Keepers' Diaries, February 2020

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Voi, like the rest of Tsavo, has seen better rain than has been recorded in fifty years. Despite it normally being so warm at this time of year, it is still verdant green; thigh high grass and ipomea creeper entangle every bush and shrub. For elephants this is a year like no other, and they are all as fat as ticks, both our orphans and the wild herds. This incredible bounty of vegetation has seen the wild herds and older ex-orphans disperse far and wide, resting the areas heavily used in the dry season so that they can recover. This has meant that ex-orphan interaction for our Voi dependent herd has been non-existent this month. 

The orphans’ favourite mud bath situated in the shade of a baobab and delonix tree, regularly topped up by our water bowser, attracts an abundance of wildlife including wild elephants, so there have been encounters with some passing wild herds, but the majority of Tsavo’s elephants is not hanging around Voi at this moment in time.  

In these favourable conditions, Kenia led Ndii, Tundani, Nelion, Ndoria and little Araba on explorations, seeking a little more independence of the Keepers and the stockades, but have been quick to spend their nights outside of the stockade compound still, and are not totally comfortable completely flying the nest just yet. Missing their dependent younger friends, they usually choose to spend the mornings browsing together with them. A visit to the mud bath to enjoy a dousing on the scorching hot days is usually on the cards. Little ones like Tahri are always so happy to see Kenia and the others, enjoying the chance to catch up with her, Ndii and Ishaq-B. The females still like looking after the youngsters, and perform tasks like digging at the loose soil with their tusks to make dusting areas or little mud baths. It is this attachment to the babies that is delaying Kenia, Ndii and Ishaq-B from venturing further away we think. They still show concern for the other younger orphans and like to watch over them. One day when lively Ndotto went and stood on top of a rock he was surrounded by fretting Suswa, Mudanda and Kenia who showed concern that he might fall, and it looked very much like they were pleading with him to come down.

Sometimes the bulls Tundani and Nelion leave the other independent females and arrive at the stockades to join the orphans early. If they arrive in the evening they always disappear back off into the Park when everyone has gone to sleep however. Mashariki is still not sure where she stands, and keeps flitting between Kenia’s independent herd and the dependent orphans. It seems for the time being she is actually happier to spend time with the stockade dependent orphans, and joins them in the morning by coming down from Msinga Hill, where she spends the night browsing, and is quick to join the orphans before they leave the stockade compound for their day in the bush. Sometimes Mashariki comes with Tundani or Ishaq-B as well. The independence for the older orphans is still very much being explored!

It is hard to believe that Mbegu and her little team which includes Ndotto, Murit, Ngilai and Godoma are all five years old now, and it was back in May 2018 that they were relocated to the Voi Reintegration Unit from the Nairobi Nursery. With the plentiful vegetation around they are looking in such good health and remain as fat as ticks, and the bulls Ndotto, Murit, Ngilai are as playful as ever, choosing to engage in pushing or wrestling games whenever they can. To see Ndotto playing as such a healthy five year old bearing in mind his desperate start to life is miraculous; considering everything he went through he certainly shouldn’t have made it at all. Found by Samburu herdsmen with his livestock still entangled in foetal matter, he never benefitted from his mother’s vital colostrum. His umbilical cord was still fresh, his ears still pink and his weak legs still learning how to walk, yet without his mother to guide him he merely followed what he thought was his family, too young to know any different. To this day Ndotto remains one of our most special elephants who beat all odds and it is a joy to see him grow into such a fine young bull.  

With the splintering of the older females from the dependent herd most of the time, little Pika Pika now keeps close to Arruba. She follows Arruba around and mimics her, watching her every move to learn as much as she can from her. Suswa is the oldest in the dependent herd at the moment, followed by Arruba, Embu, Rorogoi and Mudanda. It is a good thing that our bigger girls, Kenia, Ndii, Ishaq-B are out and about because the truth is they are now of breeding age, and it will soon be time for them to know the joy of their own wild born babies.  

February 2020 day to day

01 Feb

The stockade dependent orphans walked out of the stockades full of excitement and ready to begin the day. Tahri, Godoma and Emoli sprinted to the feeding area for their morning feed, arriving before Pika Pika and Sagala did.

Ngilai and Murit started a strength testing game in the stockade compound which lasted until Sagala and Emoli decided that it was time to head out for the day, with Suswa and Ndotto moving slowly and bringing up the rear.  

The orphans settled to browse at the foot of Msinga Hill where they enjoyed munching on the green leafy acacia shrubs. Arruba wanted to go further uphill but none of the others were interested in following her so she remained with the group until it was time for the noon milk feed. The orphans then headed to the baobab tree waterhole for a drink of water and to wallow. Godoma, Mbegu and Arruba were the first in and were rolling around and it was not long before Tahri and Emoli came to join in on the fun.  Murit enjoyed playing at the edge of the mud wallow. Godoma exited the water to join Sagala, Murit, Mbegu and Mudanda at the dust bath.  Rorogoi dug her own dust hole a few meters from the main dust pile for a solo dust bath and was joined by Tahri. When the dust bathing was over the orphans resumed their browsing activities.  

Rorogoi playing in the water

Ndotto playing

Ndii left, Kenia and Araba