There are now only about 5 free ranging rhinos left in Tsavo East out of about 30 that were re-introduced some l0 years ago, mainly from the Solio Ranch population. At one time the Tsavo National Park was home to the largest population of rhinos in the entire world – 8,000) and under normal circumstance the 30 the re-introduced 30 following the poaching decimation of the late seventies, eighties and early nineties should now number about 60, but the toll taken by armed Somalis as well as in-house corrupt officials has all but wiped rhinos out once again, save for those who have managed to survive within the electrically fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West.
There was therefore great excitement when our aerial unit spotted a wild Black Rhino cow with a small calf afoot near Sobo in Tsavo East. Tragically, however, several weeks later the baby was attacked by lions and left seriously wounded, unable to follow its mother who was forced to leave it when she had to go for water. During these absences, obviously the calf was at serious risk of being killed, so KWS decided that it must be rescued and raised as an orphan, which our Voi Elephant Keepers managed to achieve. The calf, who was about 4 months old, was a bull and we named him “Sobo”, after the place where he was found. Although he calmed down in response to kindness within 24 hours, as baby rhinos do, the injuries he received from the lions proved fatal, and he died a few days later. (The autopsy revealed a severed esophagus and serious throat and body wounds along with a broken back leg). It would be practically impossible for a Black Rhino mother living in relatively open country to defend her calf against a pride of lions, and today, even White Rhino calves in Solio Ranch are falling prey to the lions there, whose numbers have multiplied.
The Keeper Dependent Elephant Orphans based at night at the Voi Stockades were intrigued by the strange rhino newcomer, who made unfamiliar strange mewing, blowing and snorting sounds! His night neighbour, Mbirikani, (still recovering from the cable snare which almost severed her foot), bore the brunt of the newcomer’s initial aggression, while Kenia, Ndii, Shimba, Rombo and Panda in another nearby Stockade, rushed to see the new occupant at first light. Kenia then ran to fetch Lesanju, Lempaute and the others to also come and take a look and whilst little Sobo was alive, he became an object of immense interest to our Elephant Orphans, none of them ever having seen a rhino before!
The 6th August brought another newcomer to the Voi Stockades, another neighbour for Mbirikani and Mudanda (rescued at the end of last month and still not sufficiently calm to be allowed out), but this time it was a tragic yearling female elephant rescued from a village named Kajire near Voi town. The calf had been seriously injured, blows to the head leaving her only able to revolve in circles, while internal damage caused her to vomit – something we have never witnessed before in Elephants. (Sadly, this orphan, named “Kajire” collapsed on the 25th and died in early September, which, perhaps for her, was a merciful release). The 27th brought the rescue of a yearling elephant bull stuck in the black cotton mud of the leaking Mzima- Mombasa pipeline, who was subsequently flown to the Nursery, and named “Matopeh”.
Throughout the month, the baboons have plagued the Orphans every morning when they have their supplement of Copra Cake and Dairy Cubes during the dry seasons. Charging the baboons and trying to keep them at bay is a daily task, usually undertaken by the Boys, Rombo remaining behind to deal with them as the others move off to feed, and the baboons become bolder. Then, having chased them off, Rombo has to play “catch-up”, trumpeting to remind the others to wait for him!.
Tsavo’s long dry seasons seem to be becoming much harsher than before, possibly due to Global Warming, the prediction being that Africa will become drier and hotter. Forage for the Orphans within reach of their Night Stockades has become sparse so most of the wild herds as well as our Ex Orphans have moved further afield. Therefore the orphans were surprised to come across a small wild herd at the top of Mazinga Hill where some green fodder is still available. Although the wild Matriarch warned them off, the Orphans held their ground, and once the wild Elephants spotted their human Attendants, they moved off giving way to Lesanju’s herd. The top of Mazinga hill has been the preferred feeding place for the Orphans this month, who sometimes split into two groups, Lempaute taking one half round to the other side of the hill, while Lesanju remains with the rest. Another wild herd was at the hill on the 15th, but on this occasion Lesanju adopted avoiding tactics, leading her group away from the herd, as usual fearful of a possible “hijack”.
