Keepers' Diaries, December 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Love was in the air this month! As has become an annual tradition, many Voi ex-orphans circled back ‘home’ for the holidays — and two older females made quite an impression on visiting wild bulls. 

For several days, a wild bull was pursuing Panda. On 8th December, the pair mated. Then, later in the month, a different bull wooed Edie. Again, the Keepers witnessed their courtship unfold. We will have to wait 22 months to see if these unions result in new life! If they do, it would be Panda’s first baby and Edie’s fifth.

This was also a big month for Ndotto. Our gentle boy has started spending nights outside the stockades, linking up with the ex-orphans as the dependent herd heads back home. The Keepers respect the bull’s growing independence — and this is a poignant moment for all of us, as Ndotto has been in our care since he was a newborn.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Such is the case with Lemeki and Thamana’s friendship. One afternoon, easy-going Thamana was engaged in his usual pushing games with Emoli. But then, Lemeki strolled over and came between the two, reminding Thamana that she is his oldest friend. The young bull trunk touched his honorary big sister and followed her, leaving Emoli on his own. (To be honest, Thamana probably welcomed the interruption — if he had it his way, Emoli would play all day, but not everyone has his stamina!)

Later in the month, the Keepers witnessed Thamana rolling around in a shallow trench, his legs splayed in the air. Mbegu and Lemeki vigilantly stood guard, as if he was doing something very dangerous instead of just a little game. Later, Emoli would not leave Thamana alone and kept trying to entice him into a game. Eventually, the younger bull played his trump card, walking over to where Lemeki was loitering with the Keepers — he knew Emoli would not bother him there.

Like Emoli, eight-year-old Ngilai has an inexhaustible desire to play. One day, he was in a feisty mood and roved along the terraces looking for a playmate. He could not find Lasayen and Murit, two of his usual recruits, as they had already left the compound. However, Ngilai also enjoys relaxing. The Keepers were delighted to witness a sweet moment between Ngilai and Tamiyoi. The pair relaxed on a pile of loose earth, spraying each other with dust in a very lazy manner.

We relished all the time with our ex-orphans this month. Edie, Mweya, and their kids, along with ex-orphans Ndii, Tahri, Naipoki, Kenia, Panda, Arruba, and Mudanda reported back to the stockades most mornings this month. It is also fascinating to see how their family dynamics play out — they really operate as a team. One afternoon, Edie lay down for a nap after a busy night. Naipoki slipped into the role of nanny, keeping a close eye on Eco and Enzo. Edie slept soundly, knowing that her trusted friend would look after her babies. 

The Voi kids — Itinyi, Ushindi, Ashanti, Kenderi, Epiya, Juni, Hildana, Kilulu, Seri, Dabida, Baraka and Busara — are a bit wary of the ex-orphans. We think they are intimidated by their size! Towards the end of the month, they had become more comfortable in their company, although they still cluster around Mbegu, Godoma, Sagala, Tamiyoi, Tagwa, and Pika Pika for safety and protection.

The ex-orphans’ milk-dependent days are long behind them, but they can’t resist trying! One morning, Arruba and Tahri joined the milk queue, hoping that they might blend in with the younger orphans and be treated to a delicious bottle. When the Keepers whistled to them in warning, they about-turned (very reluctantly) and walked slowly to the feeding trough.

Later in the month, Suswa strolled over to the milk feeding area and lifted her trunk expectantly. Like Arruba and Tahri, she seemed to think the Keepers might forget that she has long been weaned off bottles!

Ashanti and Busara are still dependent on milk, but they are very greedy! In the mornings, they sprint out of their bedroom and down the path with tails aloft and ears flared. Should one beat the other, they start trumpeting in annoyance. Both Ashanti and Busara are usually finished with their bottles long before the others have even arrived for their breakfast. Rather than rest easy, they take the opportunity to pester the Keepers for an extra share. 

Pika Pika — once the baby of the Voi herd — is becoming a nanny in her own right. Busara, who is one of the youngest ‘Voi kids,’ is her special favourite. One morning, Pika Pika was fussing over Busara at the feeding trough. She positioned herself between Busara and Kenderi, creating a most effective barrier. Kenderi is known as quite a cheeky fellow, so perhaps she was hoping to avert opportunistic bullying on his part! 

With that said, Pika Pika is just six years old — young in elephant years — and still enjoys being babied. She is thrilled that Arruba, her original nanny who has since gone wild, has been spending so much time around Voi. On several occasions, the Keepers witnessed Pika Pika standing as close as possible to Arruba at the feeding trough, touching her older friend at every opportunity. 

Voi is known for its mud bath stars, but chilly days deter even our most passionate swimmers. One cloudy afternoon, not even Pika Pika was tempted to go into the pool. Ndotto and Lasayen splashed around on the edge, although they showed no interest in submerging themselves. But when it’s hot, it is impossible to get the orphans out of the mud bath! One searing day, Mbegu, Godoma, and Pika Pika reclined in the water until a Keeper whistled that it was time to get out. 

Our Voi family is eagerly anticipating its newest addition: Mudanda is heavily pregnant! We can’t definitively say when she will give birth, but given the size of her belly, the happy event can’t be far off. She has started spending the day with the dependent orphans rather than her own independent herd. This is a smart move on her part; Mudanda knows that the youngsters don’t travel as far, so she can conserve her energy while still enjoying the company of friends. 

On Christmas Eve, we were treated to the most marvellous gift. There was a heavy downpour during the night and it was still raining in the morning. The orphans awoke full of energy, jogging down the path with tails aloft in eager anticipation of milk, range cubes, and lucerne. After filling their bellies, they wandered deep into the bush, browsing on the abundance of delicious green foliage. 

December 2023 day to day

01 Dec

At first light, the orphans emerged from their shared bedrooms and gathered in the feeding area outside the stockades to fill their bellies and play with friends. As the sun rose in the sky, they headed out to browse on the slopes of Msinga Hill, ambling in the direction of the baobab tree mud wallow. The orphans spent the morning enjoying the abundance of fresh green browse on the hill before being sent down in small groups for their afternoon milk feed.

After drinking two bottles of milk each, they padded on to the mud wallow. Some rolled around on the muddy edge of the pool, digging into the ground with their small tusks, as others splashed in the water. Ngilai paddled on his own after completing a series of elephant stretches on his favourite patch near the baobab tree. Nearby, easy-going Thamana was engaged in another pushing game with Emoli. When Lemeki strolled over to remind him that she was his oldest friend, Thamana took advantage of the opportunity to bring the game to an end. Enjoying a brief respite from the older bull’s inexhaustible desire to play, Thamana trunk touched his honorary big sister and followed her, leaving Emoli on his own.

The herd browsed some more on their way back to the stockades in the late afternoon. As dusk fell, Itinyi and Kenderi (two of the Voi kids rescued last year) had a gentle sparring match between scooping up mouthfuls of grewia branches in their shared stockade. After dark, ex-orphans Ndii, Panda and Arruba walked silently up the path and settled down to drink from the water trough.

Mbegu with a mouthful of vegetation

Dabida left and Emoli browsing

Thamana right and Lemeki