The daily routine of the Keeper Dependent Voi orphans based at the Stockades during the hours of darkness, seldom varies, but for odd unusual incidents which always instill both fear and excitement. This month involves bumping into a puff adder, noisy mating tortoises, and wild rival kudus chasing one another half way up Mazinga Hill who prompted a mass retreat instigated by Wasessa and Shimba, who were already half way up. Such encounters are always followed by a display of “bush-bashing” in an attempt to allay the fact that elephants are, indeed, exceedingly fearful by nature!
The day always begins exuberantly, as the orphans indulge in playful games – chasing one another around, rolling in soft earth, Pushing Matches between the boys and loving exchanges amongst the girls. Wasessa’s adoration of Tassia endures whilst Ndii and Dida enjoy special attention from Kenia and Lesanju, as the main Matriarch oversees them all, but has always been especially close to mischievous Lempaute. Sinya seems to keep a fairly low profile but obviously reinforces discipline amongst the boys when necessary. Siria, as the oldest boy, focuses on Pushing Partners Mzima and Shimba and all thoroughly enjoy playing in the noon mudbath after their milk feed, especially when it is a very hot day.
Dida is showing signs of being somewhat more fragile than the others, reluctant to be in the midst of exuberant mudbath sessions. Ndii pays her special attention and is never far from her side, and Dida often is allowed the privilege of leading the group back to the Stockades in the evenings. She is the smallest member of the group.
Emily and Edie returned to the Stockades during the evening of the 23rd, but only after the Keeper Dependent orphans had already gone into their Night Stockades. The Keepers report that their calves, Eve and Ella, were both in good condition. The Ex Orphans undertook a careful appraisal of the refurbished Stockade Compound, and enjoyed drinking from the new enlarged Drinking Trough. With them was their wild recruit, a young bull aged about l0, who seems very established as a permanent member of the herd. Emily and Edie and their satellites returned to the Stockades again on the 29th, once more late in the evening after the Youngsters were ensconced for the night, with the wild recruit still amongst them, and on this occasion he paid a lot of attention to little Eve and Ella, touching their backs with his trunk in a gesture of nurturing and love.
For the most of the month the Youngsters have been browsing around the slopes of Mazinga Hill, where runoff from the hill has promoted more greenery, but the usual main rains of November/December have fallen far short of expectations around Voi, and that part of Tsavo East faces another challenging drought, exacerbated by the fact that the months of January, February and March are always the hottest of the year. The noon milk and mudbath venue this month has alternated between the Voi Stockades and the receding catchments of the natural waterholes on the plain below the Park Headquarters, but by the 27th the Keepers were again taking the orphans to browse within the Park Headquarters compound fence. We have to face the reality that the Ex Orphans, along with the wild elephants of that part of the Park, will be spending most of their time outside the Park boundary on the neighbouring ranches and hills where browse is more plentiful than in the Park itself, especially if the main Park is again invaded by hordes of domestic livestock, which is likely to be inevitable.
The orphaned kudus, hand-reared from early infancy by the Voi Keepers return to greet the Keepers periodically. This month they returned on the 28th when, for old times sake, they went back to inspect their old Nursery stable. Mkuki, a bull, now has well grown horns that are beginning to spiral and Aruba, a female, is the epitome of gentle beauty. New orphans at the Voi Stockades are two Somali Ostrich chicks brought in by a visitor. They feed in the vicinity of the Stockade compound accompanied by the Yard Keeper, and amuse everyone by pirouetting around playfully in the mornings after which they sit down “as though saying their prayers”, according to the Voi Diary!