The happiness and joy with which the 23 Keeper dependent Voi orphans greet each morning, is always heart-warming to behold and is something clearly illustrated in the Diary, as is the fact that they are a very cohesive and happy “herd” of growing babies. Every early morning is greeted with anticipation and playful games around the Stockade, whilst the Keepers take their early morning tea. As usual, an important event of every day is who is going to be Leader of the group as they go out to the feeding fields, and this month many of the youngsters have been able to take a turn, whilst Natumi eagerly prompts the Keepers to “hurry up”!
Following the shortfall of the main November/December rains, yet again the search for green fodder, and enough fodder to fill elephant bellies, has dominated activities this month, and the orphans have again taken to climbing up Mazinga Hill behind the Night Stockades on many occasions. Even weakling Mweiga has managed to get half way up, always closely escorted and helped by her best friends, namely Sosian, Mweya, and sometimes Morani. At other times, many members of the group will remain at the base of the hill with her, but one thing is certain, Mweiga is never ever left unattended. The champion Climber, and proud of being so, is Mukwaju, eager always to lead the climb, and even scrambling over and around boulders to make sure he first at the top of the hill, which is, indeed, a steep climb.
Only once this month have the orphans met up with a wild group, and socialising was interrupted by the emergence of an old buffalo, who appeared from the bush unexpectedly, dispersing both the orphans and the wild elephants alike. This old buffalo then occupied the orphans’ mudbath, and refused to be deterred by Natumi’s threats, as she stood at the banks with outspread ears, tossing her trunk at the intruder. However, he took his time, and enjoyed having the mudbath to himself, until he wandered off, and only when he was out of view did the orphans pluck up sufficient courage for a token charge in the direction he had taken!
On the 8th, Emily came alone to the Stockade at 9.30 a.m. and then went to join the orphans out in the bush, where she made a determined attempt to “woo” Salama away from his friends, and persuade him to come with her. We are surprised that it was Salama that Emily targeted, because her two favourites, apart from Tsavo, were always Loisaba and Ndara. Salama was tempted, but having followed her for a short distance, had second thoughts, and returned to his orphaned friends. Towards the end of the month Emily was a daily visitor at the Stockades, always turning up alone, so the Keepers decided to escort her back to Aitong and the others, whom they had spotted feeding round the back of Mazinga Hill near the Pipeline road. Emily followed dutifully, although this was probably unnecessary, for I am quite sure she knew exactly where Aitong and the rest of her group were, but nevertheless there was the usual joyous welcome when she and the Keepers reached Aitong - much trumpeting, entwining of trunks and urinating which is always what takes place when loved ones are reunited. We can only speculate as to why Emily spends so much time going back and forth alone, one reason probably being that she would like to coax some of the still dependent orphans to join her unit, and secondly that she obviously has other wild friends with whom she likes to fraternise, not least the two Big handsome Bulls who were with her when she returned to the Stockades last month! She appeared again on the 26th and on the 28th to enjoy her ration of Copra at the Stockade.
Amongst growing, and very sensitive youngsters, there are always disagreements, and scores that need settling, many of which are illustrated in this Diary. Salama and Lolokwe had an altercation, as did Loisaba and Salama one night in the Stockade, which became serious and necessitated a night vigil by the Keepers to maintain peace on a confined space where no escape route was available. This disagreement extended into the following day, and was serious, because that evening Salama refused to share the Night Stockade with Loisaba, and instead insisted on going into another where he threw his weight around his younger peers. This again needed input from the Keepers. Then on the 4th Thoma and Seraa, who are usually good friends, had a disagreement, which was closely monitored by Natumi who warned them with “a hissing rumble”. Then Mweya accidentally knocked down Mvita as she rushed from the mudbath and Mvita wanted revenge, chasing Mweya around, but failing to punish her. However, Mweya was wise enough to keep her distance from Thoma, until Thoma had “cooled down”!
An interesting episode happened on the 5th, and this surely illustrates the fact that elephants possess the powers of fore-thought and planning. One morning, as a baboon troupe were coming down the hill towards the Staff Lines, Mvita and Loisaba deliberately waited quietly in a concealed ambush position, closely watching and waiting for the right moment to charge. However, one of the baboons sensed that something was up, and from the top of a rock, spotted the two ambushers. Detecting the trap, he gave the alarm call, and this sent the entire troupe into retreat, and as they turned to run, the two elephants charged out in hot pursuit. However, the tables were turned when during the melee a mother baboon inadvertently dropped her infant, and having screamed for help, the entire baboon troupe did an about turn to come to the rescue of the baby, which in turn halted the elephant charge! Interaction with other species during the month, apart from the old mudbath buffalo, involved a herd of impalas who shared the orphans’ water bins at the mudbath, and amongst whom the orphans often feed peacefully.
On the 25th, the Keepers joined the Mtito De-Snaring team to try and retrieve a sub adult buffalo from a very deep well on Martin Forster’s land near the Trust’s Saa Nane House, a feat no-one thought would be possible. However, using ropes, they managed to save the buffalo from certain death, and although it was very exhausted and weak when it was finally pulled free, it managed to wander off to look for its herd. And on the 26th the Keepers were summonsed to collect an orphaned buffalo from the Eastern boundary, which they brought back to the Elephant Stockades, fed, and then handed over to Rob Dodson, (Manager of Rukinga Ranch) who has taken many of the Trust’s orphaned buffaloes and raised them successfully amongst his cattle.