Keepers' Diaries, August 2014

Voi Reintegration Unit

August at the Voi rehabilitation unit was mostly spent concentrating on the serious business of searching for food in the height of the dry season. The dry seasons in Voi has much less food than Ithumba for elephants, but when it rains this area is a haven for wild elephants who pour into the open grasslands. Our orphans were not visited much this month by the ex-orphans other than Mweya, Icholta and Moran who came by on a couple of days. Throughout the month, particularly at mudbath time, they had some wonderful encounters with wild herds, and were able to interact with them and play with their young. Lesanju is never overly enthusiastic about this sort of interaction, fearful that she will lose a member of her dependent orphan herd to the wild ones. Our dependent boys however, love to single out sparring partners with the wild bulls and this month was no different. These games are always watched closely by eager mothers and it is important our orphans do not overstep the mark, which sometimes they do and are then forced to make a hasty retreat. Mudanda is still Wasessa’s cosseted baby who all the orphans aspire to spending time with, but act with extreme caution knowing that it will incur the wrath of Wasessa who does not always like to share Mudanda’s attention.

01 August 2014

It was a wonderful cool morning with the orphans walking out of the stockade swinging their trunks side to side in a well coordinated move. They went into the browsing grounds in their own unique style looking forward to having a very successful browsing day. Sinya and Lempaute were leading the orphans, followed closely by Panda whose main mission was to overtake the two without any meaningful success. The two bravely blocked Panda with their buttocks giving her no chance at all to penetrate their defense. Panda gave up the struggle and joined the other orphans who were all under the leadership of the two in front. They all browsed throughout the morning and eventually ended up at the mud hole by noon. The normal routine here is that the milk dependent orphans come first for milk and then followed by the older elephants, except today Sinya somehow sneaked in with the younger orphans and insisted on having her milk. The orphans drank water from the barrels and bravely went to test the temperature of the mud bath with their trunks, however it wasn’t long before most of them realized it was too cold for them. Mzima was very adamant on getting into the water, so he slowly entered the mud hole alone, but only stood in it for a short while before getting out and rolling in the red dust.

02 August 2014

The day started off well with all the orphans having their daily morning feed before heading out into the bush. Today Kihari, Naipoki and Ishaq B led the orphans out into the forest, but it wasn’t long before the other orphans overtook the three leaders. It seemed that everyone else was in a far more eager mood to get to the browsing fields than Kihari, Naipoki and Isaq B. The three linked up with the other orphans on the way to the water hole at noon. The weather was fairly cold when they all arrived at the mud bath so only a few were willing to get in. Dabassa and Layoni played endlessly in the mud bath and it seems the cold didn’t affect these robust boys much. Mudanda noticed that Taveta was rolling around in the soil and couldn’t help but join in with great enthusiasm; this didn’t last long before Wasessa quickly took her little baby back. The rest of the day was peaceful and eventually at sunset the elephants were lead home by Ndii.

03 August 2014

After all the gates of the stockade were opened in the morning, all the orphans happily enjoying their equal share of dairy cube and copra cake after emptying a delicious bottle of milk. Taveta was busy eating when he was very rudely interrupted by a couple of baboons trying to steal his food, however it didn’t take long before he charged the baboons and scared them all off. After all the baboons were scared away from the stockade Taveta joined his friends who were still eating. The orphans then left for the field and after four hours of browsing, a wild teenage female elephant was spotted socializing with the orphans. The keepers noticed that she had genital secretions meaning she was in labor and nearly ready to give birth. The keepers then noticed that the elephant cow had left her family high up the Msinga hill to come and give birth at the base of the hill. The wild cow felt comfortable in the company of the orphans, but was forced to move off half an hour later when the orphans headed to the stockade for their milk. After the orphans returned from their feed, the wild cow was nowhere to be seen.

04 August 2014

It was a hot morning and the orphans settled into playing games at the stockade compound before moving off to browse. Rombo fetched a trunk full of water and sprayed it onto the backs of Ishaq B and Taveta making them run away from the stockade trough. Ishaq B didn’t seem to be satisfied with the water and later came to drink alongside Rombo. Lesanju then led the orphans into the browsing grounds where they settled for most of the day. When the orphans eventually went to the mud hole they played endlessly together. Ex-orphans Mweya, Moran and Icholta came at around 4pm and watched the small orphans in the water. Mweya decided to try and impress the orphans by rolling around in the soil, Moran too decided to show off by sitting on Mweya’s head making Mweya stand up in complete frustration. Moran extended the embarrassment by trying to mount Mweya. Mzima tried to join in on the fun but he has the unfortunate disadvantage of being too short to get on top of Mweya’s back. After all the excitement the three ex-orphans headed towards the Voi River as the little ones headed home for the night.

