Under the scorching African sun in the remote and dusty sanctuary of Ithumba, elephants splash and slide in the cool mud bath. Anticipating blissful relief from the heat the babies slip and slide down the slippery bank. Ex-orphans who have given birth to their own babies bring them back to the bath and introduce them. Wild elephant herds come in to say hello to old friends and eventually take over the mud bath splashing and spraying water over each other.
Ithumba is a rehabilitation and soft-release site in Tsavo National Park for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Baby elephants from the orphanage nursery in Nairobi transfer here or nearby Voi to continue their rehabilitation. So far 150 elephants have successfully adapted back into the wild. The slow transition into the wild is done at their own pace. There is no rush and it can take up to ten years.
Sponsors of orphan elephants can visit Ithumba for an intimate insight into the daily lives of the elephants. We sponsor two babies and after visiting Ngasha one of our orphan elephants at Nairobi Orphanage we are excited to meet Kandecha our other sponsored baby who is now at Ithumba starting the next stage of his rehabilitation.
At 14 months old Kandecha was spotted from the air amongst a herd of elephant bulls who were protecting him. What an amazing sight it would have been to see this tiny baby encircled by these huge bulls. Unfortunately, they couldn’t supply him with the milk he desperately required, so a complex operation was put into place to capture him. The whereabouts of his mother remains a mystery.
Now five years old, his days at Ithumba start with two huge milk bottles in the early morning. With friendly rivalry, he and his friends stampede out of their stable to the keepers holding the milk bottles. They greedily drink the milk and sometimes hold it themselves with their trunks! Trumpeting and rumbling they mingle with ex-orphans who come back to visit and wild elephants who come in to drink and eye off their lucerne. Later they go bush with their keepers so they can learn to find natural food and acquaint themselves with the wild.
Elephant Mud Bath
Routine is important and at 11 am they return from the bush and drink another two bottles of milk. After this, the fun starts and they go for a mud bath. The anticipation of the mud bath as they trumpet their joy and delight when sliding down the slippery mud bank is the best part of the day. The wild elephants want their mud bath too and they enviously look at the orphans and slowly make their way close and eventually take it over. Their size is enough to intimidate the little orphans but sometimes they give them a gentle nudge and the babies scramble up the mud bath skidding and sliding back into the mud in their haste. The wild elephants like the orphans. They can go for a bath any time of the day but prefer to go at 11 am when the orphans bath.
Known as the “Elephant Whisperer” Benjamin the head keeper tells us the orphans communicate with the wild elephants and let them know it’s safe and OK here with the humans. After working with the elephants for over 13 years, he is a wealth of information and knows all the elephants by name and they respond to his gentle commands. We can’t praise the dedicated keepers enough for all their hard work and spending 24 hours a day with the elephants.
After their mud bath, the orphans spend the rest of the afternoon back in the bush with their keepers until late afternoon. They drink another two milk bottles each and then put to bed in the stables grouped together according to size and cuddle up with each other and sleep through the night.
During our stay we experienced so much. Meeting baby Kandecha, new arrivals Orwa and Ziwa settling in, the antics of Wendi a naughty and cheeky young lady. Bongo who is so full of character strutting his stuff in front of the wild elephants. Ex-orphans bring in and show off their babies. Sabachi who went wild for 6 months returns home for treatment as he is not feeling well.
Being close and in the open with the wild elephants is humbling and an experience of a lifetime. There is nothing between the wild elephants and us during their mud bath. The closer they approach the more majestic they become. If you love elephants this is one trip worth saving for or a special add-on to your Kenya safari. Nowhere else in the world will you find this.
Our Accommodation & Food
The tents under a thatched roof are simple but have a rustic and traditional African vibe. The outdoor bathroom and toilet are attached to the back of the tent and we love taking a shower in the wilderness under twinkling stars at night. The four tents share a two-storey thatched building which provides the dining area, lounge and the upper area for relaxing and taking in the views of the surrounding bush. Martin our guide contacted Njagi beforehand to discuss our meal plan and ingredients for our shopping list. We brought our groceries from Nairobi and Njagi prepared the most delicious vegetarian meals from them.
A typical day’s meal plan
Breakfast – coffee, juice, fruit, scrambled eggs and toast
Lunch – vegetable or bean stew with chapati bread
Dinner – vegetarian pasta accompanied with cold beers
Ithumba Camp Information
The camp is available to people who foster an elephant from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Ithumba is based in Tsavo National Park and about an 8 hours dusty drive from Nairobi.
The camp is booked exclusively for one set of guests at a time. The cost of $600 USD a night is for the entire camp which includes Njagi the cook and Issac the waiter. There are four tents, so up to eight people can stay at a time which makes it great value for a family group.
The camp is self-catering and remote so you need to bring your own groceries, water and other drinks.
If leaving Nairobi in the early morning, organise and arrange your grocery shopping at the supermarket the day before if possible.
Organising transport to and from Ithumba and while at Ithumba is necessary. The ultimate way to do this is to have a guide accompany you or hire a vehicle.
Safari drives are not available at Ithumba because the wildlife in the area is not used to humans. Wildlife and birds do come into the camp to drink. Dik-Diks, Kenya’s smallest antelope takes refuge around the camp and a Genet cat is a regular visitor. While driving from our camp to the mud baths we did see baboons and wild dogs along the road.
Two nights is definitely the minimum amount of time to stay, but three-four nights is best. If you can only spend two nights, on your last day try to stay for the mud bath before you leave.
There is no wifi at Ithumba so take a few books and enjoy the elephants and tranquillity.
Martin Maina from Nairobi Specialist was our guide and driver.
Ithumba price inclusive for 2 nights
Ithumba Camp US $1200 for an exclusive stay in camp. *Price for only the two of us, but this price is for up to eight people in a group.
Tsavo Park Fees US $150pp
Vehicle Hire 3 days US $420 *Landcruiser Troopcarrier. Reduced cost for a smaller vehicle.
Martin’s Fees US $150
Fuel US$150 *Depending on vehicle
Our Groceries, Beer & Misc. US $80
The total price per person. US $1150
Ithumba Hill Camp, a new and more luxurious camp with great views and a swimming pool is now also available for exclusive bookings to one lot of guests at a time. For more information contact The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.