Keepers' Diaries, January 2006

Voi Reintegration Unit

January is always a very hot time of the year, but usually green vegetation is in abundance providing the October/November/December rains have been adequate. Sadly, however, this year, the rains fell far short of what is normally expected, so we have found ourselves gripped by drought conditions early in the year, although Tsavo has enjoyed a little more rain that many other parts of the country. Hence, once again, the search for forage has dominated the month, earlier than usual, and the orphans have taken to climbing Mazinga Hill at the back of the Stockades in their search for green browse. Mukwaju is the expert climber of the group, who normally leads the ascent, leaving Mweiga at the base with Sosian and Mweya in attendance, and on one occasion kept company also by Natumi and the others. Mweiga did manage to get halfway up the hill on one occasion, which, for her, was quite a feat. She enjoys the consideration and caring of all the group, but especially Sosian and Mweya, although on one occasion Solango, Sosian and Salama (all young bulls) sandwiched her between them to hasten her progress out to the browsing grounds.

01 January 2006

The orphans were in a very joyful mood this morning taking the cue from the Keepers, who were welcoming in the New Year by shaking hands, laughing and wishing each other a happy New Year. After some exuberant playfulness, Laikipia and Loisaba led the group to the bush to feed with Sosian keeping Mweiga company at the rear. Natumi led the group in single file to the mudbath. Mweya and Morani immediately plunged in, to occupy the best central position whilst Seraa and Edie enjoyed scratching themselves against the banks and Mpala stirred up the mud with his foreleg. After mudbath, they all went off to browse again before heading back to the Stockades in the evening.

02 January 2006

It was a bright and beautiful day as the orphans ran playing to their feeding grounds. There they met 2 wild elephants with a family of 5 teenage calves. Laikipia and Mukwaju immediately made contact and began to enjoy a pushing game with wild age-mates whilst Salama and Laikipia teamed up to engage a bigger wild boy. This deteriorated into a tough match that forced the wild boy to retreat back to his wild group making Salama very excited. He dashed about happily, obviously confident that he could even take on a grown up wild daughter whom he charged with head down! However, this time he found himself flattened, screaming loudly for help, after which the orphans separated from their wild companions and went to enjoy their mudbath. There, they had a happy time, but Salama appeared subdued having lost face in front of all the others.

03 January 2006

Salama and Laikipia enjoyed a playful moment before heading out this morning, both lying on the ground and tossing their trunks skywards joyfully. As a bystander, Seraa was impressed and challenged Thoma to a pushing game. Mukwaju, who is an excellent climber, led the group up Mazinga Hill to find soft vegetation but at the appropriate time they left the hill to proceed to the mudbath. There they had a very happy time before continuing to feed for the remainder of the day.

04 January 2006

The orphans emerged in a jovial mood, chasing each other around the compound before leaving. Edie and Ilingwezi moved to higher ground where they found a patch of dusty soil for a dustbath whilst Icholta and Sosian began to settle an old score. Salama challenged Laikipia and Solango took on Mpala. Soon Natumi decided it was time to leave, and the group headed North purposefully in a long column with Laikpia and Salama taking the lead until they encountered the large herd of buffalo. With trunks raised, the orphans moved cautiously towards the buffalo who did not react, so they fed peacefully near them for the next 2 hours before heading to the mudbath. Later they returned to where they had left the buffalo herd, who by now had left. The orphans continued to feed there until it was time to return in the evening.

05 January 2006

Laikipia again enjoyed leading the orphans out in the morning. Icholta and Loisaba fed close together, moving in unison to share whatever they could find. The orphans took a drink of water at the mudbath, but because it was cool, never bathed. However, the afternoon became hot, so they returned at 4 p.m. to cool themselves before returning to the Stockades, when Sosian and Mweiga led the group for a while, until overtaken by the others.