05 August 2014

After having a peaceful night in the safety of the stockade, the elephants woke to a beautiful warm day with favorable bathing conditions for the elephants to later play in. They quickly finished their morning milk bottle and soon after they all began to play amongst each other around the stockade compound. Taveta began to mount onto Naipoki with Ishaq B watching, however it didn't take long before Panda quickly stepped in and held Taveta's hind leg firmly allowing Naipoki to escape. Taveta quickly turned to Panda to try and charge her but Panda was just too quick. Later during the day Mbirikani led the orphans to the water hole where they played together, except Sinya who refused to enter the water which is usual for her. Ex-orphan Icholta was seen down by the water hole alone looking for the small orphans but the orphans were already on their way back to the stockade. Icholta wasn't seen at the stockade during the night so obviously moved off back into the bush.

06 August 2014

Today Little Mudanda, who stays in a different stable from the bigger orphans, was pleased to come out of her stockade as Wasessa was waiting and rumbled in excitement to see her adopted baby. She touched the little baby giving assurance and love and Mudanda responded to Wasessa by rumbling back at her. Tassia lead the orphans to the browsing fields where they spent most of their day exploring and eventually walking to the mud hole. After a wonderful noon mud bath, Kenia and Ndii began a pushing game with Kihari watching and moving with them whenever they went, trying to learn some new fighting tactics. The rest of the browsing day went on well without any disturbances

07 August 2014

It was a nice beginning to the day with the orphans teaming up against each other as they played games in the stockade compound after they finished feeding on all their tasty supplements ranging from lucerne, copra cake, dairy cubes and of course delicious milk. Soon after they arrived and settled to browse on the western slopes of the Msinga hill it seemed to be all peaceful until suddenly Sinya and Kihari teamed up and stole little Mudanda from Wasessa and took her to the opposite side of a big rock. The two embraced little Mudanda like their own and Mudanda, who felt so honored, gave a happy rumble which immediately got Wasessa's attention. Wasessa could clearly see what had happened and was not happy about this situation. Sinya and Kihari put their trunks up in order to protect Mudanda which made the whole situation even worse. Wasessa managed to bite her trunk in anger going round the big rock to catch Sinya and Kihari and retrieve her little baby. Kihari and Sinya ran away and left Mudanda for Wasessa to care for. This process lasted quite some time so the orphans were very late to get to the mud hole.

08 August 2014

It was a quiet morning as the orphans played together and ate all their delicious supplements. Layoni was playing a pushing game with Rombo while Ndii was trumpeting and chasing the baboons out of the stockade compound. Ndii was given a helping hand by Lempaute and Panda who both got involved and scared most of the baboons. One became fierce and very aggressive and was taking on all three elephants making them run circles around him. The three then ambushed the baboon from three strategic positions, giving him slim chance to escape. Eventually the baboon realised he had no choice but to flee and join his family at the lower KWS staff camp. Later in the evening, Kivuko fell inside a deep erosion trench while rolling around playing in the soil. Kivuko was quite shocked and very stressed but Dabassa went to try cheer her up but soon left with others as they headed to the stockade for the evening. Kivuko who didn’t notice the others leaving was left alone, however when she realised she quickly charged after her friends to join them as they went home.

09 August 2014

Today Panda took the lead and led the small orphans towards the western side of the stockade followed closely by the older Lesanju group. On reaching there, Lempaute began to play a game of lying down in the soil and enjoying the sunshine, all the elephants soon joined Lempaute as they took in the warm sunshine. While they were all lying down, Mzima spotted a wild herd of elephants a few miles away and it didn't take long before Mzima was up and off to join the wild herd. Mzima and a wild bull began to play a head pushing game. They pushed and shoved each other, which proved that Mzima is slowly becoming more and more comfortable mixing with the wild bulls which is a very positive sign for him. Mzima proved he was in fact a lot stronger than the wild bull and showed all the other elephants just how strong he really is. His wild scrumming mate screamed which got his entire wild herd's attention and they all abandoned their browse to come and see what all the commotion was about. Mzima made himself scarce very quickly after seeing the wild herd racing towards him and he gravitated back to the safety of his herd where he continued to browse happily. The orphans arrived at the water hole at noon to drink but none of the orphans bathed as it was just too cold for them today.

