Keepers' Diaries, September 2018

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

By far the most exciting and significant event this month was the much anticipated arrival of our 30th wild born baby, Lualeni’ s first born calf, a little girl we named Lulu. We cannot help but rejoice the birth of every wild born calf, each one a significant milestone and the ultimate stamp of success of our Orphan’s Project, and it really does take a life time to fully reap these rewards. This birth event was made all the more remarkable because it was Lualeni, who first arrived in our care a grief stricken 4 month old calf, traumatized after the loss of her mother and family. It took her many moons to overcome her deep-rooted sadness which simply overwhelmed her. Indeed to date it has never taken any calf in our care as long as it took Lualeni to finally settle down and accept her new elephant and human family and put her loss behind her. As we wrote at the time of Lulu’s birth, just the knowledge that Lualeni will never again have to take another step alone, now she has a daughter by her side, we know hers will be a life now full of the gigantic and unconditional love that elephants are the very best at providing. Watching Lualeni’ s fulfillment now with precious Lulu in her life is incredibly gratifying knowing how painful her beginnings were. In the face of all the worries we have had in the past month with aggressive lions wreaking havoc amongst our orphans at Ithumba, this month they were thankfully absent and it was a month instead littered with joyful events.

In the face of all the worries we have had in the past month with aggressive lions wreaking havoc amongst our orphans at Ithumba, this month they were thankfully absent and it was a month instead littered with joyful events. Another joy was the return of ex orphan bull Buchuma who we had not seen for well over a year. The bulls do tend to fly the nest, and after a certain age sometimes permanently so when he sauntered in to the stockade compound alone one morning at the beginning of the month and took a long drink, before walking over to greet the dependent orphans, some of whom had never met him before and wondered who this big friendly giant was, the Keepers were incredibly happy! Buchuma stayed around the stockades for the rest of the month, amidst some of the other grown ex-orphans, and big wild bulls present in the area. We were delighted too when at the end of the month, only a couple of days after Lualeni gave birth to Lulu, Yatta and her ex-orphan herd, who we had not seen for well over a month, also arrived.

Knowing elephants as we do this was no coincidence, they had returned to share in Lualeni’ s joy, news which they must have received through that extended elephant network well beyond the realm of our human comprehension. Yatta, her baby Yoyo, Yetu, Kinna, baby Kama and nannies Ithumbah, Makena, Ishanga, Sidai and Naserian all arrived at once. Their exuberance over the new baby in the fold was obvious to all. Wendi, baby Wiva, Mwende and Mulika still have not returned however. With each new wild born birth within our ex-orphan groups, the matriarchal herds splinter slightly, each surrounded and protected by their groups of nannies, very often with some recruited from wild herds as well, but what is not so obvious to us is just how connected they remain despite not being physically together.

Their powers of communication are sophisticated indeed, they communicate over great distances and always remain bonded through an inaudible connection of infrasound. Baby Lulu is enchanting, her soft bits perfectly pink, and she has two very strict attentive nannies in Chyulu and Lenana who provide the much-needed security required for a newborn baby – they have not let the dependent orphans close yet and they can only trumpet with excitement and smell the new little one with their trunks held aloft in the air. Lualeni is an wonderfully attentive Mum, seemingly born for this very role.

This month we have been blessed with most of the ex-orphans around, bar Yatta’s herd who arrived later and Wendi’s who still remain away. We saw the majority of the ex-orphan bulls even, including Tomboi, Rapsu, and Zurura and Taita who often walk together as they are all great friends. Kainuk left Mutara’s herd to join Narok’s herd who remained closer to the stockade compound most of the time, and this was simply because her dear friend Turkwel is still recuperating and remaining within the stockades at night since her tail had to be amputated after the lion attack; Kainuk cannot bring herself to move very far away from her friend which is so beautiful to witness, while Turkwel is enjoying the extra pampering she is receiving knowing full well she is being helped to heal. Thankfully both hers and Chemi Chemi’s lion wounds are improving all the time. Unlike Turkwel who welcomed the intensive nursing, Chemi Chemi has been less inclined to stick around for wound dressing, and has made it challenging for the Keepers for sure.

