Keepers' Diaries, February 2007

Voi Reintegration Unit

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.

01 February 2007

The orphans bounced out of their Night Stockades in style, greeting each other affectionately as though they had been separated for ages! They chose to feed at the lower slopes of Mazinga Hill today, moving to the mudbath at noon where Mweya lay down in some loose soil, closing her eyes as though asleep, until Mpala approached to climb onto her. Later they fed close to the big waterhole for the rest of the day until it was time to return.

02 February 2007

The orphans introduced a host of new games when they left the Stockade today, until, with deep signals coupled with trunk gestures, the exodus was marked. Today, the orphans went up Mazinga Hill, leaving Mweiga at the base of the hill, with Morani to keep her company. At noon, they descended hastily and taking Mweiga with them, moved to the Big Waterhole where they all plunged into the muddy water, submerging themselves and trumpeting with happiness. Mweiga hid behind a barrier of green acacias to ensure feeding privacy and from being barged into by the exuberant youngsters. They returned to the foot of Mazinga Hill to feed for the rest of the day, keeping Mweiga company at the base.

03 February 2007

After a brief playing period at the Stockade, the orphans headed for the base of Mazinga Hill again, where they fed along with Mweiga before heading towards the noon mudbath. En route they found a puddle, in which they splashed and rolled before reaching the mudbath. They wandered back to the Stockades in the evening, feeding as they went, and slept soundly, filling the night air with their snoring.

04 February 2007

There were games of Hide and Seek at the Stockades this morning before Ilingwezi trumpeted the go-ahead to leave, leading the group to the feeding grounds. They had a lot of fun in the mudbath, after which they dug up soil with their small tusks, and ingested it, obviously enjoying the minerals within. Finally, they did some serious feeding on the way back to the Stockades for the night.

05 February 2007

The orphans moved to the feeding area at a leisurely pace today so that Mweiga could keep pace with them. Again, they all enjoyed the mudbath, and all fed seriously. Mweiga got a leg tangled in some Creepers and fell down, so the Keepers and some of the elephants rushed to assist her to get up. After that, all the orphans kept her company as they made their way slowly back to the Stockades.

06 February 2007

The usual games took place at the Stockades in the morning. Vita picked a long branch with a flower on it, and ran hither and thither shaking it. Icholta remained with Mweiga, but when the others headed towards the Northern side of Mazinga Hill, she rushed to join them, leaving the Keepers with Mweiga. At the noon mudbath, Natumi (who has never been a water baby) stood on the edge and splashed herself with water while Loisaba and Ndara gave Morani a helping shove to ensure that he got in, Loisaba behind him, and Ndara pulling from the front. Later Seraa and Mweya enjoyed a dust-bath while Burra challenged Mpala to a test of strength. Lolokwe enjoyed a game by himself rolling in a trench.

07 February 2007

The orphans fed on the lower slopes of Mazinga Hill until the temperature drove them to the waterhole. Ilingwezi and Nyiro had a wonderful rolling game in the water, after which Ilingwezi enjoyed a warm dustbath, and returned to encourage Nyiro to join her, but he refused, instead striking the water with his trunk to make a huge splash. Later Nyiro joined Seraa and Mweya at the dustbath, which annoyed Ilingwezi, who shook her head in irritation, and left them to it. Lolokwe challenged Salama to a test of strength, and Sosian rolled around in the dustbath, covering his big belly with soil. They fed close to the waterhole for the rest of the day before returning for the night.

08 February 2007

The orphans sent up Mazinga Hill to feed, leaving Mweya at the base with Mweiga, joining up with the others when they came down to go to the mudbath. Again Natumi sprayed herself with water. Loisaba and Ndara were kept busy preventing Laikipia and Mvita from trying to mount onto Morani as he lay in the water. They used both their foreheads and buttocks to ward off the two whilst Burra and Lolokwe were interested spectators from the sidelines. They then went in striking the water with their trunks, which assisted the two girls. Icholta and Lolokwe later struggled to get out of a deep depression where they were soil dusting. Later Irima went into the trench for a soil bath, and also struggled to get out.

09 February 2007

Today, the orphans went half way up the hill to feed, taking Mweiga long with them. On the way to the noon mudbath, a lone waterbuck dashed by, startling the group, who joined forces to deal with the intruder, but the waterbuck was long gone! During the mudbath, Mweiga went into the water, but remained standing. Loisaba and Ndara remained to assist little Morani, who is always the last to come out, enjoying their attention. On the way back in the evening Salama took a bunch of leaves and put it on his head “crowning himself as the Warrior of the day”!

10 February 2007

It was a cool morning, so the orphans warmed up indulging in their usual Stockade games. Salama, who enjoys the privilege of being the strongest, opted out of a contest with the single tusked Mvita during a wrestling match when her tusk penetrated the skin around his mouth. He withdrew rapidly, heading for Natumi in order to circumvent a follow up encounter! The orphans again went up the hill, and today it was Mukwaju who kept Mweya company at the base, which surprised the Keepers, since Mukwaju loves mountaineering! Since the others delayed coming down, he escorted Mweiga to the mudbath where they were joined by the others, led by Burra, l0 minutes later. Loisaba and Ndara took their usual role of guarding Morani as he romped in the water. They fed around the waterhole for the remainder of the day and headed home in the evening.

