Keepers' Diaries, August 2013

Voi Reintegration Unit

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.

01 August 2013

A resident baboon troupe is invariably around the Stockades in the early mornings when the orphans have their supplements, so the young boys – Taveta, Tassia, Rombo and Layoni have their work cut out keeping the baboons at bay, sometimes joined by little Panda who wants to join in the fun. Lesanju led the youngsters out today, Tassia, Mzima, Layoni and Kivuko climbing higher up the hill to feed. It was a cool day, so there was not much activity at the mudbath.

02 August 2013

As Layoni was taking his milk today, Mzima approached him and he screamed, making an unusual gurgling sound that attracted both Lesanju and Lempaute who drove Mzima off before giving Layoni a trunk-touch to calm him. Today there was a request from KWS for us to rescue a baby rhino who had been mauled by lions and was unable to follow its mother due to its injuries. Since the mother had to leave the calf to get water, it risked being attacked again, hence the decision to rescue it. The rescue was undertaken successfully and the rhino calf brought back to the Voi Stockades for the Vet attached to the Mobile Veterinary Unit to assess its injuries. It was a young bull aged about 3 months and was given the name “Sobo” having been rescued near Sobo Rock.

03 August 2013

The orphaned rhino, who was extremely lame, was put in the Stockade next to Mbirikani whose badly injured snared foot is still being treated. During the night, in response to her attempting to make friends, she was treated to a rebuff! In the morning Kenia, Ndii, Shimba, Rombo and Panda, who were in another nearby Stockade rushed to take a look at this strange newcomer who had been making a strange “mewing” call for his mother during the night. Kenia ran to get Lesanju, Lempaute, Wasessa and the others who were fearful of the snorting sound of the newcomer. During the day, the baby rhino began to calm down, responding to the Keepers who fed it milk and scratched its tummy – something no rhino can resist. By the evening, when the elephants returned from the bush, the new arrival was much calmer, lying quietly while a Keeper caressed him.

04 August 2013

Kenia was very curious about Rhino Sobo, extending her trunk through the bars of the stockade to grab an ear, which brought a reaction that served to deter Kenia from any further interaction! However, by this time Mbirikani had become more used to her neighbour and extended her trunk through the bars to tickle Sobo’s back, something of which the newcomer approved!

05 August 2013

At the noon mudbath Lempaute pushed Mzima from behind to take over his scratching post, something that did not go down well and Mzima retaliated, taking on Lempaute in what turned into a tough fight. Lesanju saw this, and ran to separate the warring parties, after which Mzima returned to his Scratching tree and Lempaute walked off with Lesanju. Browsing then resumed up Mazinga Hill until it was time to return in the evening.

06 August 2013

Wild elephants have been in the habit of emptying the drinking water bins at the mudbath, forcing the tractor to bring another bowzer-load for the orphans. Today, Lesanju decided to come early to the mudbath, and browse around it with the Keepers in attendance as a deterrent to the wild herd who were forced to keep their distance until the Orphans had not only had their fill, but also had sole possession of the wallow. Only when the orphans and their Keepers had departed did the wild herd get a chance for the leftover water. There was another Elephant Rescue today, this time of an orphan found near the village of Kajire on the outskirts of Voi town. The calf was a yearling female, who had obviously suffered a head injury which left her revolving in circles. She was named “Kajire”.

07 August 2013

Our most recent elephant, “Mudanda”, who is still not sufficiently calm to be out with the others, tried everything to make little Kajire happier, but to no avail. Although Mudanda is still not comfortable being actually handled by the Keepers, she takes her milk and is feeding on the greens provided for her.

08 August 2013

Our orphans have to walk long distances these days in search of food, for the Park is exceedingly dry, and most of the wild elephants have moved elsewhere. However, when Lesanju led the orphans up Mazinga Hill, they were surprised to find another wild family there, whose Matriarch tried to warn our group off. However, they ignored her, and when she noticed the Keepers, she called her family together and they left. The orphans then settled down to feed without interruption, and because it was cool up there, they remained longer than usual.

09 August 2013

Having taken their morning handout, the Orphans split into two groups, Panda and Shimba remaining at the Lucerne pile while Lesanju took the older elephants to Mazinga Hill again where they again split into two. Lempaute took Kenia, Ndii, Kivuko, Tassia and Rombo and headed to the other side of the hill whilst Wasessa and Lesanju remained with the rest. The groups remained apart until mudbath time, when they met up at the waterhole, the younger ones hurriedly downing their milk before running to greet their older peers. Rombo, Layoni, Kenia and Taveta wallowed in style until Taveta and Rombo initiated a wrestling match, forcing the others to vacate the pool. Layoni strolled over to a fallen log straddling it to scratch his tummy while Lesanju and the rest went into the nearby lugga where they enjoyed a dusting session.

10 August 2013

Mbirikani still has some difficulty deciding how to suck her bottle and down the milk, sometimes trying to swallow the entire bottle and at other times just holding the teat. Today, as the others came running for their share, she screamed still hanging onto the bottle, but relaxed when she saw the elephants heading towards their own bottles, rather than hers. Later Sinya, Wasessa and Lesanju came to comfort Mbirikani, stretching their trunks through to caress her whilst communicating with a low rumble. Shimba and Panda remained at the Lucerne pile when the others moved off to browse.