06 January 2006

The vegetation is drying rapidly, so the orphans have to search for their food as drought conditions continue. They proceeded slowly, so Mweiga enjoyed keeping pace with the others. When they emerged from a depression, the orphans were surprised to find themselves in amongst some buffalo which scared Burra who began to panic. This startled all the others, who also began to run, frightening the buffalo herd in the process. The orphans then consolidated, and with Lolokwe and Burra taking the lead, charged a lone buffalo straggler whom they managed to chase off. Later the orphans greatly enjoyed their mudbath, and returned happily to the Stockades in the evening.

07 January 2006

The orphans left the Stockades at speed today, kicking up a huge dust cloud. Even Mweiga did her best to keep up, stumbling a little when Ilingwezi inadvertently bumped into her. At the mudbath Edie, Morani, Loisaba, Irima and Mweya were first to take the plunge whilst Laikipia squirted water over all the others, using both his trunk and foot. Sosian then joined the others in the middle, tossing his trunk in the air joyfully. Later, a large wild bull passed by, whom Ilingwezi and Mukwaju were tempted to follow, but they returned l0 minutes later.

08 January 2006

The orphans headed out rapidly, not wasting any time to play before leaving. They fed quietly all morning until it was time for the mudbath, when Icholta jumped in first, followed by Morani and then Mweya Lolokwe and Edie who tried to lift Morani up by placing their small tusks underneath his body. They managed to get him into a sitting position, but then he flopped back down, so they gave up! Morani emerged trumpeting, very pleased with himself.

09 January 2006

It was a hot day, and after a drink at the Stockade waterhole, the orphans headed out in a compact group, grabbing what they could as they went. Later they headed for the mudbath where they had fun, running in and out of the water, and chasing off a visiting warthog. When it was time to begin returning in the evening, Laikipia began pushing the others with his forehead to get them going, returning to do the same to Morani, who had lagged behind. Laikipia always keeps time!

10 January 2006

Again Laikipia led the orphans out in the morning, closely followed by Morani, who kept tossing his trunk onto Laikipia’s buttocks as though begging to be allowed a turn as leader! Mpala and Solango began a game at the back of the column near Mweiga. Once the orphans had reached the feeding grounds, Solango turned his back on Mpala as a signal to stop the game and get down to business. The orphans took a mudbath at 9 a.m. because it was so hot, and it was wonderful for us Keepers to witness the happiness in their eyes, remembering how miserable they had been when they were first rescued, when they had given up all hope of life!

11 January 2006

The orphans took to the hill in search of food this morning, Laikipia again in the lead, with Mweiga at the back. Mukwaju, Salama and Loisaba climbed up whilst Natumi and the others remained behind with Mweiga. Two lesser kudus caused great confusion when they came racing down the hill chasing one another, which made all the orphans flee in all directions, leaving poor Mweiga behind, screaming and urinating in fear! The Keepers rushed in to calm her. The mudbath took place at 10 a.m. and the afternoon was spent feeding peacefully nearby.

12 January 2006

Again the orphans went up the hill to feed, leaving Sosian and Mweya with Mweiga at the base. It was a quiet day of feeding, until it was time to return in the evening, when Natumi led them home.

13 January 2006

The orphans emerged in a jovial mood, to a surprise visit from a large male baboon who was coming down from the hill towards them. Mweya approached cautiously with outstretched trunk, gauging the baboon’s intentions, but Nyiro arrived in a rush and chased off the baboon.

14 January 2006

It was a cloudy morning, with light rain drizzle, which made the orphans very happy as they indulged in games of hide and seek around the Stockades until Natumi decided it was time to leave. Thereafter they spent the day feeding, interrupted only by a quick drink at noon.

15 January 2006

The orphans, who headed North to feed, missed meeting up with 2 wild cows and 5 youngsters who were feeding close to their waterhole. However, at the mudbath they had a lot of fun with Edie lying down in the mud so that Ndara could climb on her, but instead Ndara lay beside her. Salama and Solango had an interesting pushing match in the water which tempted Mukwaju to try and join them, and take Icholta with him by pushing her from behind. The mudwallers all had a wonderful time before joining the others later to feed. In the evening Emily and Tsavo came to the Stockade, and were treated to a highly charged greeting by the orphans. Having fed on Copra Cake, Emily and Tsavo left.

