Keepers' Diaries, February 2021

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Voi Reintegration Unit

The reintegration process unfolds differently for each orphan, as they all have their own histories, personalities, and life experiences to take into account. Since Nelion’s lion attack, Kenia’s older herd has chosen to return into the dependent fold and remains anchored to their Keepers. They weaned off milk long ago and spent much of last year exploring a wild life, but the loss of their friend clearly shook them.

We are glad they have chosen to rebuild their confidence closer to home, as the reintegration process is not one to be rushed. While they still return to the stockades each night, they have been embarking on little independent foraging missions during the day, which is a positive sign.

And so, with Kenia, Arruba, Suswa, Mashariki, Mudanda, Tundani, Ishaq-B, Ndoria, Suswa, Rorogoi, Embu, Ndii, and Araba back in the fold, one member chose to leave the Voi herd this month. A spontaneous yet fortuitous meeting with a wild herd resulted in Tahri’s abrupt departure from the Voi herd. On the morning of the 15th, she and Pika Pika went to greet a passing wild herd. Rorogoi, Arruba, Ndotto, Murit, Lasayen, and Araba were hot on their heels, worried that the visitors would spirit away the youngsters. While Pika Pika happily followed them back, Tahri was fully enveloped in the herd and started to move away with them. The Keepers joined the effort to retrieve her, but she was determined to remain with the two older females who had taken up position either side of her. It is ultimately an orphan’s choice to leave our care, and despite everyone’s efforts to persuade her otherwise, Tahri made it abundantly clear that she was ready to take that step.  

In fact, we wonder if some other dynamics might have been at play. Tahri’s greeting with this wild herd was so self-assured that the Keepers considered they might even be her family. It is certainly not outside the realm of possibility; Tahri was rescued fairly nearby during the terrible drought that gripped Kenya in 2017. If they really are related to her, there could be no better outcome for the five-year-old girl. Despite this, the Keepers continued to search for Tahri over the coming days, just in case she had second thoughts and wanted to return home. However, it seems she and the wild herd had migrated to other areas of the Park. To leave abruptly with a wild herd is not unusual, especially for orphans who were rescued at an older age, as Tahri was. Little Mbirikani comes to mind as another Voi orphan who took that path, leaving with a wild herd for a full year before returning with them a year later, fat as butter and very content. Now, she is a member of Edie and Mweya’s ex-orphan herd. We will continue to keep an eye out for Tahri and hope to see her again shortly. 

As one orphan chose to depart, another older orphan decided to visit us this month. On the 1st of February, we were delighted to see Laikipia, who is now 22 years old and looking every inch an impressive bull. He arrived early in the morning in the company of Mweya and Edie’s ex-orphan herd and headed straight to the water trough for a drink of clean water. Laikipia stood tall, lifting his trunk in greeting as little Mwitu, Mweya’s daughter, sidled up next to him. She kept looking up at Laikipia, who must have seemed a very impressive elephant to the tiny one-year-old. We didn’t see Edie and Mweya’s herd for the rest of the month, as they chose to venture further into the park. Interestingly, Panda decided to remain back at Voi and re-join Kenia’s dependent herd. While she lived wild for a full year with Edie and Mweya, it seems that she is taking some time to regroup at home. She has known Kenia and Ndii for her entire time at Voi, as they arrived before she was rescued in 2012. These are formative relationships, and perhaps Panda’s time away made her yearn for her old friends.

On the 24th, we noticed that Nguvu had also decided to leave Mweya’s ex-orphan herd. Instead, he showed up at the waterhole in the company of a wild elephant herd. The Keepers were very happy to see him, as was Panda, who ran up to him and tried to coax him back into the dependent herd. Nguvu seemed to be very happy where he was and, after a brief visit, left with the wild herd. As these stories illustrate, the reintegration process for all our orphans is so very different.   

Among the dependent Voi herd, it was all fun and games this month. Panda is still acclimating to how things have changed over the past year, and she chases buffaloes Ivia and Cheza away from the other orphans, as she is not used to having them around. Ivia remains a firm favourite of Ngilai’s, and this unlikely friendship is stronger than ever despite Panda’s attempts to intervene. They enjoy friendly pushing bouts, games of chase, and even just cuddles. It is remarkable to see how Ngilai gently wraps his trunk around Ivia, carefully avoiding his horns! While they might not remain close forever, as both orphans grow older and more independent, it is wonderful to see a bond form so naturally between two entirely different species. Emoli still gets quite jealous when Ngilai plays with Ivia and sometimes comes between their games, just so he can have his own wrestling matches with Ngilai.

Emoli observed Ndotto messing around in the mud bath this month, climbing on the older girls as they rolled in the water, and decided it looked like quite a fun habit to take up himself. For the rest of the month, he would climb on Mbegu or Arruba or whoever happened to be rolling. Ndotto enjoyed playing with Mbegu the most this month, instead of Arruba, who usually concedes to a wrestling game or two with the young boy. Mbegu still likes to browse with her close-knit group of friends she has known since the Nursery, including Ndotto, Godoma, Lasayen, Ngilai, and Murit. Tagwa, Tamiyoi, and Sagala sometimes join them, but they are their own little unit. They like to lead all of the orphans out into the bush first thing in the morning, which is a ritual that really helped Tagwa find her place in the Voi herd. While she doesn’t seem to have the matriarch aspirations of Mbegu, she is a leader, and being in charge of this task clearly suits her.

There have certainly been some changes among the Voi herd this month, but they are all happy developments. We raise all of our orphans to provide them with the second chance they deserve, and to see them go wild — whether it is a gradual process or one that happens almost overnight — is both bittersweet and immensely gratifying.

February 2021 day to day

01 Feb

It was early morning as the milk dependent orphan elephants left their night quarters for their morning milk bottles which they finished very quickly. Mweya and Edie’s ex-orphan herds arrived at the stockade compound and headed straight to the water trough for a drink of clean water. The Keepers were happy to see Laikipia among the group too. Laikipia stood tall, lifting his trunk in greeting as little Mwtiu stood by his side, looking up at Laikipia who must look like a very impressive bull to the little one year old.

The ex-orphans left for the Park with the stockade dependent orphans following in their tracks. Once out in the bush, the two groups separated as they headed in different browsing directions.  The juniors arrived at the baobab tree waterhole at noon for their milk bottles after which they had fun playing in the water. 

Godoma had fun rolling around in the water showcasing her wallowing techniques until Ndotto came to lie on her, preventing her from moving around. Embu and Pika Pika were on the other side of the waterhole where they were also having fun rolling around in the water, until Arruba came in and stole Pika Pika away from Embu.  

Laikipia visiting the stockade

Arruba with Pika Pika

Godoma having fun in the water