10 August 2014

It was a wonderful day with pleasant warm weather and the babies were busy quenching their thirst in the morning at the stockade water trough. Some Impala came behind them queuing for water, but Isaq B, Naipoki and Mbirikani, who think that this water belongs to the orphan elephants only, quickly turned and chased the impala back into the bush. Once the elephants left to browse there was no doubt that the impala's were first to go back to the water trough and drink their long deserved drink of water.

11 August 2014

Layoni and Rombo began to wrestle each other this morning in the stockade compound and Tassia brought his new friend Dabassa to watch these two elephants fight. Sinya however stood close by to supervise these two naughty elephants to prevent anyone getting hurt. Panda introduced a game of scooping and tossing huge chunks of dust into the air, she was then joined by Ndii, Kenia and Kihari who all joined in to play this new game. Taveta instead decided to test his own strength by pushing and breaking down trees. The orphans arrived at the water hole at noon. Kivuko was playing in the mud bath when Taveta went and held Kivuko's trunk as if congratulating her for her exemplary performance. They then browsed near the water hole for the rest of the day. Kihari and Naipoki paced far ahead of the other orphans when heading home, it seemed that they were very excited to be going back to the stockades this evening.

12 August 2014

Lesanju led the orphans to the bush to browse this morning. After two hours of browsing and exploring, Taveta and Kenia decided to put their heads together with their trunks softly touching one another as if they were having a very serious conversation. Lesanju was curious of their pose and came close to investigate, but eventually Lesanju gave up and moved off as the two continued to touch each other and play amongst one another. The day then went well with Taveta and Kenia being inseparable throughout the day; it seemed that this was a new strong friendship forming.

13 August 2014

The day started with warm temperatures and the orphans began to play early with soil dusting games in the stockade compound. Wasessa took Mudanda to where all the orphans were playing in the dust, she tried to teach little Mudanda a few tactics on soil dusting, but this came to a quick halt when Sinya came a bit too close to Mudanda. This caused Wasessa to retaliate and charge Sinya in an effort to get some distance between the two. Wasessa and Sinya seem to be getting on a lot better than in the past, and their spats are less frequent these days. When the elephants arrived at the southern foot of the Msinga hill, Mbirikani and Lempaute left the orphans in order to explore high up on the hill, where they have recently found luscious greens. The two remained on the hill as the other orphans went down to the water hole at noon. Mbirikani strangely didn't drink her noon milk bottle because she had filled her stomach with plenty of greens, however by the evening she gulped down her whole bottle of milk with no hesitation, clearly feeling the effects of missing her midday feed.

14 August 2014

After a wonderful night's rest in the safety of the stockade, and once the sun was up it was games as usual in the stockade compound before moving to the browsing fields. Taveta today enjoyed a mischievous and funny ride on Kenia's back as they played together. Ndii came to the rescue as Taveta is very heavy and could cause harm. To Kenia's relief Ndii bravely grabbed Taveta's tail and firmly pulled him off, this led to Taveta quickly sliding off poor Kenia but retaliating and charging towards Ndii. Lesanju then took the lead and led the orphans to the mud hole. It was a wonderful afternoon and perfect conditions for a mud bath. Kivuko got into the mud bath and knelt down on her front legs as she played. Rombo, Dabassa and Mbirikani surrounded her and soon they all began to play with one another. The elephants then left the mud hole and slowly headed home for the evening.

15 August 2014

The elephants played games at the stockade, Layoni kept on chasing off Kenia as Kenia tried to mount poor Layoni. The orphans later moved into the browsing grounds and went into the water hole to drink milk and water but never took a bath as it was fairly cold day so the orphans were generally subdued and concentrated on feeding throughout the day.

16 August 2014

It was a wonderful and very exciting morning for Kivuko who was given a very important and rare opportunity to look after little Mudanda under the guard and protection of Wasessa. Ndii, Kenia and Panda could not believe their eyes and they too attempted to move closer to reassure themselves that what they were seeing was really true. The three elephants gave Wasessa a soft touch with their trunk, just to reassure her that they would cause no harm to little Mudanda. Wasessa completely ignored this gesture and walked away. The elephants then made the journey to the bush but all scattered in the field as they browsed in different areas. The dry season is seriously upon us, and the elephants have to walk further and further every day to find food. There was a lot of fun in mud bathing games with happy trumpeting and red dust filling the air as the orphans ran in and out of the water. Sinya who doesn't seem to enjoy mud baths very much slowly walked away which made all the other elephants follow.

