Keepers' Diaries, December 2020

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Just like our Ithumba Unit this month, our Voi location was abuzz with our ex-orphans and their wild born young. On the morning of the 12th we were heralded by Mweya and Edie’s ex-orphan herd who we had not seen since they left at the beginning of the year with our orphans Panda, Naipoki, Nguvu, Mbirikani, Bada and Lentili in tow. Nelion nearly left with them but instead chose to stay in the area with Mudanda, Mashariki and Tundani; unfortunately after an attack by a pride of lions Nelion met his fate and in August succumbed to his injuries. Our orphans continue to astound us, for later that morning the Keepers watched in astonishment as the ex-orphans walked off to where Nelion was buried and despite not being around at the time he died they went to the exact place, and pondered there awhile, paying their respects to a lost friend. There is so much we don’t understand about elephants but we do know they mourn their deceased loved ones, and on this day the Keepers watched this unfold.

We were so happy to see Mweya with her baby Mwitu, Edie with her three babies Eco, Ella, and Eden, as well as Mbirikani, Naipoki, Panda, Kihari, Nguvu and Lentili. Bada, who also left with them back in January, was not among the group, but we believe he has joined up with the rest of Emily’s ex-orphan herd who we have not seen so far this year. Tamiyoi was the first to approach the ex-orphans while Kenia seemed to be a little shy of them, despite Kihari doing her best to encourage her friend to interact with the older group. It appears that over this past year spent together, our orphans have become expert nannies to the babies Mwitu and Eco, particularly Naipoki and Panda. Tamiyoi, Sagala and little Godoma are always desperate to play with the babies and often try to get as close to Mwitu and Eco as they can, walking around and around the ex-orphans to get close, but they are often too well guarded. One morning Godoma managed to break through the tight knit group to get to Eco who was playing against a rock, but was quickly chased away by Nguvu. Godoma looked quite put-out but perked up when Panda invited her to come and play with Mwitu who was having fun on one of the stockade terraces. It is wonderful to watch how our orphans so successfully and effortlessly perform this dutiful role of ‘nanny’ to support ex-orphans Mweya and Edie, and how well they have acclimatized to life in the wild. 

Once they arrived back in the area, often the ex-orphans would be rumbling at the gate of the compound as soon as dawn broke, waiting to be let in for a drink and to share Lucerne pellets with the dependent orphans. Sometimes wild-born babies Mwitu and Eco inquisitively watched on as the milk-dependent orphans received their morning milk bottles from their Keepers, we can only assume with mild astonishment at this strange sight before them, before resolutely going to their mothers for some milk themselves. One morning towards the end of the month, the Keepers were delighted to spot another young baby in the group, slightly older than Eco and Mwitu, only to realize that it was baby Neptune, and that he and his mother Ndara had linked up with the rest of the ex-orphan herd during the night! It became routine that the ex-orphans would visit in the morning to have a drink and share Lucerne pellets before walking out to the bush with the dependent orphans, and then splitting up to go their own separate ways towards their own favourite browsing areas. 

Of course rather less-excited to see and mingle with the ex-orphans were Kenia, Ndii and Ishaq-B, who kept their distance away from the ex-orphans, and Ishaq-B made sure to keep Pika Pika away from the older group for fear of having the youngster spirited away by them. This was not without due cause, as while they were focused on keeping Pika Pika with them, the ex-orphans did manage to make off with little Tahri one day! They stayed with her all throughout the night as well, before safely escorting her back to the dependent Voi herd in the morning. Sometimes Kenia seemed in a hurry in the morning to lead her group out to the Park for the day, and sure enough no sooner had they all left then all the ex-orphans would arrive. Kenia is very keen to protect her herd and keep them altogether. Mbegu stuck close with Godoma and Emoli this month, while Tagwa stayed close to her friends Tamiyoi and Sagala.

It was a bountiful short rains we received in Tsavo this year and as a result the whole area has been restored to a deep shade of green and there are the orphans’ favourite creepers flourishing everywhere. On warm days the dependent orphans really enjoyed their mud wallow beside the baobab tree where they have their noon milk feed, and sometimes they enjoyed splashing about in other natural puddles formed out in the bush as well. We watched as Suswa and Godoma even opted to play with Ndoria in the mud bath one day, rolling and climbing all over the girl the orphans are notoriously more afraid of, due to her past tail-biting antics. 

The mud bath is a particular fun play-spot for the buffaloes Ivia and Cheza as well, when they are allowed access by the elephants of course. Mashariki attempted to block Ivia one day but he forced his way past her, sending her scurrying off out of the water. Pika Pika seems to have a particular aversion to the buffaloes and is always chasing them away from the water, and she knows that she will have the back-up support of Kenia and Ndii should she need it too. Mashariki and Suswa tried to engage buffalo Ivia in a sparring session one day, but he wasn’t interested and just walked away from them; it seems that the only elephant he likes to spar with is Ngilai! Ngilai’s other favourite sparring partner is also still of course Emoli, when he isn’t playing with his friend the buffalo. The zebras Diria and Nzuki are doing very well as well, even if Diria can sometimes be naughty with Nzuki and try and block him from getting his share of milk too.

December 2020 day to day

01 Dec

Today the Voi orphans concentrated on their milk and supplement feeding before following Tagwa and Tamiyoi out to the Park for the day. Today Ndii seemed to be in charge of all the youngsters with Mbegu sticking close to her side wanting to learn as much as possible from her. Ndotto as usual was walking side by side with his good friend Mbegu; the two having grown up in the Nairobi Nursery together.   

The Voi area has become beautifully green thanks to the recent rains, and this has meant the orphans really enjoying their browsing activities as they feed on green grass, leaves and creepers.  The day was spent browsing along the southern foot of Msinga Hill and they didn’t browse too far from the stockades today.  

Ndotto smelling the air

Tahri and Ndii

Ndoria and Godoma at the stockade terrace