Voi Reintegration Unit
The month began with Sagala and her new sidekicks, Thamana and Lemeki, leading the way. They took the herd around to the northern side of Msinga Hill, overlooking the baobab tree and mud wallow. The Keepers admired the route they had chosen! Tamiyoi and Tagwa still lead the herd out most mornings, but they are not at all possessive of the privilege.
Edie, Mweya, Icholta, and the other ex orphans remained in the area for the first week of February. Edie’s one-week-old baby, Enzo, is already such a sprite. Whenever the herd visited the stockades, he had a wonderful time running through his mother’s and nannies’ feet, mischievously charging the Keepers.
On 6th February, Edie’s ex orphan herd went off into Tsavo. This marked a pivotal moment for ten special elephants. For a long time, Kenia and her semi-independent group had been experimenting with a wild life, but they lacked the confidence to make the full transition. When Edie and co. arrived in early January, they decided to join them, although they still reunited with the dependent herd most days. We knew it was only a matter of time before Edie and Mweya ventured deeper into Tsavo, and we wondered if Kenia's group would leave with them. Well, they did! It seems that Kenia, Ndii, Ishaq-B, Panda, Naipoki, Tundani, Bada, Mashariki, Ndoria, and Araba are officially ex orphans now. We are incredibly proud of them for taking this step.
This makes Mbegu the undisputed matriarch of the dependent Voi herd. She is more than up to the task; even from a young age, she has always been a very capable leader. But despite all her responsibilities, she is not above shenanigans of her own. One afternoon, as the orphans started to file out across the grasslands, Mbegu climbed inside the water trough and started defiantly splashing about, as if protesting that it was already time to leave. The Keepers pleaded with her to go join her friends, and she eventually acquiesced — but she made a big show of it, trumpeting and running with her tail in the air.
Kenia and Ndii’s departure also left an opening for Pika Pika’s head nanny — a role that Arruba was quick to assume. She is a wonderful ‘big sister’ to the spoiled little girl. In fact, the Keepers have nicknamed Pika Pika ‘malkia’ (‘the queen’ in Swahili) because of her behaviour! One afternoon, Pika Pika was having a lovely, extended wallowing session, as Arruba watched on. When a wild bull walked into the mud bath and inadvertently interrupted her private spa session, Pika Pika had the audacity to charge at him. The bull ignored the petulant girl and continued into the water. Pika Pika looked quite put out as she slunk out of the mud bath.
In the past, Emoli has been less than welcoming towards new graduates, as he enjoys being the baby of the herd. However, he has found a silver lining in Lemeki and Thaman’s arrival. During one noon milk feed, he snuck past the Keepers and came running in with Lemeki, Thamana, and Sagala, so that he could be the first to get his milk bottle. Feeling quite chuffed with this deception, he then sauntered into the water trough for a mini bath. His friends were surprised to find him submerged like a hippopotamus, with just his trunk poking above the water.
Lemeki was clearly inspired by his technique, because another afternoon, she also dove into the water trough. Suswa came dashing over and tried to extract her — we weren’t sure if she was annoyed that Lemeki was dirtying all the nice drinking water, or if she thought the little girl was in trouble and needed help! Either way, this brought about an end to Lemeki’s games.
While Lemeki barely gave Thamana the time of day at Kaluku, she has become very possessive of him since graduating to Voi. One morning, Sagala wanted to escort Thamana out into the bush. For Lemeki, this was a step too far, so she barred Sagala from accessing her boy. Sagala, ever the diplomat, simply chose to adopt both babies. Mudanda became jealous of Sagala’s interaction with Thamana and Lemeki, as all the Voi girls covet time with them, so she came over and pushed Sagala with her sharp tusks.
Aside from this little mishap, Mudanda is a changed elephant. She has always been reserved and a bit antagonistic, but in the past few weeks, she has become very playful and outgoing. Ngilai and Ndotto are solely responsible for this transformation. They took it upon themselves to single out Mudanda for games, aware that she simply needed some extra encouragement. Now, whenever the boys invite her to a sparring match, Mudanda runs over in a celebratory mood.
On 9th February, we received reports of a very young calf who had been seen on her own. She was not far from Voi, so a team of Keepers raced to the scene. After confirming that she was indeed an orphan, we rescued her and brought her to the Voi stockades for the night. While the Voi herd busied themselves with their lucerne pellets the next morning, we drove the tiny rescue to the airstrip, where she was then flown to our Nairobi Nursery.
After a brief respite, it is starting to dry up around Voi again. Just before the orphans’ afternoon milk feeding, a huge herd of buffalos visited the baobab water hole. They numbered well over 100 individuals, and after they had their fill from the water hole and mud bath, there was nothing left for the orphans! The Keepers changed course and took them back to the stockade area for their milk feed and mud bath. No one seemed to mind the afternoon’s plot twist.
Tamiyoi has always been very outgoing towards wild elephants. One day, she noticed a herd on the grasslands who had a small calf in tow. She boldly walked up to the ground and asked permission to play with the little baby. Sagala and Tagwa drew closer, clearly jealous of their friend’s interaction, but they were too shy to fully approach the wild visitors.
However, no one has any hesitation about approaching the babies of our dependent herd, Lemeki and Thamana. One morning, Embu was lucky enough to spend some quality time with Lemeki. She patted the little girl and clasped her trunk. Another afternoon, Mbegu was having a great time playing in the water with Thamana. This made Tagwa envious, so she came over and reclined atop Mbegu, putting an end to her game with the young bull.
Because of the continued presence of lions in the area, Diria, our orphaned zebra, and Cheza and Ivia, our pair of orphaned buffalos, remain closer to the stockade area. This arrangement suits them just fine, as they still get plenty of opportunities to explore around Msinga Hill.
It was very hot as the month ended. Pika Pika, who is a notorious water baby, decided to introduce the idea of a morning swim in the stockade water hole. Most of the herd enjoyed this novel experience — except, of course, for our indefatigable playmates, Ndotto and Mudanda, who were busy with their usual sparring games.