In the heart of Ithumba, as the sun’s rays pierce the horizon, a unique daily routine begins for a remarkable group of elephant orphans and their wild companions.
This is an extraordinary tale of care, conservation, and a growing bond between humans and elephants.
The morning starts with the gentle stirrings of the orphaned elephants, some of the younger ones still lying down while others munch on the previous night’s leftover branches.
As dawn breaks, wild-living orphans from Tsavo join in, eager to be part of this unique camaraderie.
Behind the scenes, a dedicated team has been awake for hours, ready to care for the 38 dependent orphans at Ithumba.
The Keepers prepare warm milk bottles for those who still rely on them. The air resonates with the joyous rumblings and trumpets of the orphans as they eagerly await their breakfast.
Feeding is a well-organized affair, with the elephants lining up patiently, one by one, to receive their nourishing meal.
After their morning feed, the gates are opened, and the orphans venture out. Some rush to meet their friends, while others take their time, like Ambo, who isn’t much of a morning elephant.
Meanwhile, those left behind enjoy a hearty breakfast of lucerne, shared even with visiting ex-orphans and wild friends who’ve come to appreciate this morning banquet, especially during the dry season.
With full bellies, the orphans decide it’s time to move on. Some head to the bush, guided by the Keepers, while others stay behind to clean the enclosures and turn leftover branches into mulch, ensuring sustainability and minimizing waste.
After a night of heavy elephant traffic, the water troughs need cleaning and refilling. Thanks to a recent innovation, a desalination plant in Ithumba now processes saline water, providing drinkable water for orphans and the local wildlife.
This has led to a resurgence of wildlife in the area, signaling the positive impact of this conservation effort.
Life at Ithumba isn’t just about the orphans and their caregivers. The unique human-elephant relationship has become widely known among the local wildlife, offering a safe space.
Decades ago, the elephant population in Ithumba was severely impacted by poachers, causing the elephants to leave the area.
However, there’s been a gradual return of wild elephants over the years, with daily sightings now reaching up to 100 elephants.
Around 11 a.m., it’s time for a unique social ritual among Ithumba’s elephants—a mud bath.
The orphans enjoy their milk bottles before heading to the waterhole for a refreshing swim. Often, wild bulls join them, adding to the excitement.
The deepest parts of the pool are reserved for these majestic visitors while the orphans splash around at the edge.
Each elephant has its preferences; some are reluctant to leave the water, and others choose to soil dust rather than swim.
As the orphans enjoy their playtime, the Keepers take a break under the shade, accompanied by various curious animals, from hornbills to squirrels and vervet monkeys, anticipating a midday meal.
The afternoon is for exploration, with the orphans free to roam, browse for food, and engage in playful interactions, preparing them for their eventual lives in the wilds of Tsavo.
As the sun sets, the orphans return home, led by their Keepers. They eagerly head to their enclosures, each one knowing their spot.
The youngest ones occupy the leftmost fence, while the older orphans have their places progressively to the right.
The far-right fence, closest to the water troughs, provides opportunities for the oldest orphans to interact with visiting wild elephants.
As night falls, a new wave of visitors arrives at the Ithumba orphanage, from bachelor bulls to wild-living orphans with their young ones.
The night becomes a vibrant tapestry of elephant life, with some guests staying for hours and others dropping by for a quick drink.
Ithumba, once a rare elephant sight, has become a gathering place for generations of these majestic creatures.
As the orphans dream of their wild future, they rest soundly in their enclosures, waiting for the day they, too, will join the wild herd beneath the stars.
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