Nursery Elephants:- Friday 18th June was another Big Day in our Nairobi Nursery, for this was the day scheduled for Seraa, Mpala, and Morani to leave the Nairobi Nursery and embark on the long journey of gradual transition back into the Elephant World in Tsavo East National Park. Seraa, is now a plump and healthy 19 month old, well over the life threatening pneumonia that almost took her from us on New Year’s eve, 2002; Mpala was obviously a little older than we thought upon arrival from Laikipia, for he now proudly sports the tiny tusks of a two year old, and Morani, the little “Warrior” who arrived severely traumatised with suppurating gunshot wounds has turned into a very gentle and friendly little elephant, all his wounds now healed. Being the youngest of the three, he will be the smallest baby within the Tsavo set, replacing the privileged position of Solango. Of the three, he will be the only one who does not have a Nursery companion to “find” again in Tsavo, but he has Mpala as a special friend, and since he was over a year when he came to us, he will also remember his elephant family clearly.
As usual, the practice sessions to get the orphans comfortable going into the large truck parked up against our loading ramp began three days earlier. As we suspected, the only elephant who firmly refused to be coaxed inside, was Mpala, for he could recall another very harrowing car journey from far off Mpala Ranch in Laikipia to Nairobi, after being captured and saved.
The loading of the elephants began, as usual, very early at first light. With Seraa and Morani safely inside enjoying their morning milk, Mpala had to be physically wrestled in, protesting loudly! However, he found he was no match for about 5 stalwarts under the direction of Roy Carr-Hartley, whose expertise at handling wild animals spans a lifetime. Once safely ensconced, along with two Keepers, plus the fodder and water for the journey, the truck drew away from the Nursery at 7 p.m. Apart from the usual brief stops en route just to check that all was well in the back of the truck, there was just one worrying hold-up of half and hour when we encountered an up-ended Container Truck on the main Nairobi – Mombasa road, which held up all traffic on the road for about half an hour. However, thanks to a sympathetic Policeman, whose eyes grew wide when he heard that three elephants were in Roy Carr-Hartley’s truck at the back of the queue, the elephants were given preferential treatment and allowed to jump to the front of the queue.
Conditions inside the truck were somewhat cramped, and Morani became particularly claustrophobic, because elephants need s p a c e and he even found the usual Elephant Stable in Nairobi too small for his liking, and was relegated to one of the Rhino Stockades. The Keepers had their work cut out keeping everyone occupied and calm until they reached the Voi Stockades at about 2 p.m. There the three elephants were relieved to be able to leave the truck and explore their new surroundings which were filled with the scent of many others, before it was time for the introductions to take place.
First to come to greet them were what is known as “The Baby Group” headed by Mweya, whose group includes those fairly recent arrivals who had shared the Nursery with Seraa and Mpala - namely Thoma, Burra, Solango, and Sosian, whose joy at being reunited with Seraa and Mpala was extremely touching. Recognition was instant and Solango, especially, was over the moon to see Seraa again, since both share a common origin in Shaba National Reserve, and could even be from the same herd. Burra and Sosian were happy to welcome their erstwhile younger friend, Mpala, so the only stranger was little Morani, who attached himself firmly to Aitong. Possibly she resembled a big sister, but Aitong was an immediate attraction, and she, of course, is delighted to have him as “her” special baby.
There is always a great deal of excitement amongst all the Tsavo group when newcomers arrive, and it was no different on this occasion. Trunks enveloped the newcomers, many laid across their back in a gesture of love, and they could not help but feel immediately part of this larger family of larger elephants – in fact, a veritable “herd” of elephants, led by the Matriarch, Emily. Seraa was the only one of the three who probably would not remember her elephant family clearly, because she came in so young, but she was too over-joyed to see Solango and Thoma again, that she remained remarkably undaunted surrounded as she was by so many older admirers.