11 August 2013

The Orphans enjoyed a wonderful wallow today, rolling, splashing, tossing water around and bumping into each other playfully. Tassia found the wallow somewhat congested so wandered over to scratch his body against the same tree that is used by Mzima. Taveta and Tassia soon embarked on their usual Pushing Game which prompted Ndii and Kivuko to try and do the same. Meanwhile Sinya was scooping up dust with her torn trunk, and when Dabassa saw this, he ran to enjoy a free dusting beside her. Eventually, some male impalas disrupted events by chasing each other through the elephants, and this triggered a mass exodus heading for Mazinga Hill.

12 August 2013

On a cool day, it was unusual to find Sinya rolling and spraying water over herself, for she normally avoids water on most days. Meanwhile a herd of wild elephants approached and Lempaute rushed forward to welcome them with a rumble, which the others picked up, quickly also rushing forward to greet them waving their trunks. Having exchanged greetings, the wild Matriarch tried to lead them all away, having noticed a Keeper taking photographs.

13 August 2013

Mbirikani’s foot is now sufficiently healed to enable her to walk out of her Stockade and join the others. She went over to scratch herself against a rock, and once the older elephants had left to browse, she, Shimba and Panda headed to their feeding patch nearby. Back at the Stockades, Panda checked on Mudanda and poor Kajire, who still has a medical problem, vomiting up boluses of food and walking in circles.

14 August 2013

Today Sinya paid a lot of attention to Mudanda and Kajire in their Holding Pen, rumbling and touching them with her trunk. Later Mkuki, the Ex orphaned lesser kudu bull paid a call to say “Jambo” to his erstwhile Keepers. The Orphans concentrated on browsing out in the bush without much other activity apart from a brief break for their milk and a wallow at noon.

15 August 2013

A wild herd of elephants who were browsing the slopes of Mazinga hill, hurriedly came down when they saw the Orphans and their Keepers approaching, but when they saw that we were not paying them attention, they calmed down. Lesanju moved her group further away, anxious that they did not join the wild herd for fear of losing them. They browsed their way to the waterhole at noon, where Kivuko, Taveta, Rombo and Kenia had a lot of fun, allowing. Lesanju then taught the others how to dig the banks with her tusks, tossing away chunks of earth in order to expand the pool.

16 August 2013

Today the orphans browsed until 4 p.m. foregoing the noon mudbath. There was a cool wind blowing on the hill where they were browsing. Eventually Sinya led the way back home, the smaller milk dependent orphans hurrying ahead looking forward to having their evening milk feed.

17 August 2013

On their way out this morning the Orphans happened upon a male ostrich. At the front of the group were Mzima and Layoni, who decided to charge the bird, but when the ostrich jogged away flapping its wings, they hurriedly retreated, scared of the big bird. They climbed the hill to browse, and did not come down until the evening.

18 August 2013

Mudanda joined the other orphans outside today, and was puzzled as to what Sinya was eating at the Lucerne pile, copra cake and dairy cubes being new to her. But, she was eager to learn from the older elephant and tasted a few cubes, spitting them out at first. Mudanda was fascinated by Shimba who then joined them before following Mbirikani and Panda who were already on their way out to browse. Meanwhile Lesanju’s group went to feed on fallen nutritious acacia pods, after which Mzima led the group to the hill and up a narrow rocky pathway, Ndii, Kenia and Kivuko climbing ahead to avoid congestion. On the way up the orphans met our Ex Orphaned kudu bulls Mkuki, Shia and a wild friend who stepped aside to allow the orphans passage. The elephants browsed the Eastern side of the hill, during which Layoni spotted some Peters gazelle, and chased them off, which left him feeling very proud!

19 August 2013

Mbirikani led the orphans to the supplements today, where she took her milk slowly, as usual. Mudanda also came out to take her milk, still wary of the Keepers and inclined to charge, humans still viewed as the enemy in her mind. Having finished her milk, she then tends to chase the Keeper who fed her, which amuses all the others. When the Keeper faces her, she turns to find another to chase before deciding on an escape route, usually heading for Mbirikani whom she knows better than the others, who seem reluctant to “adopt” either her or Mbirikani, possibly because the Park is currently so very dry, and food is scarce. Therefore Panda, Shimba, Mbirikani and now Mudanda form their own little unit, browsing closer to home. As only the second day out for Mudanda, she is visibly happy to be with her peers.

20 August 2013

Rombo was tardy about taking his morning supplements today, the baboons watching from a safe distance as the others were grouping to head out. Rombo was aware that the moment he left, the baboons would swarm in for the leftovers, and without warning, he suddenly charged, chasing them all round the compound. Having satisfied himself that they were gone, he ran to catch up with the others who were well on their way by then, trumpeting to ask them to wait for him. Lempaute turned back and Lesanju halted the group, who browsed on a green bush until Rombo caught up. The Orphans browsed the Eastern side of the hill again until 11 a.m. when Dabassa led the herd to their milk and mudbath venue, the young ones waving their trunks in anticipation. It was a warm day, so all had fun in the wallow, rolling, splashing and spraying water. Even Sinya enjoyed the fun until only Taveta was left in but when he went to join Rombo at the dustbath, he toppled over a gully, rolling like a rock down the hill to the bottom. He then picked himself up, and walked off slowly, waiting for the others to join him.

