Keepers' Diaries, September 2021

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

The month began on a high note, when over seventy wild bulls converged outside the Ithumba stockades for a drink. Our bold girl Nabulu led the dependent herd home, as has become tradition. The orphans treated their wild visitors the deference they deserve and didn’t get up to any hijinks as they settled in for the evening.

Wild visitors were a constant this month. We are in the midst of a brutal dry season, which has brought elephants and all manner of creatures circling in towards Ithumba. They know we provide fresh water and lucerne feed, which is a lifeline during such a challenging time. Some wild elephants even slept outside the stockades, which is a testament to the trust they have in us. It is gratifying to know that we are such a source of support and security for Tsavo’s wild residents.

Our ex orphans are particularly entitled when it comes to lucerne. Our youngsters know to make way for these visitors, as it is best not to get between hungry older elephants and their supplemental food supply! One day, ex orphan Mulika took her daughter and son, Mwende and Mkuu, on a tour of the stockade compound. Perhaps she was telling them how it used to be her home, before she transitioned to the wild — an event that happened about thirteen years ago now.

While our orphans will never go hungry or thirsty at Ithumba, they are still learning valuable survival skills that will help them thrive as wild elephants. To see them hard at work is to be reminded of this, as they step on branches and then use their trunks to peel the bark, which is a vital source of food during the dry season. Esampu is particularly skilled at the art of de-barking. One day, she witnessed Mteto twirling a stray piece of bark. She stared at her friend as if she were crazy, because she knows that in these dire times, that is something to eat, not play with!

Reintegration is a very personal journey, and each orphan goes about it in their own way and at their own pace. However, it is almost always the guidance of older, wild-living friends who help pave the way. Early in the month, Suguta briefly decided to part ways from her usual herd. Instead, she teamed up with fellow ex orphans Orwa, Bomani, and Kibo. This little group escorted some of the older dependent orphans, including Barsilinga, Tusuja, Olsekki, Oltaiyoni, Roi, Naseku, and Siangiki, on long treks into the bush. These excursions help our older orphans become more comfortable with their independence. Tusuja even spent several nights away from the stockades, in the company of his wild friends.

It has been wonderful to watch Enkikwe over the past few months. Three years ago, he had a harrowing encounter with lions, which left him gravely injured. He has recovered step by step, rather than by leaps and bounds, but he finally seems to be back to his old self. Perhaps in an effort to broadcast this fact to his friends, Enkikwe was very rowdy this month, such as when he mischievously prevented Karisa and Wanjala from exiting the mud bath!

Kauro is another bull who is really coming into his own. He struggled with severe health issues for a long time, even returning to the Nursery for a spell to convalesce. Now, he is fighting fit — and eager to prove it! One day, Mundusi challenged him to a strength testing match. Mundusi lost and, to add insult to injury, Kauro proceeded to climb on top of him, just to showcase his strength.

Our sweet little Sapalan seems to be experimenting with a more mercurial side. On two occasions this month, he instigated fierce fights with his friends: First, he had a strong disagreement with Pare, which only ended when Suguta stepped in to separate them. Then, a few days later, Malima tried to take some food from his mouth. Perhaps she was just trying to smell what he was eating, but Sapalan got very angry and turned to teach her a lesson. Malima hadn’t meant to cause trouble, so she sadly walked away and consoled herself with a lone roll in the soil. It wasn’t long before Mapia came over to cheer her up with a game.

Sadly, September also brought its fair share of heartbreak. On the 10th, Makena arrived with a newborn calf in tow. Mumo, as we named her, appeared to be the picture of health. For the following week, mother and daughter remained around Ithumba, only to unexpectedly depart into the bush. They reappeared after an absence of several days, but the excursion had clearly taken its toll on Mumo, who was extremely weak and dehydrated. A monumental effort to save her ensued, but tragically, Mumo died on the morning of the 20th. Our heart breaks for Makena, and for another life cut short during this brutal dry season. Makena is doing very well however and doesn’t seem unhappy, and is in the company of her good friends in Yatta’s herd. You can read a full account of the events here.

September 2021 day to day

01 Sep

Ex-orphans Loijuk, Lili, Kitirua, Orwa, Naisula, Kilaguni, Bomani and Ishanga arrived to join the dependent orphans in the morning. Esampu, Nabulu and Sapalan had the wonderful opportunity to interact with Lili for a while, before she left to rejoin her mother. After feeding on lucerne, Sattao led the way out to browse. 

It was a quiet morning as all the orphans concentrated on browsing without any major distractions. Older orphans Orwa and Bomani chose to join the orphans for the entire morning. Ambo and Jotto decided to browse together, away from the others. Malima and Sana Sana joined them for a little while, before going to browse from a nice bush with their friend Malkia. Roi walked with Dololo through the bush slowly and escorted the little boy and his friend Musiara to some shade when they looked a little hot. Loijuk and her team joined the orphans again at the mud bath. It was hot today and all the orphans and ex-orphans decided to get into the mud bath to wallow which they really enjoyed. Even Kauro decided to get into the water today! Kamok and Karisa were the first to walk over to the piles of loose soil to dry off. 

In the evening, over seventy wild bulls showed up for water at the stockade compound. Nabulu led the way back to the stockades in the evening. None of the orphans decided to dodge the Keepers today and they all returned at the same time to go to bed for the night. 

Bomani playing with Lucerne

Ishanga, Loikuk, Lili and Naisula

Sana Sana exiting the mud bath