Of the Keepers that accompanied the three new arrivals, David Mutie was known to all the Tsavo Group, having spent a long time working with them, so he, too, received an exuberant elephant welcome. Keeper Julius was a particular favourite of the Nursery Elephants during his term of office, and they were delighted to see him again. Nasalot, especially, paid him special attention, and this touched him deeply, because he doubted that her group would remember him. Now, he knows “that an elephant never forgets!” He spent the first night sleeping close by the Night Stockade that housed the new arrivals, and during the night just one change had to be made to the sleeping arrangements, which entailed moving Burra and Sosian into the adjoining Stockade, since they were playing one-upmanship with Morani!
The next morning, it was as though they had always been part of the new “herd”. With the absence of Imenti and Maungu, their arrival in Tsavo brings the dependent group of orphans to 29, and as soon as the infrastructure in the North is in place, eight of the middle sized group known as Natumi’s group will be joining Imenti in the North. Daphne, Angela and Robert joined all the orphans at their noon mudbath the next day, and it was difficult to identify Seraa, Mpala and Morani in amongst a sizeable group! They were all very relaxed and very much “at home” in their new environment, although they were feeling the heat somewhat. However, since the cool season is now upon us, they will gradually acclimatize and will be part of the orphan “family” for life.
Back in the Nairobi Nursery, it was little Ol Malo who suffered most from the absence of the bigger elephants, and especially Seraa, of whom she was particularly fond. She went into a serious depression, standing dejectedly alone apart from the others, passing loose stools. That first night she paced her stable and was unable to sleep. The next night she was given a mild tranquilizer and little Sunyei was moved next door as company. Since then, she is much more settled and has taken on the roll of “mentor” to tiny Sunyei, in other words the “Nannie” to Wndi, who is now Mini-Matriarch of the Nairobi Nursery and enjoying this new role, taking her responsibilities very seriously. Interestingly, her demeanour has changed and although she is only 7 months old, she has been transformed overnight into a caring and responsible miniature elephant, at all times conscious of her matriarchal duties to those smaller, and not quite so mischievous and naughty as she was previously!
Tsavo Orphans:- There were many encounters with wild groups this month, on the llth when 7 wild elephants joined our orphans at their mudbath, and Sosian was allowed to climb on one lying in the mud. Solango was a bit scared when an adult bull with very large tusks greeted the orphans, but Aitong pulled him close, and the bull then “kissed” him, by putting his trunk into Solango’s mouth, which calmed him.
On the 16th Laikipia was first to approach a wild group and instantly engage a wild age-mate in a shoving game, proving stronger, which prompted the wild youngster to call on some help from a wild friend. Immediately Salama, Lolokwe, Nyiro and Yatta joined in on the side of Laikipia, yet again illustrating the bond of “family” amongst the orphans, all of whom have very different backgrounds and origins.
On the 17th Icholta and Ndara played with wild calves of their size, but the game ended when Ndara got prodded in the bottom by a wild youngster’s tusk, and bellowed, which immediately brought Emily to the rescue.
The orphans met up with Lissa’s family on two occasions during the first half of the month, on the 8th, when Mweya, Solango and Thoma were allowed to touch Lissa’s new baby, but Emily and Aitong were kept at bay. Then on the 14th Lissa and her family joined our group at the mudbath when Natumi and Edie played with Lissa’s older calf, Lara, and Emily enjoyed a game with Mpenzi, (Lissa”s Nannie and an ex orphan). On this occasion Aitong was allowed contact with the tiny baby. Uaso was with Lissa’s family and enjoyed a game with Mulika and Salama. (Uaso spends a lot of time with Lissa’s family when he is not with one of the Big Boys, who have again been conspicuous by their absence this month.
As always in the Keepers Diary are many instances of “settling the score” after a slight when the offender has to take evasive action to avoid severe repercussions! For instance Nyiro stepped on Edie’s trunk in the mudbath and had to make himself scarce; then Kinna angered Loisaba by accidentally splashing muddy water into her eyes; when Kinna sat on Mvita’s head in the mudbath, and when Laikipia made Seraa cry, which brought Emily and Aitong in a rush to the rescue, sending Laikipia off to feed on his own for sometime!