16 January 2006

Emily and Tsavo arrived early in the morning to another very enthusiastic greeting from all the others, who spun round rumbling, trumpeting and urinating. Emily and Tsavo joined the other orphans for a short way, but then headed back past the Stockade towards the western side of the hill. Solango, Sosian and Salama sandwiched Mweiga between them, and kept a slow pace with her, whilst Laikipa, who was leading, began pushing the trees with his forehead, bringing the browse to a lower level for the others to utilize. At the mudbath Icholta occupied the best scratching position, so Mukwaju grabbed her leg in an attempt to make her move, which she did.

17 January 2006

It was a cloudy morning as the orphans went to feed at the foot of Mazinga hill. Mweiga kept pace with the others and all enjoyed feeding at the base of the hill until it was time for the mudbath. Again, Laikipia urged them all to head home in the evening, wanting to be first at the Copra cake.

18 January 2006

Today, after the usual fun and games, Lolokwe took the lead as the orphans headed out, with Mweiga at the rear. Because it was a hot day, they took a drink at l0.40 a.m. when some of them went into the water to cool off and others enjoyed scratching themselves against trees. Natumi led the column home in the evening where they were greeted by Emily who had come alone. The greeting was brief because the orphans were anxious to enjoy their Copra Cake.

19 January 2006

The orphans again headed up Mazinga Hill to feed, Mukwaju leading the climbers. Mweya and Sosian escorted Mweiga who managed to get half way up the hill but remained there, Mweya and Sosian keeping her company. Nyiro brought the others down for the mudbath, collected Mweya, Sosian and Mweiga on the way. It was a joyful mudbath until Salama became jealous of Burra, who was taking the limelight, and prodding him with his tusks, forced poor Burra out of the water. Emily came to the Stockade in the afternoon, but had left by the time the others arrived.

20 January 2006

The orphans emerged in a very happy mood, seen clearly in their body language and faces. They fed calmly during the morning, digging up roots using both their tusks and trunks, until it was time to go to the mudbath. They had fun in the mudbath, and continued to feed for the rest of the day.

21 January 2006

It rained last night, so the orphans left the Stockade in a happy mood, slipping as they descended the hill into the main Park. Upon reaching their feeding area, a brief celebration took place, as they rushed around kicking bushes. Natumi and Mukwaju dug up soil with their tusks, and threw it over their backs using their trunks. Natumi then went down on her knees, tossing her trunk skywards in joy whilst Mukwaju went onto a mound, and enjoyed sliding down with his mouth wide open! Because it was cool, the orphan declined to bathe, but Mweya, hoping to attract the attention of a filming crew nearby, took a stick and began to play with it.

22 January 2006

Emily came to the Stockade early in the morning, and accompanied the babies briefly before returning. The orphans accompanied her into the main Park hoping to see Aitong, Sally and Tsavo, who seldom return these days. Having parted from the Keepers, Emily returned to the Stockades alone, but then left.

23 January 2006

After a successful day feeding in the bush, we got a call from KWS to say that there was a small calf stuck in the mud near a leak in the Mombasa Pipeline, which has caused a black cotton bog. The calf, which was about 2 weeks old, was hopelessly stuck at a place where the family could not reach it without risking themselves. The Keepers plunged in, which at first elicited an angry response from the watching elephant family of 9, but they soon realised that we were there to help, and quietly watched proceedings. When the calf was pulled clear, it began to follow the Keepers and the car, but we accelerated, and this gave the elephant family a chance to come and collect their baby, which they did. Aitong, Sally and Tsavo were seen feeding close to another boggy patch, but Emily was at the Stockades at the time, and not amongst them. The three are looking very well and happy.

