Keepers' Diaries, June 2002

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- June was a quiet and rewarding month for us, with all the Nursery elephants thriving, happy, and steadily gaining weight - until the night of the 28th when Burra gave us all a nasty scare. Suddenly he blew up like a balloon, his tummy distended and as tight as a drum. The Keepers woke us up at might, and we went out to find him in obvious pain, groaning, and rolling around on the ground.

Nursery Elephants:- June was a quiet and rewarding month for us, with all the Nursery elephants thriving, happy, and steadily gaining weight - until the night of the 28th when Burra gave us all a nasty scare. Suddenly he blew up like a balloon, his tummy distended and as tight as a drum. The Keepers woke us up at might, and we went out to find him in obvious pain, groaning, and rolling around on the ground.

Immediately we phoned the Vet, who, very fortunately, happened to be at home and was therefore able to respond instantly. In the meantime, Burra was removed from his Night Stable and encouraged to move as much as possible around the yard, as we massaged his tummy, and administered homeopathic remedies which we hoped would bring some relief as we awaited the arrival of the Vet. Within 20 minutes, he was here to administer the same intra-muscular injection he would give a horse for bloat, which, apparently, relaxes the intestines so that air can pass more easily. Before leaving, he left us with a second dose just in case it would be needed further into the night, but fortunately the one injection did the trick.

Leaving Burra and his Keepers still walking around the yard, we finally retired, leaving instructions that if there was no improvement within three hours, we were to be alerted. Fortunately, however, Burra was able to expel the buildup of gas that had caused his problem in a series of loud explosions, until he felt easier and himself retired back to the stable for the rest of the night. By the morning he was again himself and in fine fettle, so we are still none the wiser as to what he could have inadvertently eaten to cause this kind of reaction. This, however, is another lesson learned, and from now on, the remedy will be at hand just in case it is ever needed in a hurry again!

Little Mpala, who arrived at the Nursery on the night of the 31st May, has settled in amazingly well. Within just a few hours he was able to join the other elephants and their Keepers out in the bush, taking his cue from them. Initially, glued to Thoma, he was careful to always be in the middle of the group, reticent about being too friendly with humans, but also knowing that they could provide the milk he so desperately needed in his starving state.

Thoma is the current Nursery "Mini-Matriarch", since the transfer to Tsavo of Mweya and Sweet Sally. It was not long before little Mpala formed a strong attachment to the other two little boys, "Burra" and "Solango", finding them more fun, and joining in the usual warthog chasing games that the Nursery Elephants so enjoy - just as long as the warthogs obligingly run off!

Solango has grown enormously, shooting up and overtaking little Seraa in size, despite having been the same upon arrival. He and Burra are great friends, and now almost the same size, and they have been happy to embrace into the fold little Mpala making a Nursery trio of baby bulls.

Thoma has been fulfilling her Matriarchal role with relish, but finding the three boys something of a handful. She is particularly caring of little Seraa, the only other female and also the smallest calf in the Nursery. Although, Seraa has put on a lot of weight, and now has chubby cheeks as a baby should, she is still the "shorty" of the Nursery set. I have no doubt that she, too, will suddenly shoot up, because by the time calves are four or five years old, the age gap seems to close and they enter a period of all being roughly the same size. She is a lovable and very gentle little elephant, small for her age, but always impeccably behaved - in short essentially a very sweet and mild natured little character, who captures the hearts of all who meet her, and has overtaken Mweya in terms of fostering popularity.

Tsavo Orphans:- Not surprisingly, it is Mweya who dominates the June Diary, very much in evidence on an almost daily basis, and already a major player within the orphan herd, still displaying habitual mischievousness by "kicking" an unsuspecting visitor at the Stockades! However, it appears to be Lolokwe who has occupied a lot of her attention. She bit his trunk when he knelt down in the next door stockade to try and "nick" some of her fodder; then she incurred his wrath by treading on his foot, cleverly avoiding retaliation by keeping a tree trunk between herself and him until he cooled down! She is obviously now very fond of, and also in awe of, Emily, choosing to spend time close with a trunk wrapped around Emily's front leg, but she consorts confidently and comfortably with all the older elephants irrespective of size and even with the wild herds that they encounter on their daily sorties. However, the Nursery bond of friendship between Mweya and Sally is still very much intact, and both enjoy a special relationship with Nasalot and Mulika, with whom they shared the Nursery. They are, however, also very fond of Ndara, who continues to be a favourite of Emily.

It is surprising to find tiny Mweya confidient enough to come to the rescue of the much larger Nyiro who was pushed down by Icholta, having incurred her displeasure. There is no doubt that Mweya will continue to be a major player within the orphaned herd of elephants, adding a great deal of zest to their daily routine!

Sally, likewise, features a great deal, but mainly because she and Mweya are usually never far from one another.

