A very dramatic event for the Voi Orphans this month took place on the 6th, when Emily’s Unit of Ex Orphans joined the Juniors out in the bush and accompanied the Youngsters to the Big Waterhole for a wallow. The Juniors were so enjoying the company of Emily’s Unit that they even forgot about their milk, but just after the Ex Orphans separated from the Juniors, it began to rain, and this so excited the Youngsters that they ran around trumpeting happily During this process they ran into a friendly wild herd which they joined. The rain soon turned into a veritable downpour with claps of loud thunder and terrifying bolts of lightening, scaring all the Elephants and the Keepers alike, who became drenched to the skin. The Orphans panicked and fled in amongst all the wild elephants, so the Keepers were left with no option but to return to the Stockades empty handed, the rain still pouring down. They left the Stockade doors open, hoping that the Orphans would return and that they would find them there in the morning.
After a sleepless night, they awoke the next morning (7th) to find the Stockades still empty and the doors still open so at first light the Keepers set off on foot to search for the missing elephants, only to come across Shimba wounded and badly mauled by a lion. However, he had obviously given a good account of himself, because there was blood and lion fur around, but Shimba was in a sorry state, one ear and the side of his face chewed, and deep gashes on his back and hindquarters. Two Keepers peeled off from the others to walk him slowly back to the Stockades while the rest continued their search for the other missing Orphans, very shaken by what had happened to Shimba and fearing that the same might have overtaken the others!
Three hours later they came across nine of the Orphans - Lesanju, Wasessa, Sinya, Lempaute and Kivuko and young bulls Mzima, Tassia, Taveta, and Rombo, all exceedingly nervous. Still missing were the younger ones, Kenia, Ndii, Dabassa and Emsaya.
At that point the Trust’s Supercub aircraft arrived in Voi, having flown from the Trust’s Kaluku Field Headquarters on the Athi/Tsavo boundary to collect an orphaned baby gerenuk that had turned up at the Manyani Prison Camp amongst the goats, and which had been taken to the Voi Stockades. The arrival of the plane was timely, since it could now assist in the search for the missing Orphans. With one Keeper aboard Nick Trent took off and circled the area, identifying from the air three more lone elephant calves who turned out to be Kenia, Ndii and Dabassa. The Keepers on foot were radioed as to their whereabouts, and came to round them up and escort them back home. Still absent, however, was Emsaya, one of the younger members of Lesanju’s Keeper Dependent group.
Later news came that the aircraft had spotted Emsaya trailing a small herd of wild elephants amongst whom were several calves of her age. The Mobile Veterinary Unit vehicle was called in, guided by the plane to the location of Emsaya’s wild herd, and using the vehicle they attempted to isolate her from the rest, but the wild Matriarch was having none of it, charging the vehicle repeatedly. Several Keepers then attempted to sneak closer on foot, calling Emsaya by name, and waving a bottle of milk, but although she obviously heard, she refused to return, seemingly determined to remain with her wild friends. Repeated attempts failed until eventually the exercise had to be called off. Over the next few days the Keepers tried to keep contact with Emsaya and the wild herd, and she appeared to be comfortable amongst them with no sign of wishing to return.
Now 4 years old, and with vegetation lush and water plentiful in natural depressions, Emsaya should be able to survive living as a wild elephant again. She had been sufficiently old enough to bypass the Nursery stage when first orphaned, and was taken directly to the Voi Stockades to complete her milk dependency, where she won the heart of Wasessa and enjoyed a privileged status protected and cosseted by the Biggest Girl of the Voi Unit. We surmise that perhaps she had found other members of her previous family again, which could account for her determination to remain with them.
For about a week after Emsaya’s departure, Wasessa remained extremely upset, and irritable towards the others. However, she has since settled down and is focusing on little Panda, who is rapidly becoming Emsaya’s replacement in Wasessa’s affections). During the month Wasessa often walked Panda out to her favourite browsing spot near the Malaika house, and once the smaller elephant was comfortably settled there, only then did she return to join Lesanju’s group and continue their usual routine.
Meanwhile, back at the Stockades on that fateful day, the Keepers cleaned Shimba’s wounds as best they could, applying antibiotic ointment and green clay pending the return of Dr. Poghon, the KWS Vet attached to the Trust’s Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit who was away taking a few days’ break. Upon his return, Shimba was immobilized on several occasions so that his wounds could be more thoroughly disinfected and cleaned before applying the green clay. Happily, Shimba is since healing well, befriended by little Panda, who keeps him company on a daily basis, often along with Lualeni, the orphaned zebra foal who has long been her companion and who is also being hand-reared by the Keepers at the Voi Stockades. Once Shimba was sufficiently well to be able to leave his Stockade, he and Panda spent the days browsing closer to home but enjoying the company of the other orphans on a daily basis, all of whom rush to check up on him every morning as soon as they are let out of their Night Stockades, when they return in the evenings and when they take their noon mudbath at the Stockades, which, after the lion incident, happened daily for several weeks for the Orphans were too scared to go further afield.
