Keepers' Diaries, February 2019

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Voi Reintegration Unit

This month, with soaring temperatures and pregnant skies, it felt like the rain was close, and on some days temperatures reached 36 degrees. Given the hot and dry weather the wildlife have been congregating around their permanent sources of water, with the wild elephants visiting the stockade water troughs as well as the waterhole beside the Baobab tree where the orphans have their noon milk bottles and frolicking sessions to cool down in the heat of the day. 

Araba and Bada have been acting like a couple of fish in the mud bath, savouring their times submerged and cooling down. Fortunately, some rain finally broke this month, enough to settle the dust and refresh the southern sector of the Park. This is really unusual for February, but never the less most welcomed. The rainy season is expected to begin around the end of March, with April/May usually the beautifully green months in Tsavo.

The orphans were so excited to socialize with the wild herds around the mud bath that they were not always on their best behaviour. Their favourite thing is to play with the younger members of the wild herds, but the babies are usually closely guarded by their mothers and protective older siblings. Arruba, Naipoki and Embu were especially eager to play with their wild age-mates, but never managed to get too close and their overzealous ways sometimes ended up scaring the wild herd away.

By far the most exciting news this month occurred on the 8th, when nine year old Mbirikani, who walked off together with Ajali and a wild elephant herd nearly one year ago, turned up at the stockade compound in the early evening and rumbled a greeting to the dependent orphans. The Keepers were astonished to see her, looking in fabulous condition. She remained in the stockade compound the entire night, and joined the dependent orphans in the morning as they had their Lucerne supplements. We have written an update about her return which you can read here, but we expect that the wild herd she wandered off with that momentous day in May last year, returned to the area, and Mbirikani, recognizing the area immediately, left them and walked straight to her old home and family. 

Mbirikani originally came to us with a ghastly snare that cut to the bone of her front foot, and her road to full recovery was a long one, all of which adds to how special it was to see her back, having been away for so long.  Ajali, an older elephant we treated and rehabilitated after he was hit by a vehicle in 2016, also turned up a couple of days later, but remained distant from the orphans. Mbirikani has stayed for the rest of the month, joining the orphans during the day to browse, but choosing to stay outside of the stockades at night, free to decide her own parameters and how she chooses to join her old family.  

Obviously poor Kenia’s trunk has been put slightly out of joint with Mbirikani’s return, as she is the matriarch of the dependent herd and doesn’t like any threat to this status from any other older females. But Mbirikani persisted and enjoyed being around her old family herd. Mbegu, Godoma and Ndotto took turns touching and greeting Mbirikani when she first arrived, a new friend in the herd that they were just getting to know, as Mbirikani left in early May before they arrived from the Nairobi Nursery. Murit remained slightly more cautious of her for a few days, not overly familiar with this strange older girl who wanted to get to know them all!

Ndotto has been up to his usual tricks, trying to beg the Keepers for extra milk bottles once the feeding is over, and even searching the vehicle carrying their noon bottles to see if he might be able to sneak another. Ishaq-B has remained close to Ndotto and the others in Mbegu’s herd who arrived from the Nursery together, as she wants to lead this little group herself. Mbegu is not likely to ever allow that to happen however.

The orphans have been very playful in the morning after their milk bottles, messing around in the stockade compound and using the terrace to spice up their games by using different levels to combat each other in their pushing games. Murit and Ndotto started a pushing game to settle an unknown score but it quickly escalated into more of a fight. Lasayen had to intervene to put a stop to it and sent the boys off in different directions. Another morning a disagreement broke out between Ndii and Panda over who should look after baby Tahri. It resulted in Ndii grabbing Panda’s tail and biting down on it. Panda yelled out, startling the orphans who started running around the stockade in a panic until the Keepers calmed them down. In the mornings we enjoy watching Tundani, who is skilful at pulling green branches from the opposite side of the fence, cleverly avoiding touching the electric fence line while doing so. Naipoki, curious about what Tundani was up to, walked up to him one day to closely watch his methods so that she could do the same another day.   

On the 11th, the stockade Keepers together with the Sobo de-snaring team were called from the KWS Unit at Ziwani to come and rescue a baby kudu, which was later airlifted to the SWT HQ in Kaluku. They also received a call from the Lualeni Sanctuary to come and collect an orphaned baby buffalo, which they duly rescued. The orphan buffalo was brought here to the Voi stockades and has been called Mwanda. The little buffalo is doing well, but our other stockade-raised buffalo Ol-tukai has become jealous of any stranger trying to come close to his best friend Tawi the eland however, and has threatened to attack Mwanda on a few occasions. The Keepers are always watching his behaviour closely, and keep Ol-tukai away from the new arrival Mwanda if necessary.

Sadly on the 16th, a female elephant calf with a serious front leg injury was rescued by the Tsavo Veterinary Unit from Kulalu Ranch after she could not keep up with her herd. She was brought to the Voi stockades where she was treated by the SWT/KWS Mobile Veterinary Unit. Mbegu’s herd came to greet and reassure the new comer by rumbling quietly to her and touching her gently with their trunks.

Very sweetly, the next day Murit remained in the compound in order to keep the new arrival company. Lots of green grewia branches were brought for them to feed on while we waited for the team from Nairobi Nursery, where she would be taken so as to undergo further treatment on her heavily infected leg. Mbegu’s herd seemed to be aware that Murit stayed behind so they chose to browse nearby, and had their midday feed at the stockade water hole too. The orphan we called Saya and her prognosis remains guarded but she continues her treatment at the Nairobi Nursery.  

February 2019 day to day

01 Feb

It was a happy morning with the orphan elephants playing around the stockade compound after their milk and supplement feeding. Panda enjoyed a scratching session against a big rock, rubbing a large part of her body against it while Mbegu scratched against a smaller rock.  

On the way to the browsing field, Tundani pulled at some green branches from the opposite side of the fence, cleverly avoiding touching the electric fence line while doing so. Ngilai went and stood on a rock as if doing a head-count of the orphan herd as they passed him. He came down from his perch as soon as he saw Nelion approaching the rock, worried that he would try and push him off.   

The stockade dependent elephants settled to browse on the northern side of Msinga Hill.

Panda stayed lower than the rest, taking shelter under a tree from the scorching sun. She later followed her friends to the waterhole where she enjoyed a solo mud bath followed by a dust bath.  

A wild elephant herd visited the baobab tree water hole as the orphans were leaving. The orphans chose to continue in the direction they were headed to continue with their browsing activities, so they did not interact with the wild herd.

Panda scratching against a rock

Tundani getting greens

Wild elephants coming for a drink