It is very gratifying to see a lot of interaction between all our orphans, and the wild elephants, including the babies within the youngest group. They all mingled freely with wild herds on the 2nd, again on the 13th, when Sally even tried to suckle the wild Matriarch, then again on the 14th, 20th, 22nd and 28th, when a somewhat less than friendly wild Matriarch brought her family to the orphans' mudbath .

Natumi, Edie and Ilingwezi constantly exhibit very Matriarchal tendencies, always rushing to the rescue of whoever needs help as does Kinna and occasionally Yatta. Mulika and Nasalot remain sufficient unto themselves, but are still very caring of Mweya and Sally. It is interesting to find that strong Nursery bonds perpetuate when the babies join the older Tsavo set to begin the re-integration back into the wild community. Evidence of this is the affection between Emily and Imenti; Kinna, Yatta and Mukwaju, which now includes Nyiro; Natumi, Icholta, Edie and Ilingwsezi; Mulika and Nasalot, and, of course, Mweya and Sally. Ndara and Maungu are also very close, both orphaned round about the same time, and both from the same area, whilst Salama, Laikipia and Lolokwe are preoccupied with each other in terms of dominance. Somewhat of a loner is Mvita, and the fact that she has a tendency to be so jealous of those more popular illustrates this.

Evident in this month's Diary is jealousy between Icholta and Tsavo both rivals for the attention and affection of Emily. On one occasion Emily had to intervene by planting herself between them! However, Emily still holds a special place in her heart for Ndara and Mweiga.

An interesting incident that illustrates the intelligence of an elephant is when Aitong could see that Icholta intended to "nick" some of her Copra cake, and quietly came to close the door of the Stockade, pulling it shut with her trunk, to bar entry to Icholta. This month, Aitong has again spent time away from the others, perhaps keeping a rendez-vous with a boyfriend!

Little Maungu seems to be joining Mweiga in being a somewhat fragile character, much less robust than all the others. We hope that perhaps her condition will improve as she gets older. As main Matriarch to all the orphans, Emily obviously takes her responsibilities very seriously, spending time monitoring events in all three Stockades before retiring to her own, just to satisfy herself that all is as it should be with her charges.

Of the Big Boys, it is "Uncle Edo" who dominates this month's Diary, Ndume, Dika and the other independent Big Boys all conspicuous by their absence. Edo is a great favourite with everyone, both elephant and human. A particularly touching incident was when Sweet Sally was scared to pass him on the way back into the Baby Stockade, and he reached out his trunk to gently pull her close, so that she could get to know him. Of all the Big Boys, Edo and Dika are the most gentle, and also the most popular with everyone, whilst Imenti is still something of a "brat", something we hope will improve with age. He shows signs of an inferiority complex through bad behaviour, trying to trip up a Keeper carrying bottles, and charging passing cars. When Daphne was down in Tsavo recent, she noticed that he was hanging back as the other elephants were moving off, and was interested to see that Emily was doing the same on the other side of the road, keeping a close eye on him. Daphne assumed that Emily was merely waiting for him to catch up, but when the car moved off, Imenti charged. Immediately Emily raced from the right hand side, intercepting him with ears out and a roar of disapproval, as she rounded him up and sent him packing off up the hill after all the others. It was quite obvious to everyone present that knos him well enough to be able to anticipate his intentions, and waited as a precautionary measure to intervene when necessary.

The little boys, Salama, Laikipia and Lookwe continue to be very competitive, which is normal amongst the young bulls of similar age, as are those even younger, namely Nyiro and Mukwaju. It is the girls who can be relied upon to restore law and order, and sort out any differences, and this they do on a daily basis. Edie seems to be particularly active in this role amongst the Middle Group, sometimes needing the back-up of Ilingwezi, and Natumi, whilst Kinna and Yatta do the same within the younger set.

Adventures involving other species this month include the nasty shock that Mweya suffered when she put her trunk down a hole, and out shot a Monitor Lizard, and also when a baboon barked nearby. There have been the usual buffalo incidents, including a charge from a buffalo herd which scared both elephants and Keepers alike; the pursuit of two warring dikdiks; Laikipia's terror when a nesting guineafowl squawked in a bush he was feeding on, and an attempt by Aitong and Emily to chase off some giraffe, who would not oblige by running away.

The dry season has set in with a vengeance, and since the rains of April/May were below average around Voi, it promises to be a challenging year for our elephant family and their Keepers, as competition for the available food resource intensifies. Already, we are having to supplement extra Copra rations at mid-day as well as in the evening, and we still have another four months to go before the next rains!

June 2002 day to day

01 Jun

After leaving the Stockades in the morning, Aitong joined Yatta's baby group, and gently urged Maungu to keep abreast with the others every time she lagged behind. (Maungu, like Mweiga, seems to be a somewhat fragile calf, much less robust than the rest of her group). At 11.20 a.m., Mweya accidentally trod on Lolokwe's front leg, which annoyed him. He threatened punishment, but Mweya cunningly sheltered behind a tree trunk until he had cooled down! Later Laikipia was happy to share a tasty bush with Edie, but refused to allow Salama a share.