Keepers' Diaries, January 2024

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Voi Reintegration Unit

In Voi, the new year began on a comically optimistic note. Sagala, Mbegu, Lasayen, Murit, Ngilai, Ndotto, and Godoma — who have been weaned off milk but still live in hope — paused at the line of Keepers with bottles, trunks expectantly held aloft as if they might be mistaken for milk dependent orphans! 

On 3rd January, the ex-orphans returned after a brief hiatus. 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 at dawn, accompanied by a wild bull. Once the dependent orphans were let out of their stockades, more than 45 elephants mingled at the trough and on the terraces.

Ngilai is the master of keeping his dining options open. He is always the first to move to the feeding area. After carefully placing a bunch of lucerne on his head (just in case the tasty food runs out before his belly is full), he moves between the greens, lucerne, pellets, and water trough. 

Mbegu is an excellent — and extremely diligent — matriarch. Whenever wild elephants enter the mix, she scoops up the ‘Voi kids’ (the youngest class of orphans at Voi) and leads them away. She is not about to run the risk of any kidnapping attempts. Her caution is well-founded: One afternoon, a wild family strolled up to the wallow, surrounded the Voi kids, and walked away with four of them. The Keepers reacted immediately, almost before Mbegu, Godoma and Tamiyoi were aware of what had happened. They followed the wild herd, whistling for their babies. Hearing their calls, Itinyi, Ushindi, Losoito, and Juni about turned and sprinted back to the herd, where everyone welcomed them with rumbles and trunk hugs.

Mbegu may be the matriarch of the Voi herd, but Godoma, Tagwa, Tamiyoi, Sagala, and Pika Pika are leaders in their own rights. We were reminded of this one afternoon, when Sagala got the entire orphan herd to follow her with a single, definitive rumble.

To the delight of the Keepers, Laikipia visited the stockades mid-January after an uncharacteristically long absence. (Uncharacteristically long for him; while most bulls tend to visit infrequently, Laikipia is a familiar face around Voi.) The 25-year-old bull strode up the path on his own and joined the orphans and Kenia, Edie, and Mweya’s ex-orphan herds in the feeding area. 

Ndotto is really hearing the call of the wild. He has started spending nights out in Tsavo, and when he does sleep in the stockades, he is eager to link up with the ex-orphans as soon as possible. Little Hildana, who is very much dependent on our care but seems to have wild aspirations, looks to Ndotto for inspiration. One afternoon, Ndotto wandered a distance away to browse on his own. Hildana quickly followed in his footsteps. The younger bull returned as soon as the Keepers whistled, whereas Ndotto dragged his feet. 

Some of the younger orphans aren’t supportive of this newly independent side to the older boys. One afternoon, Lasayen and Ndotto lagged behind the orphan herd. After walking a distance away, Kilulu about turned, trumpeted, shook his head vigorously, and ran back to collect them. The bulls were happy to be left behind, but Kilulu was not happy to leave them! 

Lemeki remains a wonderful character. One morning, our mischievous girl spotted an opportunity that was too hard to pass up: The door to the milk preparation room was open. She snuck up the corridor and peered around the door. She was hoping to find a cache of milk bottles, but only succeeded in surprising two Keepers who laughed as they whistled her back to the herd. 

Thamana is an extremely popular bull. He spends much of his day playing with Emoli, although he has also become close friends with Itinyi. We often see the bulls together, alternately browsing and sparring and play mounting. But at the end of the day, Thamana’s best friend is still Lemeki. One afternoon, Emoli made the same old mistake of mounting Thamana. Lemeki immediately went into protective ‘big sister’ mode and whirled over to push the older bull off her friend.

It’s nice to see Epiya settling in. He is good friends with Kilulu, although we witnessed a few quiet moments between him and Baraka this month. Tagwa is always very attentive towards him.

Little Ashanti lost part of her trunk to a poacher’s snare, but she has adapted marvellously. It helps that she has very impressive back-up! One morning, matriarch Mbegu was looking after Ashanti at the feeding trough this morning, standing close and shielding the little girl from feisty boys like Thamana and Hildana. Ashanti has to kneel to scoop up range cubes from the trough, and Mbegu knows that she doesn’t need annoying distractions.

On 24th January, the SWT/KWS Galana Anti-Poaching Team drove up to the stockades with a very special cargo — a baby zebra! A tourist had spotted the little boy on his own while on a game drive along the Galana River. She reported the sighting, the Kaluku control room organised the rescue, and an SWT vehicle delivered the baby. Kulalu, as he has been named, is healthy and around two weeks old.

The month ended with a very sweet scene. In the afternoon, as usual, the herd visited the mud wallow. After lots of frolicking and showing off in the water, Pika Pika invited Losoito to play with her. The little girl accepted the water baby’s invitation and Pika Pika climbed playfully onto Losoito as she lay in the water. Seconds later, Mbegu reclined next to both girls — perhaps knowing that our water baby, Pika Pika, can get carried away when it comes to swimming.

January 2024 day to day

01 Jan

The sun was shining on the first day of the new year when the orphans padded out of their shared stockades, down the path and around the corner to the feeding area. The milk-dependent elephants emptied their bottles in groups and walked on to the trough full of range cubes. Sagala, Mbegu, Lasayen, Murit, Ngilai, Ndotto and Godoma — who may have been weaned off milk but still live in hope — paused at the line of Keepers standing with bottles held aloft before walking on. In contrast to most days, the herd of ex-orphans were nowhere to be seen. Ashanti knelt at the trough, ignoring a small shove from naughty Hildana and continuing to scoop up pellets with her damaged trunk. As usual, Ngilai was the first orphan to move on the lucerne area. After carefully placing a bunch of lucerne on his head (just in case the tasty greens ran out before his belly was full), he wandered between the trough and the lucerne.

Responding to the Keepers’ calls and whistles, the herd of orphans soon set out to browse in the surrounding bush, spreading all over Msinga Hill. Matriarch Mbegu remained at the bottom with babies Busara, Baraka and Losoito while the others padded quietly up the hill. In the afternoon, the herd walked down for another milk feed and continued browsing. Unusually, no one was keen on swimming in the baobab tree mud wallow today.

Sagala browsing

Lasayen at the baobab tree

Ashanti kneeling to get pellets