11 February 2007

It was a warm day, as the orphans fed on the Northern side of the hill. Mweiga accompanied them, but looked exhausted when the orphans finally arrived at this distant feeding place. They enjoyed the many waterholes they found on the way before beginning to head back home at 3 p.m.

12 February 2007

After feeding on the Eastern slopes of Mazinga this morning, Laikipia led the orphans to the mudbath where they found 2 wild bulls who were still hanging around, having also enjoyed a mudbath. Laikipia was cautious about making initial contact, so Salama strode forward and joined them and after some reassuring gestures from the strangers, they teamed up with all the orphans and went back into the mudbath with them. Salama went further by trying to engage one of the strangers at close quarters, but was restrained by the effortless touch of a trunk. The two bulls then showed off by playing mischievously around the orphans and when they decided to leave after about half an hour, both Laikipia and Salama were tempted to go with them but eventually turned back.

13 February 2007

A small family unit passed by the orphans who were feeding half way up Mazinga Hill. There were 3 wild cows accompanied by 2 teenaged cows, both of whom had a baby. However, the wild group was heading towards a waterhole, and didn’t pause long.

14 February 2007

Valentine’s Day, and it was as though the orphans knew it, because they were very playful at the Stockades before leaving, showing unusually demonstrative affection towards one another, as though aware that this was a day for emotional involvement! They then headed out to feed at the lower slopes of the hill, keeping pace with Mweiga. The noon mudbath was characterized by the usual games, Mweya and Irima sitting on the banks tossing their trunks skywards. Salama mounted Mweya, a long time friend of his, while Loisaba sheltered Morani between her forelegs as he took a bath. Later they returned to the foot of Mazinga Hill to feed.

15 February 2007

The orphans fed seriously this morning until it was time for the mudbath where the bulls engaged in their usual test of strength. Ndara stood guard over Morani in the mudbath today, pushing away Solango, who tried to play with Morani. Loisaba then joined Ndara in guard duty, and Mvita tried unsuccessfully to join them. All enjoyed a leisurely afternoon feed, returning late to the Stockade for the night.

16 February 2007

During a routine patrol to monitor Emily and her group, we found them on the Southern side of Mazinga Hill in the company of a big wild bull. The area was paradise for them – plenty of lush green vegetation plus natural waterholes holding water, one of which was occupied by 2 buffalo enjoying a wallow. The wild bull was particularly interested in Aitong, keeping very close to her and following every step she made. He was very calm, allowing the close proximity of little Sweet Sally (Aitong’s favourite). We did not witness mating, but the attention of the wild bull was so pronounced that we were sure he had that in mind. Uaso was also present, but keeping his distance, although the wild bull did not show any aggression towards him whilst we were there. We will endeavour to monitor Emily’s group further, now that we know where they currently are.

17 February 2007

Another lovely morning as the orphans began another day. Mukwaju led the other elephants high up Mazinga Hill, leaving Edie and Mweya to remain at the base with Mweiga in order to keep her company. They came down for a wonderful wallow at noon when Mpala, who is now big and strong, took on Lolokwe in a trial of strength. Today the doors to the Night Stockades were left open and at 8 p.m. Mukwaju and Sosian led some of the orphans back to Mazinga Hill to browse. Morani, Burra, Seraa, Mpala, Mweya, Thoma and Solango decided to remain inside to keep Mweiga company for the night.

18 February 2007

All went well during the night out for those orphans who went up the hill. They regrouped at the Stockade waterhole in the morning to drink and share their experience with the youngsters. Upon reaching the Eastern side of the hill, we came across 7 lions ambushing the orphans’ old waterhole, hoping to catch smaller game. They ran off when their saw the elephants and their Keepers approaching. A wild herd comprised of 2 large cows, a teenaged calf and a tiny baby joined the orphans later. Solango and Lolokwe did their best to entice the wild calf from its mother, but the mother was having none of it! Natumi then took the orphans away from the wild group towards the waterhole, after which the wild group rested peacefully under shade, and our orphans browsed close to the waterhole.

19 February 2007

It was a happy day for Serena, the baby zebra, who decided to join the orphaned elephants out into the bush, following behind the Keepers. Soon Serena was in amongst the orphaned Elephants, when Icholta, Natumi, Ilingwezi and Laikipia decided that she did not belong, and chased her back home to the Stockade. She took shelter behind the electric fence, so the elephants returned to join their peers. Uaso turned up to join them all at the mudbath, and Laikipia and Salama were tempted to go off with him, but turned back in the end.

20 February 2007

A big wild bull suffering from a spear would joined the orphans in the morning on the northern side of Mazinga Hill. He was in great pain, and at first the orphans were fearful of him, until Lolokwe and Burra advanced to greet him. However as soon as the bull spotted the Keepers, he fled. We called the Mobile Veterinary Unit, who came and tracked the wounded bull until contact was made, when the Bull was immobilized and treated.