There are also many instances of the older females within the group also playing the role of “peace-maker” - intervening in squabbles to separate warring parties. Natumi stands out in this respect and already is taking on the role of a “Nannie”.
There was tremendous excitement on the 20th upon the arrival of Seraa, Mpala and Morani, and instant recognition between Seraa and Solango, both of whom arrived in the Nursery within 2 days of each other, and both of whom come from Shaba National Reserve. The Tsavo orphans were brought in to greet the newcomers in separate groups, in order not to overwhelm the babies and it is interesting that it was the females of the older group who noticed their presence first before the bulls, namely Natumi, Yatta, Kinna and Nasalot. Emily’s senior group arrived in a rush, obviously knowing that something was up and Emily immediately tried to coax Seraa between her legs (an expression of immediate “adoption” and love). Mpala was slightly daunted and kept close to the Keepers but Morani immediately took a “shine” to Aitong.
That night, Sosian tried to throw his weight around the newcomers, and was promoted to the Night Stockade of the older bulls, where he will be kept firmly in his place as a little fish in a big pond!
The next day Natumi paid a great deal of attention to Morani, who is the smallest within the Tsavo set, but also one of the most outgoing, since he has only been with us a few months, and can obviously recall his elephant family clearly. Icholta spent a lot of time playing with Seraa.
On the 23rd the orphans again joined 6 wild elephants who had two calves the size of Mweya. Only Mpala and Seraa were slightly wary and remained close to the Keepers whilst all the others interacted. Again on the 24th 2 wild bulls joined the orphans, daunting Mweya and Seraa, but Morani immediately enjoyed their company, and even climbed on one when he lay in the mud! In fact, Morani would have liked to go away with them, but was restrained by the Keepers.
On the 25th the orphans joined a wild herd of 5 adults and 2 babies in the evening on their way back to the Night Stockades when Mweya, Ndara, Edie and Natumi tried to hijack the babies and take them to the Stockades whilst their mothers were otherwise occupied feeding. However, this did not go unnoticed, and the mothers hurried to reclaim their children, sending the girls running away for fear of being punished!
On the 28th Emily and Aitong spent the entire day with the newcomers, Emily favouring Morani, and Aitong, Mpala. Meanwhile, Natumi, Kinna and Yatta vied with each other for possession of Seraa, a tussle that was won by Kinna who spent the entire day close to Seraa. Back at the Stockades Solango and Mweya had an altercation over who should have Morani, which was won by Solango. He lay his trunk across Morani’s back in a gesture of love.
Amazingly, on the 30th, when the orphans again met up with some wild elephants, Mpala suckled the ear of one of the wild cows, which seemed to please her immensely, because she stood still with closed eyes. Afterwards, she tried to push Mapala between her legs, but this gesture of “possession” did not please Emily, who immediately came to pull him away, thereafter removing “her family” from the company of this wild herd.
The conclusion in this month’s Keepers’ Diary is very heartwarming. That “All the new babies (Mpala, Morani and Seraa) have adjusted very well to their new environment and are very comfortably absorbed into the Tsavo orphan family, moving easily and freely within the orphan herd”.
During the month there were the usual encounters with buffalo, including being daunted by a herd of 200, when our elephants kept their distance but put on an impressive display of aggression. Aitong needed reinforcement from Mukwaju, Salama and Laikipia to move a stubborn old bull buffalo, and Laikipia, Lolokwe and Yatta gave chase to two running buffaloes, once they were sure that the buffaloes had passed them! Mweya chased a couple of squirrels down a hole, and put her trunk down after them, but hurriedly withdrew it, obviously remembering another occasion when she got bitten. Burra, Sosian, Solango and Thoma were frightened by two flapping ostriches and Emily, Loisaba and Ndara had fun chasing a bushbuck.
Sadly, the rains have been very poor down in Tsavo, so we anticipate a gruelling and very long, very dry season for our orphans.