Keepers' Diaries, April 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

April began with a visit from some old friends. As the dependent herd was drinking outside the stockades, ex-orphans Mudanda, Lentili, Mbirikani, Arruba, and Rorogoi wandered in. They were accompanied by Suswa, who has been experimenting with her independence and spending nights out with her older friends. 

It’s been such a joy to discover the ever-evolving personalities of our new orphans who were rescued during the drought (we call them ‘the kids’). As youngsters, they are full of vim and vigour — and now that they are feeling stronger and more acclimated within the Voi herd, they are really letting their unique characters shine. 

Itinyi is part of the first group of Voi kids to have their milk feed in the morning. Busara, Baraka, Ushindi, Ashanti, and Kilulu make up the second group — but one morning, cheeky Itinyi did an about-turn, scooting around to make a beeline for the bottle allocated to Ushindi. The potential victim of her greed protested with a scream, and justifiably so! The Keepers clicked their fingers at the miscreant, and peace was restored.

On 4th April, we were treated to the wonderful surprise of rain. The orphans were excited by their newly wet world. Many celebrated with an impromptu wallow in the wet soil, rubbing their bodies together and waving their trunks wildly in the air. Splayed on the ground, Ndotto started sparring with his upright friend Murit, and somehow managed to hold his own despite his supine position. An enthusiastic Lasayen trundled over to join them, bringing the game to an end by climbing atop of Ndotto. 

With all the new drought rescues that joined our Voi herd, our senior boys have found themselves thrust into the roles of big brothers. We are impressed by how well they have embraced their responsibilities. One morning, little Itinyi plodded around after Ngilai, browsing close to his hero and occasionally rubbing his head affectionately on the bigger bull’s backside. Ngilai was so gentle and kind to his young friend.

Princess Pika Pika can’t resist an opportunity to show off. Her favourite stage is the mud bath or the water trough. One afternoon, she carefully stepped onto the edge of the water trough with her front feet, standing tall in a most impressive pose. Meanwhile, the others were rolling around in the mud bath or relaxing on the edge. Emoli was having an especially vigorous swim, until our resident show-off paddled in, clambered onto his stomach, and remained there, waving her trunk happily. Emoli, who is another sweet-natured bull, lay quietly, making no attempt to push Pika Pika away. 

Lemeki is a funny blend of extrovert and introvert. She loves her Keepers and really loves to show off for a crowd, but she often eschews the company of other elephants. Slowly but surely, that seems to be changing. One day, she was the first to plunge into the mud bath. This was a welcome change, as she usually prefers to hang around the Keepers while the others cavort.

We have potentially exciting news for Arruba: The Keepers recently witnessed her mating with ex-orphan Laikipia! We’ll have to wait nearly two years to see what happens, but we may just have a true SWT grandchild on the way.

On 9th April, we awoke to find ex-orphan Kenia and her mini herd waiting outside the stockades. The orphans greeted them as they joined the visitors in the range cubes feeding area. Although everyone was excited to see their old friends, the nannies were feeling protective, too. Godoma and Mbegu created a Baraka and Busara sandwich, standing on either side of the little elephants and preventing other friends from getting too close.

While Voi received nowhere near as much rain as Ithumba, we were treated to several showers throughout the month. One day, the rain really worked in Lemeki’s favour. Excited by the rain, mischievous Emoli tried unsuccessfully to climb atop the younger girl’s back. Much to her relief, however, he kept sliding off her wet back! She strolled away to join Thamana and Tamiyoi, feeling quite pleased with how the situation resolved itself.

Later in the month, Emoli had better luck with Thamana. He has shown a lot of interest in the junior bull, almost as if he wants to be his mentor. When Emoli challenged him to a sparring match, plucky little Thamana — who is two years younger and significantly smaller — accepted the invitation with gusto.

On 16th April, a SWT pilot spotted a young female elephant in the Losoito area of Tsavo West National Park. Although she was walking in the shadow of a large bull, it was immediately apparent that she was an orphan. She had clearly found refuge with the bull, but this refuge could only be temporary, as she was too young to survive without milk.

