Keepers' Diaries, June 2004

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- The morning of the l8th was a momentous day, heralding a fundamental change in the lives of 6 of our Nursery Elephants. The time had come for Naserian, Wendi, Tomboi, OlMalo, Taita and Selengai to graduate from the Nursery, and begin the long gradual process of integration back where they rightly belong – amongst their own kind and the wild elephants of Tsavo East National Park. After a great deal of discussion and heart searching, the decision was taken to move them to the new Orphans’ Facility that we have established at Ithumba, in the Northern Area of Tsavo East, rather than to Voi, mainly for two reasons. (1) The Voi unit (31 elephants) was becoming unwieldy for our Keepers to handle during the long dry seasons, something clearly illustrated last year when the October rains did not arrive until mid January 2004. (2) We would like to allow the calves under Emily and Aitong’s care to grow up to the point when they need no longer be enclosed in the Stockades at night – in other words of a size that they will no longer be vulnerable to attack by lions. At the same time, it was urgent to transfer four middle sized females from Emily’s group to the North, to be young Matriarchs for the new babies, and to comfort and care for them in an elephant way. The Nursery six are, of course, still accompanied by their favourite Keepers, with several from Voi awaiting their arrival at the other end, but now behaviour has to be taught by other elephants in an elephant way prior to their association with wild herds, when the wild Matriarchs take over. Targeted for this assignment were Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot, all firm friends from their own shared Nursery period, and a self contained little unit, sufficient unto each other, who are yet to make lasting friendships amongst the wild herds. Deciding on these four females entailed a lot of discussion with the Keepers, for we had to be careful not to remove from either Emily or Aitong any of their particular favourites which might result in a major psychological upset at the Voi, de-stabilizing that unit.

Nursery Elephants:- The morning of the l8th was a momentous day, heralding a fundamental change in the lives of 6 of our Nursery Elephants. The time had come for Naserian, Wendi, Tomboi, OlMalo, Taita and Selengai to graduate from the Nursery, and begin the long gradual process of integration back where they rightly belong – amongst their own kind and the wild elephants of Tsavo East National Park. After a great deal of discussion and heart searching, the decision was taken to move them to the new Orphans’ Facility that we have established at Ithumba, in the Northern Area of Tsavo East, rather than to Voi, mainly for two reasons. (1) The Voi unit (31 elephants) was becoming unwieldy for our Keepers to handle during the long dry seasons, something clearly illustrated last year when the October rains did not arrive until mid January 2004. (2) We would like to allow the calves under Emily and Aitong’s care to grow up to the point when they need no longer be enclosed in the Stockades at night – in other words of a size that they will no longer be vulnerable to attack by lions. At the same time, it was urgent to transfer four middle sized females from Emily’s group to the North, to be young Matriarchs for the new babies, and to comfort and care for them in an elephant way. The Nursery six are, of course, still accompanied by their favourite Keepers, with several from Voi awaiting their arrival at the other end, but now behaviour has to be taught by other elephants in an elephant way prior to their association with wild herds, when the wild Matriarchs take over. Targeted for this assignment were Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot, all firm friends from their own shared Nursery period, and a self contained little unit, sufficient unto each other, who are yet to make lasting friendships amongst the wild herds. Deciding on these four females entailed a lot of discussion with the Keepers, for we had to be careful not to remove from either Emily or Aitong any of their particular favourites which might result in a major psychological upset at the Voi, de-stabilizing that unit.

Moving the infant elephants from the Nursery into the Big Wide World is always an emotional moment for us, and one that is inevitably somewhat tearful, since having cosseted and nurtured the babies from newborn, they are always deeply loved. Wendi came to us the day she was born, and like Imenti, was saved by an infusion of blood plasma taken from Thoma, which makes her extra special. Gentling the infant elephants through their crucial Nursery period demands intensive care and constant vigilance from all of us who are responsible for their wellbeing, one of the secrets of success being a genuine outpouring of love. When they leave, they are sorely missed and we feel the trauma that they themselves will inevitably endure making such a radical life change, but such a change at such a young age is vital for the elephants’ wellbeing even though parting is painful.

