This month the most exciting news from Ithumba has been the surprise from Galana on the 3rd of the Month. The 13 year old arrived in the early morning with her first tiny wild born calf. The keepers were overjoyed to see the silhouettes in the early morning, which turned out to be that of Galana with the tiny wobbly shape beneath, a precious newly born baby who arrived during the night within the safety of the Ithumba Stockade compound, with some wild bull sentries in attendance. The baby was only hours old and barely stable on her feet - a little girl whom we named “Gawa” meaning ‘to share’ in Kiswahili. The Keepers were overjoyed but it paled in comparison to the excitement and jubilation of the other Ex Orphans when they came to the Stockade Compound that morning for water, and were met by Galana and her newborn. Trumpeting and rumbling with excitement, they shoved to get as near to the baby as possible. The day dependent orphan Laragai, who loves the babies, was the most reluctant to follow the Keepers out to browse, so excited was she to meet the new arrival.
Galana remained around the Stockade for the next 3 days as Gawa became stronger and steadier on her feet, surrounded by the attendant Nannies, Sidai, Loijuk, Lenana, and Naserian and sometimes with Chyulu and Meibai also by her side along with numerous visiting wild elephants, both bulls and females who were equally protective, with one or two of the bulls making a nuisance of themselves trying to mount Galana. Wiva and Wendi were also in attendance, Wiva obviously unused to being second fiddle! It was not long before little Gawa grew strong enough to head off with the others further into the Park. After a couple of weeks she was running around, and the dependent orphans loved coming across this Ex Orphan herd during the day to try and get close to Gawa, but they were more often than not warned off by watchful nannies such as Sidai who have become extremely protective of their newest little charge. The wild born babies born to the Ex Orphans who, themselves, were raised through the Nairobi Nursery from early infancy are our greatest joy – testament indeed to the success of the Orphans’ Project, and those who had been so brutally robbed of their wild family. It is heart-warming indeed to see them now have their own true family once again. Their caring parenting and the nurturing meted out by their orphan friends towards their calves, operating as an extended family, is a revelation. The BBC have been doing a wonderful film highlighting the Trust’s Ex Orphans and their wild born babies, and they were fortunate enough to be able to document Gawa’s story the day she was born as well.
Otherwise, extremely dry conditions continue at Ithumba and we have seen the Orphans busily digging for nutritious roots and tubers in the soil to supplement the dry vegetation. When not browsing, the orphans shelter under shade during the heat of the day, or even visit the mud bath twice in one day to cool their bodies. Due to the hot weather other animals such as the warthogs also want to share the limited water, which is not popular with the Orphans, usually resulting in Narok being detailed to drive them away backed up by Lemoyian and Laragai who are never far away. Due to the sparse vegetation, the Ex Orphan groups and lone bulls such as Tomboi and wild Half Trunk with his friends visit the Stockade Compound frequently not only for precious water but to enjoy lucerne left-over as well. At times there are more than 50 Ex Orphans and wild elephants around the compound at one time, which is quite a spectacle. Northern Tsavo is still covered in thick bush which sustains the elephant herds during in the dry seasons.
It is indeed very educational to observe the dynamics between all the Orphans, old and young, those still dependant and their wild friends and associates. They can teach us so much about themselves by the day to day interactions. The new Ex Nursery arrivals especially have so much to learn in terms of Elephant Etiquette. One morning Olsekki and Enkikwe were walking carrying vegetation in their trunks which were dropped as soon as they saw 7 year old Kibo approaching, knowing that he would certainly confiscate it! The same happened on another occasion when Makena did the same and Siangiki had her branch rudely snatched from her by 4 year old Lemoyian. Again, she did not fight back in order to avoid trouble. Lemoyian is actually acting like a tough guy these days, enjoying engaging older bull play-mates such as Bomani in frequent wrestling games. Although Barsilinga is old enough to know better, he received a severe punishment one day from his senior, Narok, for daring to scratch on her whilst she lay on the ground! Whenever Yatta’s herd of Ex Orphans arrive on the scene, be it at a water trough, the lucerne feeding area or the mud bathing session, our dependant orphans always make way for them out of respect. Like us humans, Elephants never stop learning. For instance, a wild female with children of her own has been showing Galana the ropes of motherhood. One day when Gawa fell into the water trough, it was this wild female who showed Galana how to get her out using the trunk.
Makireti continues to make a full recovery since receiving that arrow wound 2 months ago. She leads her herd of Ex Orphans, (Kasigau, Kilabasi, Chaimu, Kilaguni, Naisula, Murka, and Kitirua) around the area nearby to the Ithumba stockades, frequenting the Stockade water trough. Ishanga, who has no permanent herd, sometimes joins Makireti’s herd and at other times goes with Yatta’s group amongst whom is the wild orphan who has also joined the Ex Orphans.