24 January 2006

The morning was spent feeding, with a short break in the mudbath. Burra looked amusing as he stood resting one foot on the other as he watched Solango and Mpala have fun in the water when Solango was running in and out of the pool, in between whiles scratching his buttocks on the banks. This new game attracted Thoma, Burra and Mpala who joined in, but suspecting that he was about to be mounted, Solango opted out and went to join the others.

25 January 2006

Emily came to the Stockades in the evening with 2 wild bulls, who dwarfed her, and were following her closely. Upon seeing the Keepers, the bulls stood at the extreme end of the Stockade until Emily had finished taking water. They then advanced in a rush, and pushing Emily in front, they took her away. We could not determine whether the bulls were just friends, or wanted to mate her.

26 January 2006

We saw Emily again this morning feeding near Mazinga Hill, and the bulls were nowhere to be seen. At noon the orphans never went into the mud, but drank copious quantities of water from the drums, Mweya trying to take water from Edie’s mouth. Edie moved to another barrel, and when Mweya followed, wanting to repeat the trick, Edie blocked her by turning her back on her.

27 January 2006

The orphans left the Stockades in a very jubilant mood, running down the hill, and deliberately bumping each other with their buttocks, as they swung their trunks in happiness and trumpeted for joy. Salama went in front with his ears erect and tried to stop the others, but soon regretted this action, because he was knocked over in the rush, and rolled around like a sack of potatoes. The Keepers rushed to the rescue in case he was being damaged, but he came up slowly, and went to the rear to be with Mweiga, as the others continued their rush. They had a wonderful mudbath, and enjoyed feeding for the rest of the afternoon, with Burra leading them back to the Stockades in the evening.

28 January 2006

A great rivalry has developed between Morani and Burra, the cause of which the Keepers have not been able to determine. When it was time for the noon milk feed, Morani rushed in order to get there ahead of Burra, who is usually always first and before reaching the bottles, hid in an ambush position, waiting for Burra. However, Burra was aware of the trap, and stopped short of where Morani was positioned, refusing to be caught out. The Keepers took his rations to him, which disappointed

29 January 2006

The orphans spent quite a long time playing around the Stockades today, before heading out into the Park. Natumi signalled that it was time to leave and headed the column as they left. Today the fed slowly, moving to the North, until it was time to return to the mudbath, after which they went back to the same feeding ground. They all looked full and satisfied in the evening.

30 January 2006

Today the orphans headed to the North West of Mazinga Hill, and fed for a short time in a patch of long coarse grass. Later they split into two groups, the first led by Natumi moved esatgwards, and the other led by Ilingwezi moving went. They joined up to go to the mudbath, where they had a protracted bath because it was hot. Before returning to the Stockades in the evening, they took another.

31 January 2006

The orphans were playful when they woke up in the early hours of the morning, teaming up in groups of friends to test their strength, and lying on soft soil. Laikipia took the lead today as they headed into the Park to feed. They had only a brief time at the mudbath before heading up Mazing hill to feed for the rest of the day. When they returned in the evening, they met up with Emily who was already at the stockades. Emily stretched her trunk through the electric wires of Natumi’s Stockade to take some of the grewia branches, when Loisaba moved close to her, rumbling deeply. Emily then left heading towards the Western side of the Park. Keepers’ Notes:- Emily has been coming alone to the Stockade almost daily as from 17th January. Aitong, Sweet Sally and Tsavo have been seen, and all are in good condition since they have been utilising an area that enjoyed more rain than the rest of the Park. The Keepers differ about the reason that Emily returns alone so often, some believing that it is simply because she loves the Copra Cake hand-out so much, others that she simply wants to come and monitor her former elephant herd, or that perhaps, in connivance with Aitong, she is planning to persuade other members of the still dependent group to join them. However, if this is the reason, we would expect her to spend more time with the orphans out in the bush. Perhaps by coming to the Stockades, she can have a break from the attention of the bulls who came with her on the 25th and have been mounting her out in the bush!