many more stories about the various individuals at Ithumba please access the Keepers daily entries for September.