Keepers Diaries, February 2018

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Voi Reintegration Unit

We were gifted with wonderful news early this month on the 9th of March when Ex Orphan Seraa came down the hill to the favourite midday mud bath site of the dependent orphans with a tiny little calf at her feet. The Keepers were overjoyed to meet their baby elephant grandchild number 29, a little baby bull. As the Voi keepers prepared the midday milk feed for the dependant orphans, they spotted this little dot trundling down the slopes toward them, Seraa by his side and the pair of them accompanied by the very attentive nannies, Ex Orphans Lesanju, Lempaute, Layoni, Dabassa, Sinya, Wasessa, and Ndara with her own wild born little boy Neptune.

Although it happens time and again, we are always extremely grateful and honoured every time that the Ex Orphan mothers choose to share their wild born babies with their human family, as this is such a privilege and sign of trust and love. There is no greater reward for the Keepers and the Sheldrick team who work so tirelessly to fight for every little life that passes through our doors. It is moments like these that are the ones we celebrate the most; nothing more than the birth of a wild born baby born to an elephant raised from infancy through our Nairobi Nursery, emphasizes the success of our 40 year project more. Seraa’s little baby was perfect but for a slightly crooked tail, we think just a day or two old when he was first shown to the Keepers. We have named this little guy Solar given that the whole time he was being formed in Seraa’s womb there was a brutal two year drought in the Southern area of Tsavo East.

From a very early age most young female elephants take a great interest in those younger than them, seeking every opportunity to dote and shower attention on them, and our orphans are no different. This behaviour begins in the Nursery, when those slightly older will make sure they care for the younger babies protecting them from harm, but it continues and now all the dependent females in the Voi unit are the same doing the same. Some females cherish little ones more than others however, and it is safe to say Kihari, Kenia and Ndii are our most devoted mothers, followed by Panda, Ishaq B and Mbirikani when they get the chance! The competition is primarily for Tahri’s and Araba’s attention, although it is quite well known amongst the group that Tahri is Ndii’s adopted baby, and Araba is usually with Kenia. It is very sweet to watch these intimate relationships develop, knowing these will last a lifetime. It is heart-warming to watch Ndii resting her trunk on Tahri’s back whilst they rest in complete peace, sometimes for hours at a time, content in that tactile touch.

Our big baby Ajali is the perfect example of how companionate our orphans are to one another as well. He arrived in our care at the adolescent age of 6 years old having been hit by a truck on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway requiring urgent treatment. At first Dr. Poghon was extremely guarded as to whether he would survive given how severe his injuries were with the rib cage on one side of his body completely broken. Our orphans were only too happy to accept him into the fold, as an established family member. Despite being so old it has been interesting to see Ajali has opted to remain with the orphans rather than disappearing with the wild herds, but he is becoming more independent recently. He has previously been whisked away with Pasaka and Nguvu, two other orphans that arrived in our care much older, but something drew Ajali and Nguvu back and more than likely it was the bonds he had formed with his orphaned friends at the Voi unit. Ajali is enjoying browsing independently and is no longer milk dependent. His friend Nguvu is still on milk so he remains torn, but whenever Ajali has the opportunity to mingle with wild herds he immerses himself within their company; as soon as he sees his own orphan herd walking away he rejoins them, so he is obviously not ready to leave them just yet!

It was a month full of reunions as big boy ex orphans Laikipia also came to join the orphans at mud bath one day. At first they the babies took-off out of the water in fright as the big bull approached them, but when they realized it was Laikipia they greeted him with extended trunks and great excitement. Towards the end of the month Layoni and Dabassa visited the stockade as well after a three week absence with Emily and Lesanju’s Ex Orphan herds. Sadly they did not meet up with the dependent orphans, but the Keepers were happy to see them nonetheless.

We were happy to see the weather finally start to turn this month. After months of hot and dry weather conditions at last the clouds have started to roll in. This provided ideal conditions for the orphans to browse, as on very hot days they are forced to break and seek shade beneath the trees. Until the rains come the orphans are still very protective over their water source and chase any other animal that seeks to share with them! There is certainly a hierarchy in the natural world and elephant’s being so highly revered stand close to the top. A herd of zebra were made to stand to the side of the waterhole one day by Embu and Tundani while the orphans proudly frolicked and enjoyed their bath, and on another occasion Kihari and Naipoki charged at a herd of buffalo who dared to intrude on their bath time. The buffalos had to wait patiently whilst the elephant orphans finished, and only then were they allowed to approach and drink in peace.

Elephants are also a skittish and it only takes the slightest movement to set them off into a full blown trumpeting stampede. One day our other orphans Ngulia the zebra, and Kore and Tawi ran down from their stables in an excited game of chase. This was enough to set the unsuspecting elephants off and they soon scattered in fright. Upon realizing it was just the other orphans they felt slightly embarrassed, and walked off into the bush to browse sheepishly. Oltukai, the baby buffalo, has been interacting with Ngulia, Kore and Tawi more this month. At first they were a little scared of him as he had initially greeted them very aggressively when he first arrived. These days they can all be spotted playing wonderful games of chase around the compound, and it seems Oltukai couldn’t be happier than within this band of mixed orphans which now comprise of a Zebra, a buffalo and two elands!

February 2018 day to day

It was a wonderful beginning of the day with the orphan elephants downing their morning milk bottle and settling to feed on copra cake blended with range cubes. There were some brief scratching games against the rock boulders before heading to the browsing fields. Mbirikani, Nguvu, Ajali and Nelion soon assumed leadership and took the others all the way to the peak of Msinga Hill for the morning browsing session. Here they enjoyed feeding on lovely vegetation before making their descent a few minutes before 11am for the milk feed and mud bath. Ajali, Nguvu and Mbirikani decided to remain browsing as the others went downhill. Arruba, Suswa, Ndoria, Rorogoi and Tahri came in the first milk feeding herd with Tahri being given an extra bottle of milk. Ndoria was jealous that Tahri got extra milk and started wanted to engage her in a fight. Tahri saw Ndoria coming and ran towards the keepers with Ndoria following. The keepers intervened and rescued Tahri who hid behind Ndii making sure to avoid any contact with Ndoria for the rest of the day.

Araba pacifying Ndii

Araba sliding around at mud bath

Mbirikani finds a scratching post

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