At first Taita and Napasha were wary about entering the trucks positioned against the loading ramp, having been subjected to a car journey before, but as the sun rose on the appointed day, all the elephants were safely loaded and on their way by 6.15 a.m, Wendi and Selengai in the lead truck, Olmalo and Taita in the next, and Napasha and Tomboi in the third. However, before they had even reached the main road, Napasha panicked, desperate to escape. He threw himself against the 44 gallon drum of water, puncturing it with his toothpick tusks, barging into his Keepers and poor Tomboi, until the truck had to be halted for Roy Carr-Hartley to inject some magic to cool the situation, derived from a lifetime’s experience of moving animals both large and small. Immediately, he came up with the solution, being an old hand at the game - some extra tasty and unusual browse cut by the roadside to keep Napasha’s mind on other things. Once this had happened, the rest of the journey proceeded as it should.

Most elephants calm down once the truck is moving, and we will never truly understand what caused Napasha to behave as he did, other than the fact that he was driven to the Nursery in the back of a Landrover from Laikipia as a dying orphan of about 9 months old. The movement of the vehicle must have triggered sinister memories in an elephant that is normally a very calm and gentle character. Luckily, his love of food rapidly overcame any misgivings he originally had!

It was a large convoy that accompanied the elephants on their 8 hour drive to Ithumba, branching off the main Mombasa road at Kibwezi and thereafter on the dusty dirt track to Ithumba via Kimethena on the Northern Park boundary. Within the convoy were two vehicles carrying the BBC Natural History Unit’s camera crews, here to film the orphans for their proposed series “Elephant Diaries”; at the other end another unit awaited the arrival of the orphans, and down in Voi a Third Unit were poised to film the loading and transfer to the North of the 4 larger elephants, Mulika, Nasalot, Yatta and Kinna. Once these females have settled in, and know their way around, we plan to walk the young bulls of a like age up to join them, so that they can grow up further from sensitive tourist roads and Lodges who are not as careful as they should be about their garbage.

As soon as the vehicles drew in, the orphans disembarked, Napasha and Tomboi doing their best to climb over the back tailgate before it was fully lowered! With ears out like dinner plates, they surveyed their new surroundings, and spotting the newly prepared mudwallow, were soon romping around in it as though nothing had happened. That afternoon they accompanied their Keepers on a walkabout, and the three trucks headed South to Voi for the next challenge; that of bringing the four bigger elephants to join the six Nursery babies. The first night was traumatic for the youngsters. For the first time they were all together in an electrified Stockade, rather than a snug Nursery Stable and they had to learn about the “hot” wire the hard way, which is always a difficult process for them. None of them slept much that night.

Back at home, the four tiny elephants, namely Naserian, Ndomot, Sunyei and Madiba spent the morning searching for their friends, running around in the forest, returning to the stables to make sure they were not still there, and eventually standing in a huddle, their heads together as though comforting one another. Sunyei and Ndomot especially missed Wendi, and that night Ndomot was especially vociferous and clinging even more than usual to his Keeper. (Ndomot has always been a very insecure little elephant who needs a great deal of comfort and attention). After a quick assessment of the situation Madiba, who is a tough character, stoicly accepted the situation and went about his business, whilst the newcomer, Naserian, sensing that humans might have removed her friends, was more “pushy” towards strangers than usual. However, on day two, things returned to normal, little Sunyei taking over the mantle of Mini Nursery Matriarch, and seemingly enjoying her new status. Probably, it was us humans and Makosa, the rhino, who felt the loss of the six most, and still do! Every evening when Makosa returns from the bush for a hand-out of copra in his erstwhile stable, he never fails to check out the Stockade formerly occupied by Napasha, as well as that which held OlMalo and Taita.