Given the orphan’s age and proximity to Voi, she was rescued and brought directly to the Voi stockades. As is common among drought victims, she had browsed on too much fresh grass after losing her mother and being unable to suckle, which gave her a severely bloated stomach. Fortunately, swift veterinary attention set her on the right course. We named her Losoito.

Mbegu may be the matriarch, but she always has time for her old friend, Ndotto. One day, Ndotto challenged her to a wrestling match. Kenderi and Busara were quite alarmed to see their nanny twisting around with a big bull. Wanting to protect her, they bravely approached Ndotto and stretched out their little trunks in an effort to interrupt the contest. They need not have worried, as Ndotto is a gentle giant.

There is something about Ndotto and stones! You may remember that last September, Ndotto got a stone stuck in his trunk. Well, this month, it happened again. On 18th April, the Keepers noticed that his trunk was swollen. Just like last time, he had sucked up a stone, which was now lodged firmly in his trunk and causing him quite a bit of pain. The SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit, which is based nearby, arrived to remove the offending object. Supervised by the herd, they injected the bull with a tranquiliser. As the drug took effect and he tottered over, Mbegu charged towards the vet and his team, worried about what was happening to her friend. Reassured by the Keepers, she backed away and the medics quickly removed the stone. Ndotto clambered back up onto his big feet as Godoma, Sagala, Tagwa, Lasayen and Murit surrounded him, rumbling and touching him affectionately.

While they have fully embraced their wild lives, Mudanda and Panda also enjoy spending periodic days with the dependent herd. One afternoon, they joined the orphans down at the mud bath. Shortly thereafter, a wild herd also converged upon the scene. Sagala, who can’t resist wild babies, sauntered over and tried to woo a little calf to walk off with her. Its mother reacted as one might expect, trumpeting her displeasure and charging at Sagala, who sheepishly ran towards the Keepers. Warning delivered, the wild elephant came to a halt, scooped up her baby, and flounced away. 

Towards the end of the month, Lasayen veered away from the dependent herd. He strolled back to the stockades at dusk, with two visitors in tow. To the Keepers’ surprise and joy, he was with Ndoria and Araba! The two ex-orphans have been living wild for well over a year, with nary a visit to their human-elephant family. The Keepers welcomed them, wondering how far they had travelled to return home, and treated them to range cubes and lucerne. The orphans also rumbled their welcomes, clustering around the pair to hear all their stories. 

While she came to us in a dire state, we are happy to report that Losoito was doing much better by month’s end. As she recovered inside her stockade, Tamiyoi was a wonderful friend, diligently stopping outside the little girl’s room each morning. She would stretch her trunk though the stockade bars to greet Losoito and check that she was well. We know that Tamiyoi will make an excellent mother some day. 

We will also remember April as the month that Embu went wild. When Edie, Mweya, and co. departed after their multi-month residency around Voi, she decided to join them. At ten years old, Embu is ready to take this step — and she is in excellent hands, with experienced matriarchs like Edie and Mweya leading the way.

April 2023 day to day

01 Apr

Soon after sunrise, the orphan elephants plodded out of the stockades to drink their bottles of milk and line up at the feeding trough to eat range cubes. On a bright clear morning, mini matriarchs Tamiyoi, Tagwa and Sagala then led the herd out to browse in the surrounding bush on the slopes of Msinga Hill.

Later in the morning, the orphans ran down the slope towards the baobab tree water hole in groups for more milk and a wallow. The thirstier younger ones were at the front of each group with their comparatively sedate older friends following along behind. Bottles gulped down, the boisterous little ones – with Kilulu and Ashanti out in front - sprinted down to the water hole for a cooling wallow. Sensible Godoma and Tagwa drank deeply from the water trough and lay down on the edge of the wallow, enjoying the soothing mud. Curious Juni pottered over to see what they were up to and affectionate Kenderi then joined them, standing as close as she could and rubbing her big body against Godoma.

Swimming and chilling time over, the herd set out for a final wander in the bush before bed.

Godoma left and Tagwa with Juni in the middle

Godoma and Kenderi

Busara and Mbegu