Keepers' Diaries, July 2002

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- It was a very quiet and peaceful month for all the Nursery elephants until the 17th July, when K.W.S. reported an orphaned elephant they had been told was "the size of a goat" on a Ranch in Laikipia. There was confusion within K.W.S. as to the exact location of the orphan, and, according to K.W.S., the ranch owners were somewhat uncooperative, having sought permission to keep the calf, which had been refused. (Daphne, Jill and Angela were all away at the time, so the rescue had to be orchestrated entirely by our Staff and Volunteers, who were merely told that the calf was at a ranch near another called "Kasima", which happens to be at Nanyuki).

Nursery Elephants:- It was a very quiet and peaceful month for all the Nursery elephants until the 17th July, when K.W.S. reported an orphaned elephant they had been told was "the size of a goat" on a Ranch in Laikipia. There was confusion within K.W.S. as to the exact location of the orphan, and, according to K.W.S., the ranch owners were somewhat uncooperative, having sought permission to keep the calf, which had been refused. (Daphne, Jill and Angela were all away at the time, so the rescue had to be orchestrated entirely by our Staff and Volunteers, who were merely told that the calf was at a ranch near another called "Kasima", which happens to be at Nanyuki).

Very fortunately, the only plane available for the rescue was a Grand Caravan, rather than something a lot smaller, which might have been more appropriate for a very small elephant the size of a goat. The plane made several abortive stops at various locations in Laikipia before finding the orphan at a ranch named Sosian, which was a long way from "Kasima". As it turned out, far from being the size of a goat, the calf was a very large, and very wild, two and a half year old bull with two inch long tusks, who, we were told, had apparently been found wandering alone near a wild herd, but seemed not to actually belong within it. The calf had therefore been captured by the Ranch owners, hobbled, and fed on cabbages and sugarcane during the time it was in their care.

The elephant was not in bad shape, and under normal circumstances, at that age, it would have been flown directly to Tsavo rather than to the Nairobi Nursery, for in Tsavo it would have been calmed and comforted by the other older elephant orphans. However, by the time it had been located and loaded, time had run out, so the decision was made to at least fet it halfway, and fly it instead to Nairobi. It was, of course, sedated for the flight, and was woken up having been safely ensconced in one of our stout Rhino Stockades, all the Nursery stables being rather too small for such a large inmate.

We called him "Sosian" to identify his origin, and it took that night and the next two days to calm him down sufficiently in order to be able to be let him out to join the others. What he seemed to want, more than anything else, was to be able to suck a hand, so in order to tame and calm him down as quickly as possible, we offered him milk and boiled barley from a bottle, (since cabbages and sugarcane and any other human oriented food is forbidden to our orphans, for obvious reasons). He was already proficient in the use of his trunk, which is well developed and strong, and ate greens voraciously which he accepted from the Keepers, who remained with him 24 hours a day, feeding him by hand and talking gently to him from the safety of a raised platform, until such time as he could be trusted not to crush them.

On the third morning we opened the doors and out he came, delighted to be amongst other elephants again, and instantly calmer and more settled for such contact. That first day of freedom, he even took no notice of the mudbath crowd of human onlookers, taking his cue from the others, and simply remaining amongst them and their Keepers, although he was disinclined to join in the fun. Nowadays, he sometimes prefers to absent himself from the mudbath routine, and the human audience at this hour, and, escorted by a Keeper, feeds close by, joining the other elephants when they leave the mudbath at noon.

Sosian has turned into a very gentle and friendly little elephant, who has formed a strong bond of friendship with the other little bulls, and especially with Solango. He also now responds with affection to all the Keepers and visiting humans. Showing no signs of the aggression that marked his introduction. It was, however, a good l0 days before he could sleep or lie down, since his legs were swollen and obviously painful from having been hobbled on the Ranch.

Hence, we now again have 6 infant elephants in the Nursery. Thoma and Seraa, our two little females, are the best of friends, Solango and Sosian likewise, whilst Burra has teamed up with Mpala, so that each one is content with a special friend. Mpala is gradually putting on weight, the prominent cheek bones slowly becoming less so. Burra is now so plump around the face that his cheek bones have disappeared entirely in fat little cheeks, and it is hard to believe that he is the same emaciated and starving little elephant that came to us in such desperate straits only a short time ago. Solango has shot up, leaving Seraa way behind in size. She is still tiny, but also nicely rounded, with the cheekiest little face and a great zest for life. She is a hot favourite with all the guests due to her miniature stature, and she also has a very endearing personality. Thoma, as the Mini Matriarch of the Nursery, enjoys throwing rank, very conscious of her status. She is greatly loved and respected by all the Nursery inmates and especially by Mpala and Burra who often lay their trunks across her back in a show of affection, but it is little Seraa who is never far from her side.

Sosian will remain in the Nairobi Nursery until the onset of the Tsavo rains and the festive season for elephants in that arid part of the world, when he, and possibly the other little bulls, will be joining the Tsavo group. However, decisions of this nature are never made in advance, but depend entirely on circumstances prevailing at the time, so such options are always kept open.

