The main event this month has been the tragedy of ex orphan “Mpenzi” losing her firstborn female calf to a pride of lions, just below the Voi Safari Lodge on the evening of 23rd, an event witnessed by the Lodge Staff, who raised the alarm that alerted the Keepers to prepare for a rescue, since the young mother, who was alone, could not possibly save her calf from being snatched by the 12 determined lions. Every time she chased one lion off, the others moved in, but sadly, the message came too late, for by the time the Keepers arrived at the scene, the baby had already been killed. They were devastated to find that the young mother was, in fact, none other than our ex orphan “Mpenzi”, who was born in 1992 and found as an orphan near the Park Headquarters when just under 2 years of age. She was handed over to the then famous Matriarch named “Eleanor”, and grew up to become the Nannie to orphan Lissa’s two wild born babies. Mpenzi is now 14 years of age, and by the time the Keepers arrived, was desperately trying to prevent the lions from taking away her already dead baby, her temporal glands streaming indicative of deep fear and distress, as the lions surrounded her and made repeated attempts to seize the baby amidst terrifying roars and growls. Immediately, she knew that the Keepers were friends who had come to try and help, but despite the fact that they did their utmost to deter the lions using two vehicles, the lions could not be diverted, and ended up devouring the calf. As darkness closed in, even Mpenzi knew that she had to flee for her life, fortunately unscathed herself. However, this terrible tragedy will undoubtedly leave indelible psychological scars, for elephant mothers, and especially those that are orphans without a natural family, adore their babies. In fact, this is probably the very reason that Mpenzi was alone with her firstborn, for she did not wish to share her baby with any other elephant, knowing full well that elephants are prone to abduction when deprived of their natural family. Normally, Mpenzi travels with Lissa and her family, and sometimes is even with Emily and her group, but she was not sufficiently experienced to understand the threat of being alone with a tiny calf, especially around the Voi Safari Lodge where the lions now moved in sizeable prides and often ambush animals that come to drink at the Lodge waterhole. We grieve for poor Mpenzi, and empathize with her loss, but we are, nevertheless, very thankful that she escaped without injury herself. Next time, and there will be a next time, she will not make the same mistake again.
The Keepers tracked her down again the next day when she was still alone, and still extremely distressed, but there was a wild herd nearby. Being a lactating mother, when she eventually meets up again with Lissa again, we believe that Lissa’s smallest calf will be allowed to suckle her and benefit from the milk that her firstborn little daughter should have enjoyed.
On the l8th August, at 5 p.m. the Trust’s Chyulu De-Snaring team rescued a 5 – 6 month old female calf bogged in mud in the community area abutting the Chyulu Hills Protected Area in which they operate. The calf was driven to the Voi Stockades, it being too late to organise an airlift to the Nairobi Nursery. The calf was held overnight, fed rehydration salts and milk, and within hours, amazingly, had settled down and was suckling the Keepers’ fingers! Named “Chyulu”, she was airlifted to Nairobi Nursery the following morning.
As usual, the Voi orphans’ month has been dominated by the search for browse, since the drought that has beset this particular Somalia and the North Eastern Province of Kenya also affects the Park and is still ongoing, with rain not expected until October or November. However, despite this, all the orphans are still in good shape, and even Mweiga’s fragility seems much improved. She now enjoys the mudbath enormously, something that never used to happen.
This month, Emily’s group paid only one visit to the Stockades during the evening of 4th, but were spotted with a wild herd of 7 below the Voi Safari Lodge towards the end of the month. Amongst the wild herd was a young calf of about l year old, to whom Emily was paying a great deal of attention. The wild mother was not perturbed, so this wild group is obviously well known to Emily, and her satellites, namely Aitong, Sally, Tsavo and Ilingwezi, who form Emily’s group. On the same day the Keepers spotted Dika who was amongst many other elephants drinking at the Lodge waterhole, and paying a lot of attention to the wild females, sniffing them and laying his trunk lovingly across their backs. There was just one other contact with a wild teenage bull at the end of the month for the Voi unit, whom Laikipia engaged in a friendly pushing match for a brief time. However, the wild bull did not linger long, but was obviously on another mission.
The Voi orphans are a playful and very happy and contented herd although there appears to be some competition between Natumi, Icholta and Edie for the title of “Matriarch”, all these young females being close in age. However, Natumi still leads, and usually Laikipia steps in to assume command while the girls are undecided as to who should be giving the orders! He and Burra and definitely front runners and very prominent players amongst the boy set with Lolokwe, Nyiro, Mukwaju, Irima and Solango close runners up amongst the boys. Morani has a great fondness for Loisaba, something monitored critically by Ndara, who is also very close to Loisaba. Solango still retains his bond of friendship with Seraa, both having originated from Shaba National Reserve and could therefore have been known to one another before being orphaned. All the unit are very caring of Mweiga, who still has Sosian and Mweya as her best friends. This month she has enjoyed joining in amongst the others at the mudbath, which is unusual, for she usually waits until the others have finished before venturing in, fearful of being inadvertently knocked over. However, she is still careful not to lie down which could tempt one of the others to sit on her! Hence, the days of the Voi orphans begin by a usually highly charged greeting of each other, urinating and the intertwining of trunks, followed by play and a drink at the Stockades before heading out to the feeding grounds. Earlier in the month Mazinga Hill was the place of choice, but latterly the Keepers have taken the orphans further afield in a northerly direction, where a new mudbath was established and where browse is more plentiful. This entails about a 5 km. walk twice a day, which, for an elephant is no hardship, but for the Keepers quite a lot of exercise! Encounters with other species during their travels have been with zebra and impala, who come to share their water bins, and are now well known to them and usually tolerated rather than being chased off. One frightening event for them was when a wild herd dislodged some rocks higher up the hill that came tumbling down, scaring the group witless and causing Mweiga to scream in fear. It took the Keepers about l0 minutes to calm their charges down!