Initially Shimba occupied Emily’s previous spacious Enclosure where Solango and Ndara recuperated and which is situated a short distance from the main Stockades, , but he was very nervous on his own there and so was moved back to an empty Stockade amidst those of all the others. All his Orphan peers fully understood his dilemma, for he has always been a very popular member of the Unit. They laid trunks lovingly and gently across his back whenever with him, rumbling reassurance and encouragement and this has definitely assisted in the healing process. His best friends Taveta, Tassia and Mzima have paid special attention to him and spent plenty of time with him whenever at the Stockades. Likewise Emily’s Ex Orphans empathized with Shimba’s plight, illustrating very clearly understanding and empathy which all Elephants have in abundance – As said so often They are just like us, but better than us! We are confident that Shimba will recover fully in the fullness of time, left only with one tattered ear and scars as a memento of his unhappy lion encounter. We are all so relieved that this very special orphan ill live to tell the tale!
And the tale was not lost on all his peers either, who avoided the Eastern side of Mazinga hill like the plague where the lion incident occurred, browsing around the Stockades or else heading westwards instead, and once out in the bush always remaining close to their Keepers whilst feeding. But as the month wore on, confidence gradually returned and by the 17th they were again venturing to their previous eastern haunts.
Emily’s Ex Orphans returned to the Stockades briefly on the 9th, and again on the 13th when they noticed that Shimba was injured and went to inspect him more closely, rumbling to him and touching him with their trunks. The next time they came to the Stockades was on the 20th and after picking over the handout leftovers began to follow in the direction taken by Lesanju’s Juniors, before noticed that they were high up Mazinga hill so they branched off and took a mudbath instead at the Centre Wallow. A few days later, on the 23rd, they joined the Juniors out in the bush to an exuberant reunion, but did not spend long with them that day before moving on. On the 25th Edie came to the Stockades with her calf, Ella, and a Splinter group amongst whom were Mweya, Icholta, Seraa and a few other Ex Orphans. All pottered around the compound for a while and then left. All the Ex Orphans returned to the Stockade compound very early on the 27th, determined not to miss the morning Supplement handout, which they instantly monopolized, prompting Lesanju to move off rather than compete knowing that there would be a great deal of pushing and shoving. When Icholta noticed the Juniors walking off, she joined them, escorting them to the slopes of Mazinga hill. Meanwhile Shimba limped out of his pen and as he past by the Ex Orphans, Laikipia, Ndara and Mweya stopped what they were doing to watch him. Mweya then ran to join Icholta and the babies at the foot of the hill, as though to pass a message, and instantly Icholta returned to focus on Shimba, leaving Mweya to oversee the Youngsters instead. Meanwhile Edie’s little calf, Ella, enjoyed play time with Seraa, happy to be the centre of Seraa’s undivided attention, who is one of the Ex Orphan Nannies to both Emily’s and Edie’s wild-born calves. In fact, the two Mothers don’t appear to even be slightly concerned about the whereabouts of their offspring, confident that they are always in safe and caring trunks at all times.
On the 29th Icholta came alone to the Stockades only to find the all the supplements finished. She walked over to Mzima and encouraged him to take her on in a Pushing Game, but felt sorry for him when he failed to make much headway. She then lay down so that he could climb onto her, which retrieved his self esteem and pleased him no-end. Emily’s Ex Orphans returned to the Stockade Compound at 9.45 a.m. a day or two later and went with the Juniors to browse together for a while, before moving on just before the noon mudbath hour. But the Ex Orphans turned up later at the mudbath, frustrated at finding the drinking bins already emptied. They enjoyed a wallow with Mzima, Dabassa and Kivuko who remained in the pool when the others left to leave room for the Big Group, before catching up with their Junior peers later. Icholta then kicked the water bins around, to show her displeasure at not having clean drinking water!
The Junior Group has also enjoyed some contact with wild herds this month, aside from the herd that led them all astray during the thunderstorm. They would have liked to fraternize with a wild herd on the 24th, Tassia and Taveta approaching to be friendly, but they were warned off by the Matriarch who confronted them with outspread ears and a low rumble. Two wild adult elephant Cows joined them in their noon mudbath on another occasion, and on the 25th they mingled freely with a friendly wild herd whom they obviously knew well.
Aside from all the drama of the month, the usual interaction between the Ex Orphans and wild elephants, the dynamics between the various individuals within the Junior set have played out on a daily basis – Test Strength Pushing Exercises for the boys, responsibility and caring amongst the girls, and so on, all recorded in the daily entries.
Do Elephants have a sense of appreciation of beauty and colour? Why else would Kenia, Ndii and Tassia pause to admire an unusual Flower growing on the slopes of Mazinga Hill which attracted their attention long enough for the Keepers to notice and record this in the Diary!