Keepers' Diaries, August 2019

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Voi Reintegration Unit

The Voi area remains dry as we eagerly await the short rains anticipated beginning of November. These are tough months for wildlife in Tsavo, but our orphans are the lucky ones with supplementary food available and greens cut for them from the slopes of Sagala Mountain outside of the Park for their night time browse once they return to their stockades.  

This month Angela decided that Tagwa should be returned back to the Nairobi Nursery from the Voi Unit because she had lost condition largely because her one tusk was pushing through at the wrong angle and not the usual hole where a tusk normally protrudes. This is the equivalent of a massive tooth ache for elephants, and it does sometimes cause some sepsis; strangely it seems to happen quite often and we have seen it many times. In Tagwa’s case the timing was bad with the dry conditions in the area and before there should be any cause for alarm, the call was made to bring Tagwa back to the green of Nairobi until such time as conditions improve in the Voi area and her tusk is through and she is more comfortable physically. Emoli and Sagala on the other hand are fat as ticks and thriving, simply loving being back home in Tsavo!  On the 24th Tagwa was loaded onto the translocation lorry and driven overnight arriving first thing in the morning back at the Nursery. Having only been gone a couple of months Tagwa waltzed into the Nairobi environment as if she had never left. 

It was Sagala who seemed to miss Tagwa’s presence the most, as she had enjoyed leading the other orphans with her by her side on numerous occasions. Sagala is showing signs of becoming much more independent these days, trying to join up with wild herds and not listening to her Keepers. One day Nelion had to persuade her to re-join the Voi orphan herd after she decided to follow a wild herd away from the water hole, by prodding her with his tusks and walking her back to the Keepers. At three years old Sagala is still too young to think about her independence, particularly in the height of a very dry year, but seven year old Ndoria is showing us that she is certainly feeling ready to leave the dependent herd, and is already deciding to spend more protracted time away from the Voi herd as well, choosing to stay out at night in the company of Mbirikani. Sometimes she will show up to join the orphan herd alone the next day and often around the noon milk feeding time, when she knows the Keepers will supply the orphans with extra Lucerne grass supplements to see them through the day. 

Mbegu is still very much enjoying her leadership role which she takes on enthusiastically. It is interesting for us to watch the orphans decide amongst themselves who will lead and who they might decide to follow. One day Mashariki wanted to walk up the side of Msinga Hill to browse, but the eldest Kenia prefers browsing on the foot of the hill. Embu, Arruba, Nelion, Rorogoi and Bada joined Mashariki, but Suswa was left in between the two groups swinging her leg to and fro, so typical of what they do when overcome by indecision. She later resorted to following Mashariki as her best friend Arruba had decided to go that way, and the two groups linked up together later on the way to the water hole that afternoon.

One relationship we have watched unfold this month is that between Ngilai and Emoli. Emoli is usually doted upon by the matriarch of this little mini herd, Mbegu, but Ngilai seems to have taken him under his wing as well and looks for him every morning to play with. This has been very upsetting for Murit whose nose is currently set firmly out of place over losing his best sparring partner. Sometimes we see Murit making a bee-line for Ngilai in the morning, just to corner him and engage him in one wrestling game before he can even think about looking for Emoli.

The area around Voi is so dry at the moment that sometimes some of the milk dependent babies, usually Sagala, Mbegu and Murit, even choose to by-pass their milk bottles in the morning to head straight for the supplement feeding area. They don’t want to jeopardize how much food they will be left with if they decide to have their milk bottles first, while the others are eating. Godoma saw the extra bottles the first time and for a moment thought she might be the recipient of an extra milk bottle, and the Keepers had to hide the four milk bottles inside the milk mixing room and close the door until Mbegu and Sagala had finished feeding on the Lucerne and were given their share of milk. Another time they showed no interest in the milk at all and Godoma, Ngilai and Tagwa were the lucky beneficiaries of the left over milk which they were delighted with.

From enjoying interactions on an almost daily basis at the water hole with wild elephant herds as they passed by for a drink of water, later in the month these meetings were not as frequent as the wild herds seemed to change their routine and arrive mostly at night to drink water, walking further afield in search of enough browse. These interactions are always more exciting for the orphans when there are young calves or teenagers to play with. The females like Ndii, Panda and Ishaq-B always enjoy trying to play with the little babies, and Nelion can’t resist finding an age mate to wrestle with, or even a much older bull to learn new tactics from. As soon as the short rains arrive we know these elephant herds will start to disseminate across the wider conservation area of Tsavo, so we appreciate the orphans gaining all the experience they can from their wild counterparts during the dry season.

August 2019 day to day

01 Aug

It was a busy start to the day with the milk dependent orphans playing in the stockade compound after the milk and the supplement feeding. Nelion went to take up his early scratching position on the small rock and was followed later by Arruba. Lasayen took the favorite big rock for scratching too. Ndii stepped into the stockade water trough plucking and harvesting some green leaves from a tall tree.

It was then time for some sparring matches where Nelion took on Rorogoi, Ngilai took on Murit, and Mbegu engaged Ndotto while in a sitting down position. The Voi orphans then took off towards the field under the leadership of Mbegu and Tagwa.

The dependent orphans had a peaceful time browsing on the lower plains of the northern side of the stockade, arriving at the baobab tree water hole in the afternoon after having their noon milk bottles.

They joined a small wild elephant herd to drink water from the baobab tree water trough. Another wild elephant herd came and stood close to them, waiting patiently for them to finish drinking water. The orphan elephants were very happy to have been afforded that respect. Ndotto moved forward playfully as if acknowledging their patience to drink water, and tossed some soil in the air. The orphans stayed only briefly and then left to begin their second and final browsing session of the day.

Ndotto playing with Mbegu who is lying down

Ndii climbing up high for a branch

Ngilai and Murit in a strength testing match