Keepers' Diaries, December 2012

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Several heavy rainstorms turned the barren landscape around the Voi Stockades green again, so it has been a happy and interesting month for the Voi Unit’s Orphans, who head out each morning swinging their trunks with happiness, with food and water again plentiful. It has also enjoyed an action packed month with plenty of interaction with both the Ex Orphans now living wild, as well as other wild elephant herds who have moved into the area in response to rain. Seldom a day has past that the Ex Orphans have not visited the Junior Keeper Dependent elephants either at the Stockades to share their supplement breakfast handout, or meeting up with them out in the bush. Interestingly it would seem that Ex Orphans Icholta and Mweya have been detailed to keep in closer touch with the Keeper Dependent Juniors, frequently turning up at the Stockades well ahead of all the others. They always pay special attention to weakling “Panda” who has been suffering from an abscess on one back leg, and who has not been sufficiently strong to be able to accompany the others out to browse. Instead, she is happy to remain close to the Stockades, the Voi Unit’s orphaned zebra, “Lualeni” her constant companion. Panda is clever, ensuring that she is sheltered from rambunctious orphan boys at milk feeding times by positioning herself behind the Keepers, where she also enjoys her ration of supplements uninterrupted. Wasessa, who shares the Matriarchal duties with Lesanju, and is the biggest Big female of the group, especially becomes selfish over the supplements, tolerating only her favourite calf, Emsaya, around her at such times.

Several heavy rainstorms turned the barren landscape around the Voi Stockades green again, so it has been a happy and interesting month for the Voi Unit’s Orphans, who head out each morning swinging their trunks with happiness, with food and water again plentiful. It has also enjoyed an action packed month with plenty of interaction with both the Ex Orphans now living wild, as well as other wild elephant herds who have moved into the area in response to rain. Seldom a day has past that the Ex Orphans have not visited the Junior Keeper Dependent elephants either at the Stockades to share their supplement breakfast handout, or meeting up with them out in the bush. Interestingly it would seem that Ex Orphans Icholta and Mweya have been detailed to keep in closer touch with the Keeper Dependent Juniors, frequently turning up at the Stockades well ahead of all the others. They always pay special attention to weakling “Panda” who has been suffering from an abscess on one back leg, and who has not been sufficiently strong to be able to accompany the others out to browse. Instead, she is happy to remain close to the Stockades, the Voi Unit’s orphaned zebra, “Lualeni” her constant companion. Panda is clever, ensuring that she is sheltered from rambunctious orphan boys at milk feeding times by positioning herself behind the Keepers, where she also enjoys her ration of supplements uninterrupted. Wasessa, who shares the Matriarchal duties with Lesanju, and is the biggest Big female of the group, especially becomes selfish over the supplements, tolerating only her favourite calf, Emsaya, around her at such times.

Among Emily’s Ex Orphan herd turned up on the 2nd , among them Ex Orphan Ndara, now with only a slight limp after following her poisoned arrow ordeal which left her so lame and Stockade bound for many months. She has now been able to rejoin Emily’s main unit, and whenever around makes a huge fuss of the Youngsters, who aided her recovery through visiting her every day on their way out to browse during the time she was Stockade bound due to her injuries.

Icholta was accompanied by Thoma and Seraa on the 5th when she turned up early at the Stockades to escort the Juniors out to browse, the three Ex Orphans paying special attention to Panda. On the way out that day they linked up with Ndara and Tsavo before meeting Emily. Ndara treated little Dabassa to a trunk kiss.
On the 8th Emily’s main Ex Orphan group came to the Stockades after the Juniors had already left, and it was Icholta and Thoma who awaited their arrival in order to lead them to the Juniors who were at Mazinga Hill browsing. The Ex Orphans browsed alongside the Juniors until noon when it was time for the Juniors’ milk and mudbath. Emily’s unit then left them, heading towards the pipeline road. But they were at the Stockades early on the l0th to share the Juniors breakfast handout, and again on the 11th , but after the Youngsters had already moved off. Mweya undertook a search for Panda who was elsewhere feeding alongside her zebra companion, before the Ex Orphans left the Stockades to join the Juniors in the bush. There Sweet Sally made a great fuss of Taveta, who was tempted to join the Senior set when they separated, but after accompanying them for a short distance, obviously he thought about his milk, and decided to return!

