Keepers' Diaries, December 2006

Voi Reintegration Unit

It has been a wonderfully happy month for our Voi Unit, for the entire Tsavo Park has been blessed with plentiful rain, after a prolonged drought that lasted almost three full years. Once again, the Park turned into a Garden of Eden for elephants, and although most of the wild herds moved away from the dry weather haunts where, being water dependent, they had been anchored during the dry season, inland waterholes filled with rainwater released them, enabling them to move into the hinterland that had not suffered such heavy browsing pressure. However, Uaso remained, and throughout the month turned up almost daily to accompany the orphans to their feeding venue, romp with them in the waterholes and use his strength and prowess to remove a tree that was blocking some of them from gaining access to a particularly tempting anthill. Now a firm favourite, he is always greeted with enormous enthusiasm and automatically assumes the leadership role relegating the usual Matriarch, Natumi, to being just another member of the group! On one occasion Natumi attempted to reassert herself, but Uaso turned her challenge into a game by simply lying down and warding her off with his trunk, until she capitulated and forgetting about her initial motive, instead joined in Uaso’s game.

01 December 2006

December has come with a lot of blessings. Rain has brought great happiness to our orphans who can now afford the luxury of playing happily at the Stockade compound before leaving for the feeding grounds. Their usual morning visitor, Uaso, bounced down from neighbouring Mazinga Hill and was met with intense excitement, following which he took charge and escorted the entire herd into the main Park. He spent the entire day feeding with them before wandering off towards the Park airstrip in the late evening, as the others returned home for the night.

02 December 2006

The orphans greeted the new day in high spirits and were not in a hurry to leave the Stockade compound, perhaps awaiting the arrival of Uaso. He didn’t turn up in the morning, so Natumi took control, fulfilling her Matriarchal role in the absence of Uaso, who always takes over when with them. They had a lot of fun at the noon mudbath. In the evening Mweiga kept pace at the rear of the column.

03 December 2006

Again the morning was spent without Uaso. No wild groups of elephants were within sight, all obviously having gone deeper into the Park to feeding grounds not available to them except during the rainy season. The orphans went to feed up Mazinga Hill, with Mweiga doing her best to climb up with them as far as possible. In the evening Sosian escorted her back at a leisurely pace to the Night Stockades.

04 December 2006

The morning was filled with trumpets and games as the orphans chased one another around the Stockade compound playfully, today with Uaso on board! Whenever Uaso is here, now a frequent visitor, Natumi seems to accept his role as Leader, because all the orphans pay him a great deal of attention. He was with the orphans all day, but wandered off towards the Pipeline road in the late evening when the others prepared to return home for the night.

05 December 2006

Uaso was a very early morning visitor at the Stockades, entertaining the occupants until they were let out by rolling around in the soil, and trumpeting with joy. As soon as the youngsters were let out, they all joined in these games, rolling and tossing dust into the air. Uaso then led them to the Northern side of Mazinga Hill, taking a drink at a natural waterhole. They did not wallow because it was a cool day. When the orphans began to return in the late evening, Uaso went higher up the hill.

06 December 2006

Today Uaso linked up with the orphans out in the feeding area, and at noon all enjoyed an active and wonderful noon bath in a large waterhole where they could submerge themselves entirely, with just the tip of their trunks visible. Salama engaged Laikipia in a tussle in the water, and succeeded in driving him out. He then took on Uaso, both in a sitting position. The afternoon was spent feeding until the evening, when Uaso departed and the others returned to the Stockades.

07 December 2006

Today the orphans fed half way up Mazinga Hill, so Mweiga was able to be amongst them. They later came down when Mweiga found herself a cushion of soft grass, and introduced the others to a rolling game, until Burra decided that it was time to go to the mudbath. The rest of the afternoon was spent feeding on the lower slopes of the hill.

08 December 2006

After filling his stomach to capacity, Sosian was all for fun and games. Ndara stood by watching his antics until Vita hijacked the solo performance and came to join him, after which all the other elephants joined in. Later Thoma climbed up on a rock and blew a trumpet which obviously the signal to go to the waterhole, because all abandoned the game and headed off at a brisk pace. Uaso joined them there and when he left in the evening, Mukwaju decided to join him, but returned half an hour later to meet up with the main group near the Stockades.

09 December 2006

The day started on a high note, with Uaso leading the orphans out from the Stockades first thing in the morning, taking them to the far Northern side of Mazinga Hill where they met up with two wild big bulls. At first the orphans were nervous of the two strangers, who were greeted fondly by Uaso. Soon Lolokwe plucked up enough courage to investigate them and they paid him loving attention, but touching him softly with their trunks. Later the bulls left along with Uaso, and the orphans fed close to another wild family, but did not join them because they were already intent on returning home, it being late evening.

10 December 2006

A baby caracal, which had been rescued by a Herdsman at Maktau, in community land bordering the Park. The herdsman noticed his flock running from something in the grass, and having gone to investigate, saw the baby caracal lying there without its mother. He visited the area for the next two days, and found the caracal still there minus its mother, so he rescued it and reported the fact to KWS who alerted us to go and fetch it, which we did. It was then driven to Daniel Woodley in Tsavo West for hand rearing.

