Keepers' Diaries, July 2006

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Yet again, finding sufficient browse has dominated the month for the Voi unit, where drought conditions worsen as the dry season progresses following a shortfall of rain during the last wet season. Mainly they have been searching for browse either up Mazinga Hill, where a few green shoots remain in amongst the rocks or to its northern side. However, despite this, all remain in good condition – better, in fact, than that of the wild community in this area, and even Mweiga has shown a marked improvement following the extra supplements and medication she has been receiving. Her best friend, Sosian, is never far from her side, but all the orphans take turns in keeping her company when she fails to climb more than halfway up Mazinga hill, in this Diary namely Mvita and Mpala Itwo young bulls) who deliberately came down to relieve Sosian and remain with Mweiga. A light shower fell mid-month, which made the orphans very playful and happy and when even Mweiga rolled around in the puddles. However, the puddles soon dried out, but the rain did soften the existing vegetation a little.

Yet again, finding sufficient browse has dominated the month for the Voi unit, where drought conditions worsen as the dry season progresses following a shortfall of rain during the last wet season. Mainly they have been searching for browse either up Mazinga Hill, where a few green shoots remain in amongst the rocks or to its northern side. However, despite this, all remain in good condition – better, in fact, than that of the wild community in this area, and even Mweiga has shown a marked improvement following the extra supplements and medication she has been receiving. Her best friend, Sosian, is never far from her side, but all the orphans take turns in keeping her company when she fails to climb more than halfway up Mazinga hill, in this Diary namely Mvita and Mpala Itwo young bulls) who deliberately came down to relieve Sosian and remain with Mweiga. A light shower fell mid-month, which made the orphans very playful and happy and when even Mweiga rolled around in the puddles. However, the puddles soon dried out, but the rain did soften the existing vegetation a little.

A very interesting event occurred on the 5th, when a large wild cow with three calves passed by the orphans, heading for the mudbth and water bins. Viewing the Keepers’ photograph of this wild cow and comparing it with previous images, we are convinced that this was ELEANOR a famous early Matriarch of the orphans born in Samburu in 1960, who handed over custody of the youngsters in her care to a wild Matriarch friend in June 1996 and left to give birth to her first calf. Since Eleanor never passed through the Nairobi Nursery, she is fearful that her babies will be taken from her by the humans that keep bringing orphaned calves to the Voi Unit, not understanding how they were acquired. It is very common for elephants deprived of their natural family to try and hijack the calves of others in order to rebuilt their unit,Eleanor herself being guilty of this whilst with us..

Emily came alone to visit the orphans in the evening at the Stockades on the 2nd, and came again with the others in her now wild group, (Aitong Sweet Sally, Tsavo and Ilingwezi) on the 11th, when the orphans had already left for Mazinga Hill. She and her group then joined them there, and spent the day with them, enjoying the mudbath with them and escorting them back in the evening, before leaving again. The next day the orphans hurried back up Mazinga Hill to join up again with Emily’s group, when Mweiga again could only make half way. On this occasion it was Emily who came down to keep her company. All the orphans are very aware of Mweiga’s health difficulties, and all show amazing compassion and caring towards this weak elephant, even the young bulls, but especially Sosian, which is very touching.

In addition to several wild encounters this month, the orphans were treated to another visit by Uaso on the 31st, who came to join them as they were browsing. On the 5th Mukwaju joined a small wild herd that came to drink at the orphans mudbath, and went off with them for a short time but decided to return when he was warmly welcomed back by Sosian and Nyiro, who rushed up to greet him. Again, on the l0th, the orphans met up with 3 wild cows, two teenaged females and a young calf, to whom Burra and Sosian paid rather too much interest for the liking of the mother (and her calf). When she noticed that her baby was not happy, she intervened to chase the orphans off, so they took the hint and left this wild group.

As usual, Laikipia usually insists on leading the orphans home in the evening, and also deciding when it is time to go. However, Burra is competitive for this privilege, and sometimes wins it. He, Morani and Solango are great friends and as usual, pushing matches between the bulls are frequent in every Diary, to determine status and rank. There is always competition amongst the milk dependent babies to reach the noon milk venue first, and this month Solango has displayed great cunning in order to thwart Seraa and Mpala, sneaking away from the group to wait quietly hidden at the half way mark, and surprising all the others by appearing out of the blue to win the milk run race!

Because it is cool in the tropics during July and August, the orphans have often been reluctant to take a mudbath this month, but instead have enjoyed dust-bathing, or splashing water over themselves using their trunks. Icholta devised an ingenious method by inserting her back legs into one of the drinking barrels, thereby irritating Laikipia who obviously thought this was not on, and came to push her out! Laikipia has his own idiosycracy – that of untying the shoe laces of visitors, something he always tries to do! Being the biggest boy of the Voi group he is always a dominant player in each Diary and a very friendly and out-going character. Natumi remains the main Matriarch, but happily shares this responsibility with Icholta who is of a similar age, but resents competition from Edie, the next in line. Nevertheless, Emily remains in charge whenever she appears and is always welcomed with great enthusiasm and joy. The Voi orphans are a very happy and closely knit elephant family unit, who, unlike the Ithumba unit, frequently enjoy the company of wild friends. Their happiness, and the games they enjoy with one another is reaffirmed repeatedly in every Diary. The way they all share the responsibility of caring for, helping, and protecting, Mweiga; how they all look out for one another, and how happy they are to remain in contact with Emily and the rest of her now wild group illustrates that they will probably always remain “family” despite the fact that they are drawn from every elephant population in Kenya, with a couple of foreigners interjected, namely Madiba from Botswana and Mweya from Uganda. The Tsavo population will benefit greatly from an injection of new genes to contribute to the existing resident gene pool.

Other Voi Orphans:- Little Serena, the female zebra foal, and the latest baby kudu, Rukinga, have become best friends and enjoy feeding around the Stockade in the company of one another. Serena is becoming quite independent, happy to feed without a Keeper being in close contact, but returning to her new stable to take her milk. Both are, so far, thriving.

July 2006 day to day

01 Jul

It was a cool morning when the orphans left their Night Stockades, Mweiga keeping pace with the others at the rear of the column. En route to the feeding area, they had a lot of fun chasing two dikdiks, and Mweiga joined in, throwing her foreleg forward and emitting a shrill trumpet. After this they all settled down to feed.

Mweiga

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