17 August 2014

The orphans were happy to have started another day that was fully packed with activities. Today they headed to the southern side of the Msinga hill above the Malaika house, and came down to drink milk and water at the stockade. Here they encountered school children that had come to visit them under the Trust community outreach program. After emptying their noon milk bottle, the orphans went into the stockade water hole and drank water from the stockade water trough. The elephants all competed with one another in the bath in order to impress the school children, who cheered them on as they laughed and clapped their hands. Ndii later posed to be a threat to the others as she rolled into the water and lay on top of Rombo. They somehow managed to hurt each other and Ndii screamed loudly. Lempaute rushed to her rescue, and with great difficulty the two managed to get off one another. The orphans then slowly moved off to browse.

18 August 2014

The orphans were in a very jovial mood today, coming out of their respective stockades and emptying their morning milk bottles with great luster. They then headed towards the eastern side of the stockade where they settled to browse for the better half of the day. They then came to the stockade where they encountered more visiting children from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust funded community outreach field trips. As usual they played games to attract the kid’s attention. Kihari, Panda and Mbirikani had some amazing games, scratching their buttocks on the same rock at the same time which led to everyone laughing. Kivuko later came to the same rock and began to scratch her bottom however it didn't last long before she joined the rest of the elephants as they walked back into the bush for some serious browsing.

19 August 2014

Layoni introduced a new game of charging and kicking bushes, but no one was interested in this game and paid no attention to her, instead enjoyed their time browsing. Naipoki led the orphans to the mudhole where there was, as there is every day, a bottle of milk awaiting their arrival. They proceeded to drink their milk and after finishing the bottle, they went to drink water from the barrels and were later joined by a big herd of wild elephants. Mzima, Tassia and Taveta took their wild friends to play games with them, however this lasted a very short time as the wild herd soon left back into the bush. The orphans headed off to the far northern side of the stockade but later arrived into the stockade paradise well in time for their evening bottle feed

20 August 2014

The day went well with Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya refusing to enter the water hole as it was far too cold for them. Wasessa of course was close to little Mudanda making sure her special baby was happy and safe. The elephants enjoyed their day as they browsed and played.

21 August 2014

Layoni has formed a new characteristic which makes everyone laugh; she now sits on her bottom and throws her trunk in every direction. This new trick gets everyone's attention and is highly entertaining for anyone to watch. All the orphans watch Layoni is complete amazement however none of them attempt this stunt. The elephants then walked into the field and enjoyed browsing with no disturbance. In the dry season feeding is a serious business.

22 August 2014

There was a slight leadership tussle when Panda decided to grab Mbirikani’s tail and bite her hard after she refused to let Panda overtake her when they returned to the stockade in the evening. The keepers intervened to help Mbirikani as she screamed loudly because of the pain. Soon afterwards the keepers settled her and allowed Panda to overtake which meant everyone was happy.

23 August 2014

It was a brilliant morning with the orphans teaming up in games at the stockade compound after feeding on the supplement foods. This was a big day for Tassia as he happily took little Mudanda to try teach her a few wrestling tips in the vast browsing fields that the elephants have. Wasessa unfortunately mistook Tassia's intentions, thinking he was fighting, and came running over to rescue her little baby. Tassia took off quickly and found a shoulder to cry on with Kenia and they commenced a pushing game. Dabassa then became jealous of his friend Tassia's interaction with Kenia and also tried to engage in the game. Tassia’s misfortunes eventually turned into blessings as he was accepted by many of the other orphans to play in their pushing games, which showed Wasessa that he meant no harm to little Mudanda.

24 August 2014

The day was good with Mbirikani and Layoni climbing up high up on Msinga hill but they rushed down when they heard the pick-up bringing their milk to the mud wallow. Being first there they had their milk and skulked around to see if they could get some extra. When the others we called in they saw Mbirikani and Layoni trying to charm the keepers and Layoni and Kivuko played it rough, running in high speed to knock them away from the milk bottles. Afterwards the orphans had wonderful games in the water hole together and then browsed close by for the remaining half a day. Panda and Mudanda led them back to the stockade that evening.

25 August 2014

It was a nice morning with the orphans leaving the stockade early in the morning after feeding and playing. The day was quiet when they arrived at the browsing grounds, with slight rain showers blessing the arid Tsavo land. The orphans particularly enjoyed feeding on the moist grass and were not in a hurry to reach the water hole. As the day eventually grew warmer the orphan’s instincts directed them to go to the mud hole in order to cool off. There was a tough bathing competition between Layoni, Dabassa and Kivuko as they all thrashed around in the mud.

