Keepers' Diaries, February 2024

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Voi Reintegration Unit

In Voi, February began with a surprise visit from 25-year-old Laikipia. The ex-orphan sauntered up the path and stood outside the pellet store, waiting expectantly. Always pleased to see their old friend, the Keepers welcomed Laikipia by refilling the pellet trough. 

A few days later, we had a swarm of visitors. Led by matriarchs Kenia, Mweya, and Edie, Ndii, Panda, Naipoki, Kihari, Ndoria, Arruba, Araba, Mudanda, Suswa, Mwitu (Mweya’s wild-born baby), Eden, Eco and Enzo (Edie’s wild-born babies) arrived, accompanied by a wild bull. Ex-orphans and dependent orphans happily mingled and caught up. 

As matriarch of our dependent herd, Mbegu commands the respect she deserves. One hot afternoon, clambered out of the mud wallow and had her sights set on a relaxing, solo dust bath. When Seri and Hildana did not move over in deference to her, she headbutted the youngsters away. They trundled off and Mbegu covered her whole body with red soil.

With that said, Mbegu is a caring and fair matriarch. She pays attention to all the younger orphans, not just the pampered babies Busara and Baraka. Sagala is a very adept second-in-command and even seems to be taking some of Mbegu’s leadership duties and responsibilities. Tamiyoi, Tagwa, Godoma, Pika Pika, and Lemeki make up the third tier of nannies. 

We’re not sure what inspires it, but some evenings, the ex-orphans feel like having a slumber party outside the stockade. One evening, Mweya’s herd and Laikipia wandered up to the stockades at dusk and remained there all night. The babies lay down to sleep, while the older elephants stood protectively around them.

Thamana is blossoming into a strong bull. Some of this is simply part of growing up, but we also must give credit to Emoli, who has been an enthusiastic (and indefatigable!) tutor to the younger bull. Thamana is eager to teach his new skills to the Voi Kids, but Emoli rarely gives him the chance: One afternoon, he was giving Itinyi sparring lessons until Emoli pushed Itinyi away and took his place. 

Ndotto is not known for his love of water — he prefers to lord over the dust bath. But one day, uncharacteristically, he enjoyed a wonderful wallow. Water baby Pika Pika was delighted to see the older bull in the pool. In a state of high excitement, she frolicked around and even tried to mount him! 

Murit and Lasayen are our gentle bulls, even at the oft-boisterous age of nine. One afternoon, big boy Murit enjoyed a relaxing sunbathe and dust bath, waving his trunk as he lay on his side. Spotting an armchair opportunity, Lasayen ambled over and rested his rump against his friend’s torso. Murit rested there patiently as Lasayen gazed around and flapped his ears. 

21st February was a very special day. Rokka and Manda graduated from the Kaluku Neonate Nursery, bringing our Voi herd to 29 elephants. When the translocation truck arrived, the welcoming committee of Mbegu, Tamiyoi, Sagala, Tagwa, Godoma, Pika Pika and Lemeki were ready and waiting. Manda and Rokka walked out of their compartments and were immediately enveloped in a chorus of rumbles and trunk hugs. 

Mbegu and her bevy of nannies escorted Rokka and Manda to meet the rest of the herd. Ngilai challenged Manda to a friendly sparring game while Lasayen gently trunk touched him all over. Busara, feeling that her position as favourite baby could be under threat, was not as welcoming to the newbies. Tagwa and Pika Pika stood protectively on each side of Rokka and Manda to ensure that everyone remembered their manners. 

That evening, the Keepers ushered Manda and Rokka into two individual stables reserved for newcomers. Manda pushed against the walls — he wanted to be with the Voi Kids! The Keepers complied with his wishes and instead put Losoito, who is very friendly, in the room next to Rokka. Losoito rumbled and Rokka relaxed, lay down, and fell fast asleep after her big day.

When new members join the herd, there is always an adjustment period. Some of the Voi Kids (most notably, Busara) were a bit cool towards Rokka and Manda, worrying that they might steal attention away from them. There is plenty of love to go around, but we can’t blame them for fretting. 

Funnily enough, Manda was also feeling covetous. He was never possessive of Rokka at Kaluku, but he clearly craved known company in his new home. For several days, Manda tried his best to prevent Rokka from getting close to any other elephants — she was his friend, and his friend only! The older females patiently gave the newbies space, understanding that Rokka was ready to embrace their affection but that Manda was not.

That turning point happened about a week after Manda and Rokka’s graduation. As the herd fanned around Msinga Hill, Manda, Lasayen, and Rokka spent a happy morning together. The Keepers were thrilled to see Manda so relaxed. At one point, he even draped his trunk over Lasayen. Later in the morning, friendly Ashanti ambled over and greeted Manda with a trunk touch. She was warmly welcomed into the group, and the four orphans continued to browse contentedly for several hours.

When Laikipia joined the orphan herd one morning, Rokka and Manda were shocked — they had certainly never seen such a large bull at Kaluku! Noticing their surprise, Tamiyoi escorted them towards Laikipia for a proper meeting. 

As it turned out, this experience just primed the newbies for a truly unforgettable morning: A few days later, Laikipia strode up the path with Mweya, Edie, Kenia, and their ex-orphan herds in tow. Nearly 50 elephants were present, which was certainly the largest gathering Manda and Rokka had ever seen. Mbegu stood by their side throughout the morning, offering reassurance… and also probably making sure that no one tried to kidnap the babies! 

Kulalu, the orphaned zebra we rescued last month, is doing well. He and his Keeper — clad in a striped dust coat to match his little charge — can often be found in the lower reaches of Msinga Hill. 

February 2024 day to day

01 Feb

After drinking their milk and eating range cubes and lucerne, the orphans set out early in the morning to browse around Msinga Hill in the direction of the baobab tree mud wallow. Soon after they left, ex-orphan Laikipia sauntered up the path and stood staring at the closed door of the pellet store. Always pleased to see their old friend, the Keepers welcomed the mature bull by refilling the pellet trough. Laikipia filled his belly and returned to the bush. 

The dependent orphans spread out over the hill. Tagwa was looking after little Busara, Sagala was staying close to naughty Hildana, Mbegu was fussing over Juni and Baraka, and Lemeki was massaging her rump against a tree. After scratching his body against a boulder, Kilulu challenged Thamana to a sparring game. They clashed heads and twisted around and clashed again. While the herd was browsing, to the Keepers’ surprise, Laikipia put in another appearance, spending a couple of hours with the younger orphans. 

Later in the afternoon at the mud bath, Ashanti, Emoli and Epiya stood together under the shade of the baobab tree and Kilulu lay down under another tree. Ashanti soon walked over to wake up her friend by placing her foot on his belly – he stood up and walked away to browse.

Laikipia arrives at the stockade compound

Tagwa on Msinga Hill

Mebgu left and Godoma browisng with the others