An acute water shortage at the KWS H.Q. also bedeviled the beginning of the month, when their ancient Lister Engine and Pump began to fail. With no funds available for a replacement, the Trust donated a new one to solve at least this problem! In addition we have had to clean out and re-line the Orphans’ Borehole funded many years ago by the children of Bury Church of England High School, and once this had been done, it also helped ease the situation.
The Red Waterhole below the KWS Headquarters, which has provided the venue for the Orphans noon mudbath up until now, dried out along with all the other natural depressions, so the Mudbath had to be moved to an artificial wallow, (known as the Middle Mudwallow) which was dug out again by the KWS Bulldozer. Water from the Orphans’ Borehole has to be bowzered in on a daily basis to fill both the Orphans’ Drinking Bins as well as the wallow, and the few wild herds that have remained in the area soon learnt this daily ritual, and have been taking advantage of it. As soon as they hear the tractor they home in and polish off all the Drinking Water, forcing the tractor to make a second sortie in order to cater for the Orphans who often arrive thirsty, only to find the Bins emptied. Lesanju decided to take action, and often now brings the Orphans in ahead of the Tractor’s arrival, hanging around the wallow so that the wild Elephants will be deterred by the present of the Keepers! That way, the Orphans get their fill of clean water, and the wild herds have to make do with the leftovers! However on the 29th the Orphans were happy to socialize with another wild herd they met on the Northern side of Mazinga hill, when a young wild bull spent time feeding alongside our group until they left for their noon mudbath.
By midmonth Mbirikani’s injured foot had healed sufficiently for her to be able to walk, so she was able to join Shimba and Panda, who browse nearer to home. Mudanda soon followed, even though still not absolutely comfortable with the Keepers, usually charging the Keeper who feeds her once the milk has been downed, and should he stand his ground, home in on another target! Mbirikani also is a difficult feeder who has had problems getting to grips with the rubber nipple and bottle, often trying to swallow the entire bottle, or pulling off the nipple, screaming for help should one of the others approach and by so doing losing a lot of the content! Shimba is gradually gaining weight now that he is on the same milk formula as Panda. He, Panda, Mbirikani and Mudanda (known as the Hospital Group) feed around the Stockades, and within the KWS Compound fence, where browse is more plentiful. Shimba has taken a shine to little Mudanda, and it is strange that the Big Girls have not been anxious to “adopt” her, being the smallest, but this is probably because they know she is not yet up to climbing the hill and will only be an encumbrance!
The mudbath is always filled with activity, although on cooler days wallowing is not an option and the Orphans settle for a dustbath instead. Dabassa took advantage of Sinya’s dustbath on the 11th standing beside her to have the benefit of the dust she blew over her own body while on the 15th Lesanju gave a demonstration of how to enlarge a waterhole, hiving huge chunks of earth from the sides and tossing them clear of the water! Although the 23rd was another cool day, Taveta was determined to get everyone into the wallow notwithstanding, using his stubby tusks to push them in from behind!
Mzima, Taveta and Rombo, Layoni and Tassia often enjoy the usual male sport of Sparring and even Kivuko decided to have a girls Shoving Match with Ndii one day. It was a surprise for the Keepers to see Kivuko leading the Orphan Column out to browse this month, whereas previously she was always tail-end Charlie! On the 12th the Orphans came late to the mudbath to find a friendly wild herd (obviously known to them) already there, whom Lempaute greeted warmly first, followed by all the others. However, as soon as the wild elephants noticed the presence of the human family, they moved off.
The Orphans encountered a male Somali Ostrich on their way out to browse on the 17th,. Taveta and Layoni initiated a charge to drive the bird away, but when the ostrich flapped its wings, they took fright and fled! Layoni had more luck with a group of waterbucks they happened upon on the 28th! The Ex Orphaned male kudu called “Mkuki” (meaning spear because of his beautiful spiral horns) returned briefly to the Stockades to greet his erstwhile human family this month, and was seen again with two other wild kudu males on the slopes of Mazinga hill on the l8th, as the orphans were making their way up the hill to browse.
August has been quite a month insofar as The Orphans’ Project is concerned, irrespective of location!
1st NU:- The month began with the rescue of a young l ½ orphaned bull elephant from the Masai Mara, who was subsequently named “Olkishi” (the Masai word for “orphan”. He had obviously been without his mother for some time, and was extremely emaciated and despite being weak, understandably very aggressive. He is thought to be another poaching victim.