26 August 2014

There was a rescue today after Angela Sheldrick alerted the stockade about the presence of a baby elephant abandoned at Galana Ranch. The male orphan elephant calf was first seen on the 25th of August 2014 alone while coming to drink at the Galana river on Galana ranch. The calf stayed close to the river bank where several herds of wild elephant came to drink and were constantly going towards the little baby. The elephant tried several times to join these wild herds but the herds began to push the little baby away making this little elephant feel even more abandoned and desperate. Clearly they were not interested in his woes. Several hours passed and there was still no sign of the baby elephant’s mother. The Galana Conservancy scouts saw the baby disappear in a nearby bushy area. And he was located again in the same area the following day, desperately looking for water; however this time he was not in a hurry as he stayed there for more than two hours under an acacia tree. He looked thin and drawn and cut a tragic figure. The scouts that had been watching the elephant established that the elephant was definitely alone and the mother was quite clearly not coming back. The fate of the mother was not confirmed but poaching has been bad in this area. The ranch management contacted KWS and the Sheldrick Trust who then proceeded in informing the Voi keepers about the baby elephant. The KWS senior warden Tsavo East also alerted the stockade about the rescue. On arrival the DSWT rescue team went into the conservancy and found the scouts already there, keeping a close eye on the baby. This made locating the elephant very easy but the challenging part was that the elephant was on a river bank, so trying to catch him and move him was very difficult. Once the elephant was finally caught the rescue team headed back to Voi, however evening was approaching quickly so most of the drive to Voi was in the dark. The elephant was named Bada after the Orma word for a place of bush, as the elephant was located in a very bushy area. Bada had no external injuries except a single bruise. He was very dehydrated as he had obviously been without his family for quite some time. He responded well to milk on the second day and enjoyed his grewia branches.

27 August 2014

Naipoki today refused to come out of the stockade and take her milk as she had seen the newest arrival, Bada, and all she wanted to do was provide tender loving care and comfort him. Bada won't be able to leave the stockade until the keepers feel completely comfortable about him being around them and the other elephants. Angela made the decision for Bada to remain in Voi firstly to keep him close to home, but more importantly because he is over two years old, so it makes sense for him to remain with the company of the older orphans in Voi. Of course we Keepers also gave strong arguments to keep him down here with us! Later in the evening Naipoki got to greet Bada and seems very interested him, clearly she feels this will be her special baby. Bada is doing very well, he is drinking milk from a bottle and seems to be socializing nicely with the other orphans, having their company has lifted his spirits enormously. If he carries on making such good progress it won't be long until he can go into the bush with the other orphans.

28 August 2014

During the night there was a dramatic commotion as two leopards had chased an impala and killed it close to the orphan’s stockade. The orphans became extremely nervous, forcing the night duty keepers to go into the stockade to try to calm and reassure them of their safety inside the electric fenced stockade. These leopards have recently been spotted in this area watching Ngulia, our orphan zebra, however Ngulia is always in the company of a keeper and a leopard will not chance an attack with a keeper close by. This month they have attempted to take her from the stable twice, but were thwarted.

29 August 2014

The morning was packed with hide and seeks games being played once the elephants had finished their supplements. Taveta and Layoni were found secretly eating a whole stack of Lucerne grass which the keepers quickly took away from them. At noon Mudanda left both the keepers and other orphans on the northern slopes of Msinga hill running for her bottle of milk as soon as she heard the pick-up coming their way. All her elephant friends were surprised to find her there as they had been concerned where she had gone to.

30 August 2014

The elephants all plunged into the mud as they played together while the weather was still warm. A single wild elephant cow and her small family of two visited the stockade to drink water at 6pm. Panda and Mbirikani rumbled to greet them while in their stockade, with the elephant cow rumbling as well to respond. The rest of the day was uneventful browsing and sticking to the usual routine of mud bath at midday. Bada is improving each day, growing stronger and more comfortable with the Keepers. He loves his milk and loves the other orphans and it will not be long before he joins the others.

31 August 2014

The orphans came out in a happy mood as they settling to browse for the better half of the day. They followed their usual routine of arriving at the water hole in time for their milk. Wild Herds of elephants came and joined the elephants as they drank water and played amongst each other. There was a big female elephant with huge tusks that scared many of the elephants away. There was a brief encounter with Mzima and Dabassa teaming up to tackle a teenage wild male elephant, who was twice their size, however the two naughty boys realized the trouble they were getting themselves into and backed away in time. Late afternoon the orphans returned to their night stockades as the wild herds slowly moved away back into the bush. They love to return to the special surprise of Bada.