21 February 2007

Two old buffalo were sitting comfortably in the orphans’ waterhole at noon, and were in no mood to vacate it until Salama waded in to confront them. The two buffalo tossed their horns at Salama, but he was not deterred, and successfully drove them out so that the orphans could enjoy a wonderful wallow. Salama and Laikipia became embroiled in a rolling game whilst Loisaba and Ndara stood guard over Morani, to protect him from the attentions of Nyiro, Edie and Lolokwe, who were trying to force their way between the two to engage Morani in a game. After a dustbath the orphans browsed close to the waterhole for the rest of the day.

22 February 2007

The orphans joined a wild bull on the Northern side of Mazinga Hill today. The wild Bull clearly enjoyed being hero worshipped by all the youngsters, occasionally stretching his trunk out to touch them softly and give them reassurance. The wild bull fed with the orphans for the entire morning, bujt remained behind when they became thirsty and hurried towards the waterhole at noon. They enjoyed a leisurely and protracted bathing session, and then returned to find their wild friend, but he had moved on, so they fed at the base of the hill for the rest of the day.

23 February 2007

Having spent the previous night up the hill, the orphans came down in the morning to take a drink at the Stockade and join up with the youngsters who had remained behind. They all then went out to the usual feeding grounds where Lolokwe engaged Nuiro in a test of strength. Solango managed to secure Morani for a pushing game, when Loisaba and Ndara were otherwise occupied. The orphans then fed on the lower slopes of the hill for the remainder of the day.

24 February 2007

A large wild bull with huge tusks joined the orphans at l0 a.m. He accompanied them to the noon mudbath and lay down in the water so that the youngsters could explore his huge body with their small trunks. The bull then enjoyed a dustbath along with the orphans before leaving, heading towards the Airstrip. Mukwaju and Sosian were tempted to go with him, but turned back to join their peers who were heading towards the foot of Mazinga Hill.

25 February 2007

The orphans enjoyed a game of Hide and Seek around the Stockades this morning before heading out to the feeding area. Salama engaged Natumi in a test of strength, which was unusual, because Natumi, as the Matriarch, usually chooses to remain apart from such antics. Salama was very excited, but disappointed when Laikipia moved in and took Natumi’s place. Eventually, the two combatants ran to join the others, who were about to enter the mudbath. The orphans remained to feed close to the waterhole, going back in whenever they felt like it.

26 February 2007

The younger orphans left the Stockade in the early morning and went to join the older ones who had fed up Mazinga Hill during the night. Mweya kept Mweiga company at the base of the hill, leaving the others to climb up. The orphans fed up the hill until 8 a.m. when they decided to come down for a drink at the Stockade before proceeding on their usual feeding tour. Many wild elephants could be seen approaching Mazinga Hill, but the orphans did not choose to make contact, being on another agenda.

27 February 2007

The orphans fed well throughout the day. At 7 p.m. Uaso turned up at the Stockade and took the older orphans up Mazinga Hill to feed. Later on during the night, he escorted them into the main Park to feed. In the early morning Emily’s group came to the Stockade and took Mweiga and the orphans who had chosen to remain in the Stockade for the night. She took them to her normal feeding grounds where they were joined by Uaso and the l3 orphans with him at 9 a.m. It was all trumpets and happiness when the two groups were reunited. They all fed together for the remainder of the day, and when the orphans returned to the Stockade in the late evening, Ilingwezi decided to remain with Emily’s group.

28 February 2007

The day began well with the 13 orphans who had spent the night out coming down the hill, accompanied by Uaso, to take the smaller ones and accompany them to the main Park to feed. They fed together until it was time for the noon mudbath when Uaso paced himself to keep Mweiga company at the back of the column. They all had a wonderful wallow joined by Emily’s group, who later left heading towards the Voi River. Loisaba went a short distance with Emily’s group, but turned back to be with Ndara and Morani, who had remained with the other orphans. Notes:- A Japanese Filming Company with Tekko Tours were in Tsavo for 8 days and were seen to be following Emily’s group very closely, driving off road, and disturbing the elephants by being far too close. The elephants threatened them several times as we watched. The behaviour of this group attracted other tour buses who turned up, likewise disturbing the group and exposing tourists to risk. The incident was reported to DSWT in Nairobi, who complained to Tekko Tours Nairobi Office and the KWS Tourism Warden at Voi. The crew were summonsed by KWS and reprimanded. (They had been seen off road driving elsewhere by another KWS Officer). Following Daphne Sheldrick’s directive to leave the Stockade doors open at night, all has gone well, with the older orphans leaving at their pleasure, usually heading up Mazinga Hill to feed. The Keepers felt it wise to leave Mweiga with the smaller orphans behind in the Stockade, since she is not sufficiently strong to climb the hill. Her health has improved with the additional supplements, even though her milk has been discontinued. Instead at noon she enjoys a bottle of boiled barley mixed with water.