11 December 2006

It was raining in the early morning, so the orphans headed straight off to Mazinga Hill where they fed to their hearts content and enjoyed drinking rain water from rock depressions. At 3 p.m. they came down the hill to play and in the evening worked their way back, playing all the way home.

12 December 2006

Today there were many games and play at the Stockade before leaving. Uaso joined the orphans at the foot of Mazinga Hill. Morani ran ahead to greet him joyfully, after which they fed on the northern side of the hill, the youngsters enjoying playing on anthills. Seraa lay against an anthill whilst Thoma dug up soil using her toenails, spraying it onto Seraa. They had a lot of fun in a waterhole where Solango wrestled with Salama in the pool. Uaso wandered off afterwards, and the orphans slowly made their way back in the evening.

13 December 2006

Uaso turned up early to escort the orphans from the Stockades. The orphans were anxious to play on an anthill, but a fallen tree blocked access. Noticing the problem, Uaso moved in, and using his tusks and both front feet, lifted the tree away so that the orphans could enjoy playing at the anthill, which they did, happily. Solango engaging Uaso in a pushing game. They all had fun at the mudbath, and Uaso escorted the orphans back in the evening, leaving once they had all gone into their respective Night Quarters.

14 December 2006

Once out in the feeding grounds, Natumi decided to try and take control of the leadership from Uaso who had come to fetch the group in the morning. Uaso was very accommodating, lying down and pushing Natumi away gently, which charmed her and made her forget her original mission! Later Uaso took on Lolokwe in an erosion gully, and all the elephants thoroughly enjoyed the mudbath. Uaso left later in the day.

15 December 2006

Uaso joined the orphans at the waterhole where they all enjoyed a wonderful dust-bathing session. He later took them all to the Northern side of Mazinga Hill where they joined 2 wild elephant cows, a teenaged bull and a young calf. When it was time to return in the evening, the wild cow blocked them, pushing them back towards the North side of the hill. The Keepers attempted to call their charges, but the wild cow was very possessive and would not let them come. Uaso and his wild teenaged friend mounted Edie, but the wild cow intervened every time that behaviour persisted. The Keepers managed to round up some of the orphans 7 p.m. but on the way back, Emily’s group intercepted them and took half the group off, returning them to the Stockades at midnight. Emily’s group then went to feed at the foot of Mazinga Hill.

16 December 2006

The orphans that had spent the night at the stables joined Emily and Ilingwezi plus the other orphans in the morning, Aitong, Sally and Tsavo having wandered off, leaving Emily and Ilingwezi with our group. Emily took them to feed up Mazinga Hill, but later left with Ilingwezi to rejoin Aitong and the rest of her group. Uaso, who had remained with the wild group the previous day, did not appear today.

17 December 2006

The orphans went to feed up Mazinga Hill again, and at the waterhole just splashed water over their bodies with their trunks. Uaso, who had been warmly accommodated by his wild friends, again did not turn up, although he was spotted with the wild group about 14 kms away.

18 December 2006

There was heavy rain in the morning so the orphans left in the rain, remaining in a tight group throughout the day, keeping close to the Keepers, fearing the thunder and lightening.

19 December 2006

The elephants hung around the Stockade in the morning, having fun trying to charge the orphaned zebra foal, “Serena” and our little kudu called “Rukinga”. Serena enjoyed the games, but Rukinga did not want to participate. When the elephants began to move off later, Serena followed them for quite a long way, until her Keeper called her back, and she came racing back, kicking up her heels joyfully.

20 December 2006

The orphans emerged in a joyful mood, and began to play around the Stockades. Mweiga had fun running around a rocky outcrop. The rivalry between Burra and Morani which had gone unnoticed, manifested itself in a tough fight until Laikipia moved in to separate the warring duo, but then found himself cornered by Salama. They broke off when Icholta signaled that it was time to leave for the feeding grounds, leading the way. Laikipia led the column home in the evening.

21 December 2006

Morani and Seraa were so involved in a pushing game that they found themselves left behind when the others headed off to feed. They trumpeted and charged after the others, who had noticed the echo from the hill, and looked confused. All the orphans enjoyed a drink at a waterhole before settling in to feed for the rest of the day.

22 December 2006

Morani enjoyed chasing the baboons on the way to Mazinga Hill, where the orphans encountered two male impalas at their waterhole. The impalas gave way for the elephants to drink. The orphans had a wonderful time in the water, after which Mvita enjoyed scratching her body against a tree.

23 December 2006

It was a dangerous moment when Morani and Mpala decided to have a game on slippery rocks, but neither fell. They then came down to join the other orphans at the foot where Solango and Burra were leading the way to the waterhole. They then fed close to the waterhole for the rest of the day, every now and then taking another bath.

24 December 2006

It was another rainy morning as the orphans headed back to the hill where Mweiga enjoyed feeding with others half way up. The orphans spent the whole day feeding on the moist grass, and took water only in the evening at the Stockades.

25 December 2006

Christmas Day, and both the orphans and the Keepers greeted the day in a celebratory mood. They had a wonderful time swimming in the large waterhole, their trunks up like snorkels. From the hill, we could see Uaso down below on the plains, but he never appeared to wish his friends a Happy Christmas!