Very evident in this month’s Voi Diary is the compassion and care extended to weakling Mweiga, who, during the past rainy season, seems to have had a relapse of her arthritic condition, her infirmity becoming much more pronounced. All the Voi orphans are now fully weaned off milk, but since Mweiga appeared to have rapidly lost condition, so she, alone now enjoys supplementary feeding - boiled barley and water in her noon feed, and additional rations in the form of Oatmeal, Bran and Range Cubes in the morning and at night. Amazingly, all the other elephants understand completely, and stand beside her quietly as she enjoys these treats, never attempting to take any from her.
The orphans have enjoyed contact mainly with wild bulls this month. Two wild bulls were at the orphans’ mudbath on the 12th. Laikipia was wary about joining them, but out-going Salama waltzed up to introduce himself, after which all the orphans were welcomed by them and enjoyed sharing the wallow with them at noon, where they had a great deal of fun. The wild bulls kept reaching out their trunks to reassure the youngsters from time to time and when they eventually decided to leave, Salama and Laikipia were tempted to go with them, but turned back later to rejoin their peers.
On the 16th, Joseph Sauni, who is in charge of the Voi Unit, undertook a recce to see what Emily’s unit was up to. He found them feeding in a beautiful area on the Southern side of Mazinga Hill, which was filled with lush green vegetation and rainfilled pools, one of which had 2 buffaloes lying in it. With Emily’s group was a large wild Bull “boyfriend” who was paying particular attention to Aitong, and who was quite happy to share Aitong with her favourite calf, Sweet Sally. He was keeping very close to Aitong and Sally and Joseph was sure that mating either had, or was about to take place. Wisely keeping a discrete distance away from the big “Boyfriend” was Uaso. As it was late evening, Sauni had to leave the group, but is pretty sure that the Bull was wooing Aitong.
The 17th February was a Milestone in the lives of the Voi Orphans. Daphne Sheldrick instructed the Keepers to leave the Gate of the older orphans’ Stockade ajar, so that they could come and go at will and relieve the necessity to hand-cut so much vegetation for their Night fodder. Since then, the 13 older orphans have been leaving their Night Stockades as a group to feed throughout the night up Mazinga Hill, or at the back of the Stockades, returning in the morning to take a drink at the Stockade trough and collect the youngsters (namely Morani, Burra, Seraa, Mpala, Mweya, Thoma and Solango) who remain incarcerated at night along with Mweiga, who is not strong enough to be out and about with the others. It is very interesting that the Voi Unit remains as a “family”, the older elephants still very concerned about their younger peers, never failing to turn up and gather them up in the mornings. On one occasion, however (27th), Uaso escorted the older set out for the night, and took them down to feed in the main Park in the early hours of the morning. However, Emily and her unit turned up in the morning to round up the youngsters, and escorted them to the feeding grounds, where they were joined by Uaso and the 13 older orphans at 9 a.m. amidst the great joy, trumpeting, urinating and general happiness that greets each and every reunion. We find this extremely touching. Emily and her group came again the next day, and spent most of the day with the orphans, taking Ilingwezi off with them when they left. (Ilingwezi has been with the Still Dependent group again for almost a month, slotting in again like a veteran after having been part of Emily’s wild group for several months).
On the 18th, the orphans’ made contact with 2 large wild cow elephants, a teenaged calf and a small baby. Lolokwe and Solango did their best to entice the little calf away from its mother, but the mother was having none of it, so Natumi ushered the orphans away to the waterhole instead where 7 lions were waiting in ambush for smaller prey. Fortunately, they took to their heels when they saw the orphans and their Keepers approaching.
On the 19th, Serena (the little zebra foal) decided to accompany the elephants and their Keepers out into the bush, following behind the men. Eventually, she found herself in amongst the elephant group, when Icholta, Natumi, Ilingwezi and Laikipia decided that she did not “belong” and chased her back home to the Stockades!
On the 20th, the orphans were joined by a large wild bull who was in a great deal of pain, suffering from a suppurating spear wound in his side. When the wild bull saw the Keepers, recognizing “the enemy” who had inflicted the wound, ran off. The Mobile Veterinary Unit was summonsed, and having managed to track and catch up with the wounded bull, he was immobilized so that his wounds could be treated, before being woken up again following a long-acting antibiotic injection to aid healing. We trust that he will recover.
Salama who is both brave and outgoing, thought nothing of driving two recalcitrant old buffalo bulls out of the Orphans’ mudwallow, ignoring the threatening toss of their headsir threats. Having expelled them, the orphans were able to have the wallow to themselves. They again enjoyed the company of a large wild bull on the Northern side of Mazinga Hill, who basked in the hero-worship of the entire orphaned group, allowing them to touch his body with their trunks. They spent the morning with him, but left him for the mudwallow at 11 a.m. before returning to try and make contact again, only to find he had moved on. On the 24th the orphans again enjoyed a prolonged session with another very large wild tusker, who spend the morning with them and accompanied them to the mudbath where he lay down so that the babies could climb all over him. After sharing a dustbath with them, he then left, Salama and Laikipia again tempted to go with him but again turning back.
On the 27th, Uaso turned up at 7 p.m. in the evening to escort the 13 older elephants out and up the hill for the night. He then took them off to the feeding area in the main Park so on this occasion they did not come to the Stockade at dawn. However, Emily’s group came instead and took the younger orphans off to feed where they were joined by Uaso and their 13 peers at 9 a.m. amidst the usual ecstatic trumpeting, urinating, and rumbling that is part of each and every reunion. Emily’s group remained with the orphans, along with Uaso, throughout the day, after which Ilingwezi decided to rejoin Emily’s Unit, instead of returning to the Stockades with the others, having spent almost an entire month as part of the Still Dependent set again.
On the 28th, after the 13 older orphans had reappeared at the Stockades to join up with the youngsters, Emily, who had been feeding on the Eastern flank of the hill, again joined them again and spent most of the day with them. On this occasion Uaso kept Mweiga company at the back of the column as the group headed towards the mudbath and when Emily’s group left, heading for the Voi River in the evening, Loisaba was tempted to go along too, but returned to be with Ndara and Morani of whom she is very fond. It has been a very interesting, and happy February for the Voi Unit, with the Park still lush following phenomenal rains, something extremely unusual for this time of the year in Tsavo.