The tempting lucerne pellets are something he has enjoyed extra helpings of and as a result the condition he lost due to the stress and trauma of his ordeal has been put back on and he is happy once more out in the bush with his friends, no longer stressed like before. The ‘rebel group’ as the Keepers like to call them, consisting of Laragai, Kithaka, Garzi, Lemoyian and Barsilinga, continue to try and evade the Keepers when they can, walking off with wild elephant herds and sometimes even not returning to the stockades at night which always has the Keepers worried, meaning one Keeper waits up all night to see if he can see any sign of them returning so as to whisk them back into the stockades. On those occasions they do return to the stockades in the morning, or show up at the midday mud bath, allowing the Keepers to breathe a sigh of relief. Thankfully some nights they behave and return as they should, but the ‘rebel group’ definitely like to keep their Keepers on their toes.

There were plenty of wild elephants around this month as well, due to the wider area becoming drier which is expected at this time of year. At times when there were lots of wild elephants close to the dependent orphans the Keepers had to be on their guard as there were some new arrivals who were not that friendly. One day one charged at Namalok beside the mud bath but the Keepers intervened and shouted at the bull, allowing Namalok time to make his escape. Wanjala was pinned down by some elephants in the mud bath one day and Sapalan was sent flying by one very big bull’s trunk when he approached the water trough uninvited while they were drinking one afternoon. Our very clever little girl Esampu, who only arrived at Ithumba a few months ago, knows how to handle these interactions however. This head-strong girl was being bullied by a wild elephant calf near the water troughs one day, but instead of starting a fight, she pretended to surrender until the calf moved closer to her friends away from its own family, and then, as she had so cleverly premeditated encouraged her older friend Mundusi to step in and discipline the calf, safe in the knowledge that the Keepers would be a deterrent for the wild herd to move any closer. The wild calf then met with Laragai and Galla and they too both meted out some discipline driving the calf away. Because of Esampu’s bold nature she has settled down so well in her new environment. She is a born leader, and her adaption to the Ithumba life has been seamless and happy.

As usual, there are always those that try to get away with naughty behavior at milk feeding times. Somewhat surprisingly this has most recently been Roi, who has been trying to sneak around the Keepers to try and steal extra milk bottles, sometimes succeeding! Mteto has been trying to steal from poor Namalok by putting her trunk into his milk bucket, but was soon found out and reprimanded by the Keepers. And sometimes, it is a group offensive, when orphans like Mundusi, Namalok, Maramoja and Rapa, after having their milk bottles, conspire how they can route around a second time and come back running towards the milk bottles pretending it’s a first, hoping to fool their Keepers. They are always found out though given that Namalok is amongst them and he only drinks milk from a bucket, which gets put away when he is done!

September 2018 day to day

01 Sep

At the early morning milk feeding time, Mteto drank her milk fast then walked down and attempted to put her trunk in Namalok's bucket again. Namalok wasn't bothered at all because he knew they would see Mteto and tell her off for trying to take someone else’s share. Namalok was right as Mteto was spotted immediately and told to keep away from the bucket. Outside the stockade, five bulls were quenching their overnight thirst and after that they walked a short distance away and stopped to relax. Oltaiyoni, Galla, Esampu and Mteto decided to walk down to join the bulls. The Keepers whistled in an effort to call them back to the herd and indeed Oltaiyoni turned and walked back. When they were back, Tusuja charged and started pushing Galla. Galla tried to defend himself but was overpowered by Tusuja. Kauro kept himself busy by scratching against a nearby tree as Laragai and her rebels followed the bulls and refused to heed the call of the Keepers to return and stay with their friends. Later on at mud bath time, the weather was chilly and none of the orphans dared to step into the bathing water. In the afternoon, the orphans settled to browse in the lower Kalovoto area where Galla started to dust before going back to browsing. In the evening, Galana, baby Gawa, Sidai, Chyulu, Lenana, Sunyei, baby Siku, Lualeni and Zurura showed up at the stockade and left shortly after having enough water.

Mteto tryin gto steal Namaloks milk

Tusuja engaging Galla

Ex-orphans at the stockades