During the Ex Orphans’ Stockade visit on the 12th, “Eve” (Emily’s wild-born baby) positioned herself actually in the Stockade water trough (in which she accidentally fell as a newborn one day old). She remained there even after her mother and the main group began to move off, but Nannies Mvita and Sally were left on standby to escort the baby back to her mother. New Ex Orphan mothers have demonstrated that they implicitly entrust the care of their precious babies to the Nannies, to the extent that they even appear uncaring of them!

On the 13th it was Mweya who came to early to check on the Junior group ahead of the others. The Juniors rushed to welcome her with joyous trumpets and rumbles and Mweya remained at the Stockades after Lesanju had taken the Juniors off to browse, awaiting the appearance of Emily’s main group who were obviously on the way. Meanwhile the Juniors joined up with a herd of wild elephants, Tassia choosing a wild age-mate with whom to wrestle. This soon involved all the young, both wild and orphaned, who rushed around happily, chasing one another with outspread ears and happy trumpets which attracted another wild unit, who also joined in the fun. (The Keepers were half way up Mazinga hill monitoring events, something that has happened frequently throughout the month with so many wild herds in the area, and the presence of wild friends in amongst the Ex Orphan herd. That said, all the orphans, including those now living wild know the exact whereabouts of the Keepers at all times, Emily’s Ex Orphans coming to pay them a special visit at their vantage point just to say “jambo”!

Shimba is an independent and very laid back character who is never in a hurry and often prefers to separate himself from the others, returning late in the evening after all the others have returned, or else heading off ahead of the others to enjoy a wallow. However, that changed when the Juniors encountered a bull buffalo at close quarters in the bush, and took instant flight. It was Shimba who headed the panicked mass retreat, hot on the heels of fleet little Emsaya who out-ran everyone, with Wasessa, who is usually the Orphans’ “Bouncer”, not far behind her! The Keepers were astonished by the pace Shimba managed to generate as they fled back to the human family for protection!

The 14th brought Thoma as the advance guard to check on the Juniors ahead of the Ex Orphans’ arrival at the Stockades later. All lined up outside the food store begging for a hand-out, Laikipia pleading by lifting his trunk skywards in a gesture of supplication while babies Eve and Ella played charging games that targeted the Keepers. Morani and Lolokwe enjoyed a wrestling match that day. Meanwhile Lesanju had managed to round up her group and climbed up Mazinga hill where the group split, Lesanju taking an easterly direction with 5 hangers-on and Lempaute and Wasessa going west with the rest of the herd. Wasessa’s group encountered a large wild bull during their travels, who appeared to enjoy the company of the Junior boys, while Lempaute and Wasessa, unsure of his intentions, were careful to give him a wide berth! When he began head butting the Junior boys too hard, the Keepers moved in to send him on his way, afraid that he might injure one of them.

On the 16th Icholta and Mweya were again early birds at the Stockades, accompanied this time by Laikipia, Lolokwe and Morani. Lesanju, eager to get her group before it turned too hot to climb the hill, rounded them up and left. The Juniors split into two groups, Lempaute Kenia and Ndii remaining at the base of the hill with four other members of their unit while Lesanju took the others to the top to browse. The 19th turned into another such day when the herd split at the hill, Wasessa taking nine down the eastern side of Mazinga hill to browse the grassy plains beyond on that side, while Lesanju remained up the hill with the rest. Shimba was absent, having decided to do his own thing nearer home.

That day Wasessa’s group met up with many wild herds, and enjoyed wallowing with them in natural waterholes, the Youngsters with her having to miss out on their normal noon milk feed. Nevertheless, they obviously had a good time because it was only reluctantly that they returned when the Keepers called them back in the late evening.

