The birth of a baby elephant is always a remarkable moment, but Izzy’s birth had special significance: She was the 45th known calf born to an orphan we rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild. The fact that we met her just as we embarked on the Trust’s 45th year felt very special indeed. This is just the beginning of a great baby boom across our reintegration units — and little did we know that, by month’s end, our extended Voi family would grow by one more.
But in the meantime, there was plenty going on amongst our dependent orphans. The reappearance of the ex-orphans inspired Kenia and her older group to join their ranks. More likely, the temptation of nannying a new baby proved too much to resist! Kenia, Ndii, Ishaq-B, Araba, Ndoria, Tundani, Mashariki, Naipoki and Panda joined up with Edie’s herd, leaving the remaining 16 milk-dependent orphans under the leadership of Mbegu.
Mbegu is one of those rare elephants who was born a matriarch, so she was more than ready for this opportunity. She has a wonderful second-in-command in her best friend, Godoma — but truth be told, Mbegu doesn’t really need a deputy. It could have been a confusing time for little Pika Pika, who was Kenia and Ndii’s adopted darling, but Arruba quickly swept in. Arruba has always coveted Pika Pika, so she must have been thrilled to finally assume guardianship of her!
As it turned out, there were more exciting changes to come. We had been preparing for the graduation of Lemeki and Thamana for many weeks, and on the morning of the 10th, the happy day finally arrived. These two elephants were raised at our Kaluku Neonate Nursery, which was established in 2018 for our youngest and most vulnerable orphaned elephants. Because they would arrive not knowing anyone at Voi, we went about their graduation with great care. It was decided that one of their favourite Keepers, Joseph, would come with them from Kaluku and remain until they were fully settled in.
Once the new arrivals had disembarked from the moving lorry, we brought the orphans over in small, manageable groups so as to not overwhelm them. Sagala, who has a special love for babies, went straight over to greet Lemeki. Our little girl wondered why such a big elephant was taking an interest in her and took off at terrific speed. Sagala ran to catch up with Lemeki and reassure her, but this only succeeded in scaring her more! Luckily, Joseph and the other Keepers settled the situation. Thamana, on the other hand, was in his element from the outset. He also stuck close to Joseph, but took everything in stride and really seemed to enjoy all the attention from the other orphans.
The next day, Sagala and Tamiyoi remained in hot pursuit of Lemeki and Thamana. In all her enthusiasm, Sagala continued to be a bit heavy-handed in her attempts to spend time with the new babies, using her trunk to pull them closer to her. While Mbegu had been a bit standoffish the previous day, she too showed a lot of interest in Lemeki, while Ngilai and Ndotto were keen to recruit Thamana into their boy group.
Lemeki and Thamana got a fright as Edie’s ex-orphan herd dashed into the compound one morning, eager for a drink. If they were overwhelmed by the likes of Sagala, the size of these elephants was on a whole other scale! While the ex-orphans largely focused on drinking, Ndii and Kenia went right over to Lemeki and Thamana, touching them with their trunks and rumbling in greeting.
While Pika Pika enjoyed a sparring match with Inca, who is about her age, Godoma rolled on the ground to woo Izzy into playing with her. She didn’t succeed, as Kihari is an incredibly vigilant nanny and won’t permit Izzy to play with just anyone.
Sagala and Tamiyoi continued their aggressive adoption campaign to see who could spend the most time with Thamana and Lemeki. Sagala even resorted to blocking Tamiyoi from playing with the babies, so she could have their full attention. Funnily, Thamana and Lemeki seemed to prefer spending time with Tagwa above the other girls.
Lemeki has become incredibly possessive of Thamana, which is quite ironic: For all their years at Kaluku, Thamana’s love for Lemeki was somewhat unrequited. She certainly adored the young boy, but she has always been so self-absorbed that she never gave him much time. Now, she sees red whenever any of the Voi orphans try to spend time with him.
All these new dynamics have left some of our orphans at a crossroads. We saw this one morning when Kenia and Ndii started to leave with the ex-orphans, only to pause midway, as if considering whether they should remain with the dependent orphans and look after Pika Pika, Thamana, and Lemeki. In the end, they decided to follow Edie’s herd. At 14 and 13 years old, perhaps they know it is time to become more independent. In a similar vein, Arruba seems torn as to whether she should abandon Pika Pika for Thamana, who is younger. However, she has waited for years to look after Pika Pika, and now that Kenia and Ndii have left, she finally has the little girl all to herself.
Lemeki has always been a wallower of note, and while she hasn’t yet broached the large mud bath, the Keepers were pleased to see her take a mini bath inside the water trough. She was having a great time in there, rolling around and fully submersing her head. Unfortunately, Suswa thought she was drowning and came running over to save her, using her long tusks to fish out the little girl.
Later in the month, Suswa’s campaign to take over the new babies entered high gear. One morning, she singled out Lemeki for a browsing session. This time, it was Thamana who became a jealous. He head-butted Lemeki in her bottom to push her away from Suswa. The competition continued until Sagala intervened and took Thamana away. Tagwa saw this as her cue to make a play for Thamana and began patting him with her trunk.
We witnessed a lovely transformation in Mudanda this month. She has always been quite reserved, but tends to be rough when she plays, so she has never been a sought-after playmate. However, Ndotto made it his mission to show her that friendly sparring matches can be lots of fun. He began proactively seeking her out, and with each passing day, Mudanda seemed to enjoy their games more and more. Ndotto must have seen a hidden side to Mudanda, and the Keepers are so happy that he helped bring her out of her shell.
In fact, Ndotto is everyone’s favourite playmate. One morning, all the ladies queued up to enjoy a sparring match with him. Rorogoi was the first in line, followed by Mudanda, and finally Arruba. For once, Ndotto was fully exhausted!
Ngilai is another preferred playmate, though one day he made the mistake of crossing Tamiyoi. It started innocently enough, when he went to climb on Tagwa’s back. For some reason, Tamiyoi came marched over in a fury and engaged Ngilai in a real fight, while Tagwa cowered behind her. Watching the ruckus unfold, Arruba promptly stood guard over Pika Pika, to prevent any possibility of her becoming Ngilai’s next target.
The moment it turns even a bit chilly, the orphans eschew the mud bath. On one such afternoon, Emoli stood just behind Pika Pika, pushing her slowly towards the water, as if hoping to use her reaction as his thermometer. Embu always loves a paddle, so she plunged in without hesitation, while Tamiyoi cleverly took a mini bath in the water trough, where she knows the water is always a little warmer.
On 26th January, our extended family grew yet again. Long after all the dependent orphans had returned home for the night, Edie’s ex-orphan herd stopped by the stockade water troughs for a drink. Peering into the darkness, the Keepers spotted a tiny calf amidst their feet. They realised that Edie had given birth to her fourth wild-born baby, who we called Enzo.
The next morning, the Keepers found the ex-orphans browsing at one of their favourite spots on Msinga Hill. Kenia and her group couldn’t believe their luck to have a true newborn in their midst and stood guard around Enzo, making it very difficult for the Keepers to take photos of him. Everyone was marching about in excitement, as if it was a very exclusive birthday party and only those invited were allowed near the guest of honour!