Tsavo Orphans:- With the mudbath for the Tsavo group now down near the Voi River, our orphans have enjoyed a lot of contact with the wild herds, and have met up with wild elephants almost on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, Mweya features prominently, not in the least daunted by the presence of wild strangers, and even having already made friends with a wild calf of her size. She can always rely on Sweet Sally to back her up, and these two remain close friends, as do Nasalot and Mulika. There are times when Mulika likes to be alone, feeding separately to the others, but of all the orphans, Nasalot remains her best friend.

Emily and Aitong have been kept busy, escorting the babies to their noon milk feed, and coming to the rescue of whoever needs it. Emily's affection for little Ndara is evident when the Keepers describe how she draws Ndara from beneath Aitong, wanting to keep her close. Emily has also had to retrieve Mweya from the wild herd that she followed on one occasion, very conscious of the fact that Mweya "belongs" within her family.

Again, both Emily and Aitong have been guilty of trying to entice away wild calves, and have paid the price for such transgressions by being chased off by irate wild mothers. On one occasion, when Emily was being hotly pursued by the mother of the wild calf, Edo came to her rescue, diverting the angry cow just as she was almost about to skewer Emily in the backside with a tusk.

Imenti features as prominently as ever. It is encouraging that he is spending more time away with Edo, although we see signs of frustration and also timidness when confronted with wild strangers. Of the Big Boys, only Edo has been a regular attendant, both at the Stockades in the evenings, and also joining the orphans out in the bush and at their mudbath almost on a daily basis. He has even mated Aitong this month!

Laikipia and Salama continue their tussles for "one upmanship" and again we see the mischievous side of elephants when Salama and Mulika joined forces to shove Mukwaju into the mudwallow, simply because he is always so reluctant to go in. Mweya is a true water baby, always the first in the pool, and the last one out. She and Maungu are good friends, but little Mvita still seems to be something of an outsider. Icholta and Kinna are obviously very good friends, and we see Icholta disciplining Nyiro whenever he shoves Kinna. Likewise Edie is quick to come to the rescue of Natumi whenever needed, but especially when she is engaged in a punch-up with Salama, which seems to have happened on several occasions this month. It is good to see Natumi becoming more assertive, because she has always tended to be rather a "baby" and not nearly so outgoing and demonstrative as Edie, Ilingwezi and Kinna.

It is good to see the young bulls becoming more independent, and choosing to spend time away from the others, and also feeding apart with Imenti. Mukwaju and Nyiro are still the most friendly of the young bulls, always seeking a hand to suck, and wrapping trunks around the necks of any visitors. Lolokwe is a very independent character, who seems to be giving the other bulls his size a wide berth this month, no doubt biding his time until he can be sure of success in a test of strength.

Lissa and her wild calf, along with her Nannie, Mpenzi, have been regular visitors, both at the Stockades in the evening, and also out in the bush during the day, spending a lot of time with our orphans. It is interesting that although Lissa and Mpenzi regularly consort with wild herds, they still remain very much part of the orphaned family of elephants, and are always welcomed within our group, greatly loved by all the orphans.

Encounters with other species this month involve Emily and Aitong trying to chase off a male giraffe, who was reluctant to oblige by running away; an encounter with a buffalo herd, when Aitong was attacked and knocked over by a bull, and when Emily had to come to the rescue and regular baboon chases at the mudbath. The youngsters successfully chased off a squirrel and some impala but felt especially proud of being able to chase off a Kingfisher!

July 2002 day to day

01 Jul

(The orphans' mudbath has had to be moved near the vicinity of the Voi seasonal river due to the very arid nature of the vegetation during this dryer than usual dry season. It is currently near Simon Trevor's house, enabling the orphans access to vegetation bordering the seasonal Voi river, which still has a tinge of green. Most of the wild elephants also utilise this area which makes things somewhat difficult for the Keepers. Not only do the orphans (now numbering 24) have to cross several main tourist routes, during which the Keepers have to hide in order to keep out of sight, but they need to be careful not to be seen from the two large tourist lodges that have sprung up just outside the Park boundary fenceline. Rules regarding the visiting of the orphans down in Tsavo are very rigid, for fear of the elephants being "corrupted" with hand-outs from tourists and tour drivers that will encourage them to rubbish pits and community areas in the future, and thus jeopardise their lives. Only foster parents and those with special written permission from Daphne Sheldrick have access to the Tsavo orphans, and this is in the interests of the orphans themselves) Today, at the mudbath, as usual Mweya and Sweet Sally were leading the group, anxious for their noon milk feed, when they were highly scared by a waterbuck that happened to be drinking at the pool. They fled very fast back to the Keepers, screaming. Back at the Stockades Salama was trying to inhibit the others from access to the Copra cake, so Emily intervened, pushing him away, and standing close to Tsavo, Natumi and Edie so that they could have their share.
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