Keepers' Diaries, July 2022

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Little Juni, who was rescued by our Voi team in May, has become the most coveted member of our orphan herd. The month began with a custody battle between Mbegu and Tagwa. Mbegu was spotted browsing with Juni, which caused Tagwa to panic. She sidled over to the duo and browsed just next to them, stealing furtive glances at them all the while. She spent the rest of the day sulking about Mbegu’s coup.

Because of the persistent presence of lions in the area, Diria the zebra and Ivia and Cheza the buffalos remain closer to the Voi stockades. Diria and Ivia have become favourite sparring partners and while away most of the day cavorting. One day, we had a visit from a wild female elephant who often comes with her calf to drink from the stockade trough. Cheza, who is a female herself — albeit a buffalo, not an elephant — clearly wanted to join them, but the protective mum chased her away.

Emoli remains our social butterfly. Sometimes, his extroverted tendencies get him into a bind. Early in the month, he was on a mission to chase zebras who were waiting to drink at the water hole. This game evolved as he decided to leave with a wild elephant herd who was vacating the area. Unfortunately, a very aggressive female made it impossible for the Keepers to retrieve Emoli and they disappeared into the bush. Several hours later. Emoli bravely returned to the stockades all by himself. The orphans were delighted to have their friend back and welcomed him with lots of trumpets and charging about.

Wild friends are very alluring for all our orphans — particularly if they have wild babies in tow. One afternoon, Arruba, Tamiyoi, and Pika Pika kept themselves busy in their quest to play with some calves who were visiting the mud bath. Unfortunately, their protective older siblings denied them the privilege. In a last ditch effort to attract the wild calves to play with her, Arruba launched a game of rolling on the ground, but her efforts were in vain.

Adult friends have their own allure. At one afternoon mud bath, the orphans were joined by a single wild bull. Mudanda suddenly struck a pose, propping up one leg on the side of the trough, while Ngilai mirrored her from the other side. The bull was unimpressed and continued to drink his fill.

Although Lemeki is slowly making friends among the Voi herd, she still seems to enjoy the company of the Keepers the most. Her favourite activity is to proffer her trunk at them, inviting them to blow air into it. She can be quite jealous and has been known to push other elephants out of the way if she feels they are encroaching on ‘her’ Keepers. Lemeki is used to being the centre of attention, so it’s an adjustment for her to be part of a big herd. We are proud of how she is progressing, month by month, and feel confident that she will eventually embrace the herd dynamics.

Thamana, meanwhile, is fully ensconced in the herd. He loves to sharpen his sparring skills with the likes of Emoli and Suswa — if he can escape Mudanda, that is! Mudanda has adopted Lemeki and Thamana as her own, and she tends to be quite possessive. One afternoon, she noticed that Thamana was sparring with Suswa and came marching over, furiously trumpeting. She barged in between the pair and walked off with her beloved little boy.

We call the Voi orphans our showboats, because they are all notably dramatic and theatrical. Surprisingly, because she tends to be quite quiet, Rorogoi is one of the orphans with the most flair. She is always the last in the mud bath, just so that she can enjoy her own grand finale, trumpeting and splashing with her ears held wide. One day, she lounged in one of the trenches alongside Msinga Hil and pretended she was having difficulty getting up. Ndotto, who was close by, prudently ignored Rorogoi’s tricks, as he knew she was trying to entice him to a pushing game. Murit was less savvy and came over to make sure she was okay. He climbed on her back as a test, at which point Rorogoi immediately stood up, her prank successfully completed.

Unlike Ndotto, Ngilai, and Emoli, who always welcome a game, Lasayen and Murit are very laid back. One afternoon, however, Lasayen invited Murit to a sparring match. Godoma interrupted the game, which caused Murit to become very jealous. He walked off, shaking his head in protest.

Despite the very dry conditions, it has been quite cold in Voi. Most days, the orphans forewent the mud bath entirely, choosing instead to quench their thirst at the water trough before turning their attention back to browsing.

Tahri returned to Voi in March, after spending more than a year away with a wild herd. By all accounts, she thrived in the wild, but she clearly came to the realisation that she is not quite ready to be an independent elephant. She is relishing being back in the fold, enjoying long browsing sessions with Mbegu (her once-rival, now-friend) and the other older girls. We are glad she is taking her reintegration journey at a conservative pace, as this is a difficult, dry year to transition to the wild.

Little Pika Pika is used to being the darling of the Nursery herd. Interestingly, she has never had any issues with Thamana and Lemeki, despite them usurping her position as the youngest orphan at Voi. She does, however, seem to have some issues with Juni! Occasionally, when the Keepers aren’t watching, she tries to push Juni away or sends her little back-kicks of disapproval. Juni is now the youngest of the herd and is therefore attracting a lot of attention from the older females, including Tagwa, Mbegu, and Sagala. When Lemeki and Thamana arrived, Mudanda quickly took control of the pair, while Pika Pika kept the attention of Arruba. Perhaps she feels her position is now under threat with the arrival of Juni!

Ngilai remains besotted with his love interest, Tagwa. He is constantly seen trying to win her affections, although he can be quite clumsy in his overtures. He usually just attempts to climb on her back, which causes poor Tagwa to run back to her friends.

The end of the month finally heralded in some warmer weather. Godoma, Sagala, Pika Pika, Arruba, and Embu took advantage with a luxurious mud wallowing session. They were visibly delighted with the change in temperature and spent a lot of time cooling off in the water. 

As July drew to a close, Mudanda stopped to give Thamana an impromptu sparring lesson before heading home for the night. Nearby, Godoma lay down to relax while Lemeki stood guard over her. After a lovely little interlude, Godoma got up and gave the signal that it was time to go. Everyone eagerly followed, excited for the milk bottles that they knew were waiting for them.

July 2022 day to day

01 Jul

The milk-dependent babies came sprinting out of their night stockades for their milk bottles which were fed to them in front of the milk mixing area along the trough. They decided to play a few games in the compound when they were all done feeding. Tamiyoi went to sit in a small rock and scratched her bottom before deciding that it was time to head out for the day. She took the lead of the rest of the herd towards the gates and down the road to the bush.

Mbegu was spotted closely browsing with Juni, a situation that caused Tagwa to panic a little thinking that Mbegu, who is slightly senior to her, might be trying to take her new adopted friend for herself. She went over to stand and browse close to them so that Juni knew she was there as well and kept stealing furtive glances at the duo.

The orphan elephants later visited the water hole after the noon milk feed, but decided to snub a mud bath due to the cold July weather. Later, Arruba and Murit went to relax under a commifora tree and broke the peace by engaging in a wonderful sparring game. 

Diria the zebra and Ivia the buffalo decided to play their usual wrestling matches around the stockade compound. A wild elephant female who often visits with her calf arrived to drink water from the stockade trough and later settled for some lucerne pellets which had been left behind by the orphans. Cheza the female buffalo wanted to join them, but the wild female’s calf wasn’t welcoming and chased her away. The mother intervened and Cheza went away voluntarily.

Tamiyoi scratching her bottom on a rock

Ivia and Diria playing

Godoma and Lasayen sparring