Having skipped a couple of days, the Ex Orphans enjoyed a noisy and enthusiastic Stockade welcome when they returned again on the 21st , rumbles and trumpets filling the air as the two groups met. The Ex Orphans embarked on a stroll down memory lane, inspecting their erstwhile Stockades carefully, and checking out the new Taming Extension. Later, led by Emily, all left together as one large herd, Emily taking the Juniors to meet a wild herd amongst whom was a large Bull. Laikipia was reluctant to mix with him, so he remained apart, accompanied by Icholta who kept him company. When the Ex Orphans separated from their wild friends, Laikipia and Icholta rejoined them. The Juniors thoroughly enjoyed such a long outing with the Senior Ex Orphans having been with them all day.

The next day Wasessa took over the leadership role from Lesanju and met up with Emily’s unit at the hill. That day Shimba was first at the large waterhole, sitting happily in the middle when the others turned up later. The following day the Juniors decided to browse around the Big waterhole where they found Emily’s unit already there. All enjoyed popping into the waterhole throughout the day to cool off until the evening when the Juniors returned to the Stockades, and the Ex Orphans headed towards the Voi river.

On Christmas Eve, as Lesanju led her group out to browse, Emily’s Unit spotted them and began walking towards them from a distance away. Icholta ran ahead to greet the Youngsters first, signaling Emily with outspread ears to remain where she was, because Icholta intended to bring the Juniors to her. This she did. All browsed again as one large unit until 11 a.m. when the Ex Orphans, (who know the Junior routine well), escorted the Juniors to their milk rendez-vous and left Icholta with them. Icholta then took them back to rejoin Emily’s unit who were feeding in the bush nearby and at 2 p.m. she returned the Juniors to the custody of their Keepers before returning to join the main Ex Orphaned herd out in the bush for the night.

But Icholta was back at the Stockades first on Christmas Day, soon followed by Mweya and then the rest of the Ex Orphaned herd. Sweet Sally invited one of the Juniors to join her in a rolling game, but Lesanju was anxious to head back out to browse, leaving the Keepers to enjoy a leisurely breakfast of Chipatis and tea. The Ex Orphans lingered around them, little Eve and Ella having fun chasing the monkeys around the compound. Mweya was detailed to oversee the two playful babies as the rest of the herd began to move off. Later the Keepers met up with the Juniors up Mazinga hill, where the elephants were browsing in three separated groups.

On the 30th, when the Juniors went to join a wild herd, they were warned off by the wild Matriarch, who faced Lesanju with her head up and outspread ears. Reading the body language, Lesanju instantly did a U-turn, and returned to Mazinga hill where they met up with Emily’s Ex Orphans again. Icholta did the rounds of all the Youngsters, caressing each in turn, after which the two groups spent the entire day together until the late evening when it was time for the Juniors to return to the Stockades.

The next day passed without an Ex Orphan visit, but Lempaute became unpopular with the Keepers for rolling in the handout of Copra cake. Complaining loudly at being sent away, her bellows fell on deaf ears, even those of her best friend, Lesanju, who understood the reason for her expulsion, but as the Juniors headed out to browse, Lempaute was reabsorbed back into the herd, all forgiven and forgotten! So ended 2012, mercifully with all our Voi Unit Orphans still intact despite the horrendous poaching that has been taking place throughout the year and which has taken such a heavy toll of their wild peers.

December 2012 day to day

01 Dec

Recent rains have been a blessing for the Voi Orphans, greening the vegetation so that browse is abundant again. Therefore the orphans were in no hurry to leave the Stockades this morning, indulging in scratching and Compound Games. Having reached the foot of Mazinga hill, Mzima gave a good display of how best to scratch an elephant body, while Emsaya took advantage of being Wasessa’s favourite, now that Panda remains closer to home, a boil having developed on one of her hind legs. Panda is a fragile member of the herd. The mudbath took place at the big Red Waterhole in the main Park where Shimba and Taveta put on a fine wallowing display. Later they browsed close by until Dabassa led the group back to the Stockades in the late evening.

Mzima with Julius

Wasessa left and Emsaya

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