Keepers' Diaries, January 2001

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Voi Reintegration Unit

January is usually a very hot and dry month, but due to a cyclone off the coast of Madagascar, heavy unseasonal rain fell during the first half of the month, bringing on a bountiful flush of green vegetation and filling all the waterholes once again. Temperatures were cooler than normal and most of the wild elephants left the Voi River range, heading inland, so that contact with the wild herds was less.

January is usually a very hot and dry month, but due to a cyclone off the coast of Madagascar, heavy unseasonal rain fell during the first half of the month, bringing on a bountiful flush of green vegetation and filling all the waterholes once again. Temperatures were cooler than normal and most of the wild elephants left the Voi River range, heading inland, so that contact with the wild herds was less.

On the 12th January, a lone calf of approximately one year old was reported near the Tsavo bridge. Isaac Maina (The Orphans' Overseer) plus three of our experienced Keepers, with a little help from workers of the Chinese Road Construction Unit, managed to overpower this orphan and bring him back to the Stockades, without the assistance of a Vet and tranquilizer, which was a very stout effort since a yearling elephant calf is already powerful.

The orphan (named "Tsavo") was calmed by Emily and Aitong, and within just a day or two was taking milk from the bottle, fully integrated into the orphaned herd, and very attached toEmily. Being the smallest in Emily's group, the position of Mweiga as "favourite" has now been usurped, and as a result Mweiga is suffering the usual psychological depression of the misplaced former "favourite". Tsavo has slotted in to our Orphan Family as though he always belonged; a "bossy" little character who often shoves the other young orphans aside should they come too close to his new "mother". He plays in the mudwallow happily every day and surprisingly does not seem to suffer the usual psychological bereavement and depression, seeming to understand that his natural mother has gone and only happy to have found a replacement. The natural mother has obviously been dying for some time from a seriously infected leg, the cause of which is not known. (Elephants seem to suffer from a curious leg disease, something that has taken a toll of many over the years).

Since the death of Malaika, Emily is the acknowledged Matriarch of the Tsavo group, and is very conscientious, taking her new responsibilities very seriously. Aitong is a very caring No. 2, longing for her own special baby, and still passionate about "Nyiro".

Imenti forwent the opportunity to go off with Edo, Uaso and Lewa when they and the other Big Boys left to be with the wild herds during the festive season. Imenti adores Emily, with whom he shared the Nairobi Nursery, and he seems to be taking on the role of caring "Uncle", as did Edo with Malaika. Imenti is very protective of the youngsters, the first to lie down and encourage them to clamber all over him, doing the same when the three ex Nairobi Nursery babies arrived in Tsavo on the 26th January and were obviously somewhat daunted by the size of the larger elephants. Yatta, Kinna and Mukwaju were moved to Tsavo on the 26th, all being now just over a year old. Having shared the Nairobi Nursery with the eight calves sent to Tsavo last May, they all remembered each other so the reunion was somewhat quieter than usual. The transfer this time was one of the easiest we have ever experienced with no hesitation in going into the trucks, travelling happily with their Keepers, and arriving at the Elephant Stockades by noon. The first to greet them were Natumi's eight followed by Emily and her group, when Imenti lay down, inviting closer scrutiny. However, the Nairobi three, all of whom were orphaned early in infancy, were a little daunted by the size of the larger elephants, and spirited little Kinna even gave Emily a hard shove on the trunk in an attempt to move her off. This clearly surprised Emily, whose ears stood out like sails, but she was very gentle, laying her trunk over the newcomer to reassure her.

We decided to move the three oldest Nursery calves (1) because of the rains that had brought on a wealth of green vegetation in Tsavo and (2) because Yatta showed signs of the same sluggish peristalsis that used to bedevil Emily in the Nursery. Because of this, she needed the stimulation of older elephants to browse more and also needed access to the fresh saliva and dung of established others for the correct stomach flora. (We nearly lost Emily during her Nursery years from this same complaint).

We are now left with three in the Nairobi Nursery - Nasalot from Turkana; Mulika from Meru Park; and little Charles Sagana from Mount Kenya, whose rescue story appeared in the December Diary.

Daphne was in Tsavo for the arrival of the Nairobi three, and was able to monitor their progress over the next week. By the time she left, they were all fully integrated into the other eight youngsters, with Yatta and Natumi striking up a friendship, Mukwaju delighted to have some male company for a change, wrestling with Salama and Lolokwe in the mudbath and Kinna doing her best to dominate all the others by shoving them around whenever they came near her special Nairobi Keepers!

With 13 little elephants still being bottle fed during their weaning year, all rushing to be first at the bottles, feeding times are fraught, so the Nairobi three are taken aside to feed before the others, since they are both younger and slower in downing their milk. However, competition, will change this. It was very gratifying to see them all so well settled and extremely touching to see how Emily has so conscientiously taken over Malaika's role as Matriarch in charge of all those younger. Pleasing also is it to see Loisaba coming back to life after the loss of Malaika, striking up a friendship with Mweiga, who is in a depression over the arrival of Tsavo. We are very happy that Uaso and Lewa have chosen to go off with Edo into the wild herds, rather than remain "babies". This, after all, is what it is all about. Happily voluntarily "Going Wild" is a measure of success and a reason for joy rather than sorrow.

Emily's group and Natumi's group always leave the Stockades together, but later Emily often leaves the youngsters in the care of their Keepers to graze further afield, meeting the babies again at the mudbath and usually spending the afternoon with them. The calves are now fed milk at 5.30 a.m. before leaving the Stockades, again at 12 noon after the mudbath and at 6 p.m. back at the Stockades.

January 2001 day to day

01 Jan

Imenti headed for the mudwallow ahead of Emily's group. Emily lay down in the mud and Nyiro, Salama and Mweiga climbed on her. They all spent the afternoon together and returned together to the Stockades in the evening.
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