21 August 2013

Kajire, who is still enclosed in a Stockade, appeared very dull today. Shimba has taken Mudanda under his wing, shifting his attention to her rather than Panda. Mbirikani is very happy to be out and about, the only problem being that whenever she sees the Keeper writing the Diary on white paper, she comes running hoping that he has milk! Shimba is gradually gaining weight now that he is taking different milk rather than the original Replacer.

22 August 2013

The Orphans browsed the Eastern side of Mazinga hill today before heading to the mudwallow, where Layoni was the only wallower of the day, the others opting for a dustbath instead. Kivuko began rolling in the dust, overseen admiringly by Wasessa.

23 August 2013

Kajire seemed a little better today. Lesanju and Sinya went to see her before the task of chasing off the baboons began until it was time to head out to browse. The orphans approved of the waterhole today, the Tractor having brought several bowzer loads to top it up, the only snag being the ambient temperature which was not conducive to wallowing. Taveta bravely tried to push each one into the pool, using his stubby tusks, beginning with Ndii, then Layoni and Rombo and concluding with Dabassa. When Layoni tried to come out, Tassia pushed him back in which initiated a Pushing Match between the two, making them the centre of attraction for both the Keepers and the other elephants!

24 August 2013

After the usual morning baboon chasing, the orphans again headed out to browse the Eastern side of Mazinga hill, reaching the waterhole for their mudbath at noon. It was another cool day, so only Layoni and Tassia went in briefly while the others waited on the sidelines before heading back to feed for the remainder of the day.

25 August 2013

Having browsed all morning, Lesanju led her herd to shade to rest during the heat of the day, the youngsters joining their older peers under the tree having taken their noon milk. Today Kajire collapsed in her Holding Pen and was put on Life Supporting drip inserted into an ear vein, which revived her. During the afternoon the orphans enjoyed feeding on fallen acacia pods until it was time to return in the evening.

26 August 2013

There was less activity at the compound today, since the Orphans were anxious to head out and browse, feasting on fallen Acacia seeds which are manna from Heaven at the height of the dry seasons. Again they skipped the mudbath but waited for the tractor to fill the drinking bins. Having quenched their thirst they returned for the Acacia pods until it was time to return in the evening.

27 August 2013

The day began well with the orphans playing Hide and Seek around the yard, having taken their supplements and chased off the baboons until news came that another rescue was on the cards, a baby elephant having become stuck in the mud of the leaking Mombasa pipeline below the Voi Safari Lodge. Although other elephants had come to drink there, they did not attempt to pull the calf out, who was obviously an orphan who had lost his mother. The Keepers pulled the calf free – a yearling bull, very emaciated and wild, who was flown to the Nairobi Nursery that evening where he was named “Matopeh”. Meanwhile there was a report of a second orphan near Galdessa Camp on the Galana river, but that orphan died before the Rescue Team could reach it.

28 August 2013

Layoni and Taveta led the Orphans out to browse today having seen off the baboons while Panda, Mbirikani, Shimba and Mudanda went to their browsing spot close to the Stockades. En route to the Hill the Orphans encountered a small group of waterbuck, whom Layoni and Taveta chased off, only to find themselves left far behind the others. They trumpeted their alarm and ran back as fast as their legs could carry them. At noon the Orphans enjoyed a new mudwallow dug by the Park Bulldozer and this was a novelty that all enjoyed enormously.

29 August 2013

After the usual morning activities, Shimba and the Hospital Group went inside the Park Compound fence, where there was a lot of untouched browse while their colleagues headed towards the main Park, browsing near the Northern side of the hill. There they met a wild herd and one teenage bull, who joined them, Sinya, Lesanju and Kivuko moving forward to welcome the bull into the group while the other orphans were more cautious, hesitatingly touching the wild boy with their trunks. The wild boy browsed amongst them until noon, when the Orphans headed to the mudwallow. Since it was a cool day, none of the group were eager to get into the mud, Kivuko lying on a pile of red earth nearby. Tassia attempted to push Dabassa into the water, but he resisted. Layoni led the Orphans back in the evening.

30 August 2013

While Kenia and Ndii took care of the baboons, Taveta and Rombo engaged one another in a thrilling Test of Strength, and Mzima and Tassia did the same. Wasessa and Lempaute went to check on Kajire, who still has digestive and head problems. Dr. Poghorn, the Vet also comes to check on her regularly, but is baffled as to what ails her.

31 August 2013

Tassia and Kivuko (for the first time) were the leaders as the Orphans headed out to browse. Browsing the East side of the hill went peacefully until it was time for the noon milk and mudbath at the new venue, and since it was a hot day, all enjoyed the wallow. Later Sinya led the Orphans back to the bush to browse for the rest of the afternoon.