When the four bigger elephants arrived at Ithumba from Voi on the 21at June, Mulika and Nasalot in the front truck, having gone in without a problem, Yatta in the second vehicle having been slightly sedated, and problematical Kinna in the third (having had to be immobilized for loading, and revived inside the truck) the meeting between them and the six Nursery inmates was very emotional and touching. Immediately Mulika and Nasalot took charge, greeting the babies with mounting excitement and concern. Soon all were back in the mudbath having a marvellous time as one happy family. The only member of the larger contingent who appeared a little subdued and perhaps was missing her Voi friends, was Kinna, who spent time aside on her own, deep in thought. That night the older elephants gently steered the youngsters away from the “hot” wires of the Stockade whenever they approached the fence, and all l0 elephants slept close together comfortably settled in a bank of soft new earth laid out for them. For us, it has been a huge relief that everything went so smoothely.

Food is much more plentiful in the North, the thickets filled with an elephant’s favourite browse, so the four older elephants tucked in to all the “goodies”with gay abandon, closely watched by the youngsters, who soon followed their example.

Update on the 6 Nursery Elephants moved to Ithumba on 18.6.004

18th June:- Wendi and Selengai also tried to jump out of the lorry when the upper tailgate was opened. The Keepers blocked them from doing so. Napasha did not display any difficulty in coping with the new environment, and immediately began to browse.

19th:- Early in the morning the babies were led to their browsing field. At first, the orphans were confused and reluctant to feed on the dry browse, with the exception of Napasha, who tucked in as usual. At 9 a.m. the others began to follow his example.

20th:- At mudbath Napasha lay down to play, and Tomboi came along to jump on him as Olmalo watched. Selengai spotted a dikdik and charged it, forcing it to flee.

21st:- Wendi’s group came to greet the four older elephants who had just arrived from the Voi group, namely Yatta, Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot. Nasolot showed a great deal of interest in the babies, touching each one gently with her trunk. Olmalo responded, and immediately began to follow Nasalot.

22nd:- Wendi led the others to the mudbath with Olmalo bringing up the rear.

23rd:- At noon bottle feeding time, Napasha finished his milk fast, and went to try and hijack Olmalo’s shjare, but was prevented by the Keepers. Napasha entered the drinking trough and splashed water over himself with his trunk.

24th:- At 9.30 a.m., Slengai suckled Nasalot’s ear, whilst Nasalot just stood still. At mudwallow, Napasha drank water standing inside the drinking trough.

25th:- At l0 a.m., Kinna tried to bully Napasha and Wendi, but was prevented doing so by the Keepers. At 2.30 p.m., the babies followed Nasalot and fed a short distance away from the Keepers.

26th:- This morning the babies appeared very relaxed, settled and free of stress. Out in the bush, they scattered, each browsing independently. At 11 a.m. a mongoose emerged from a hole, which scared Olmalo, who ran to the Keepers for protection, whilst Napasha dealt with the mongoose, chasing it away.

27th:- At mudbath, Tomboi shoved Olmalo. Nasalot spotted this and came running to rescue Olmalo, chasing Tomboi away.

28th:- On their way out into the bush, Taita took the lead, followed by Selengai. Nasalot remained behind to protect the other babies. At around noon, Mulika placed her trunk on the back of Wendi, which is a sign of the beginnings of a strong friendship. She is showing much more interest in the babies now.
29th:- In the evening Selengai and Taita initiated a pushing game, which deteriorated into a fight. Nasalot came to separate them.

30th:- In the morning, Kinna and Yatta walked joyfully, swinging their trunks from side to side, which is a sign of happiness. Tomboi and Selengai imitated them, doing the same.

Prepared by Benjamin Kyalo, Head of the Ithumba Orphanage.

Summary by Daphne Sheldrick:- From this initial Diary, it is obvious that Nasalot has taken up the mantle of Matriarch. Kinna and Yatta remain a little distant, and of the four older elephants, are probably missing their Voi friends the most. I am sure that this will change, signs of this on the 30th, when they headed out into the bush “swinging their trunks from side to side”, which is the elephant body language of happiness. Already, the older elephants are taking charge of discipline and instilling good behaviour, breaking up squabbles, and punishing those that have transgressed, i.e. Tomboi when he pushed Olmalo and was chased away by Nasalot, who rushed to Olmalo’s assistance. As the lead bull, Napasha is displaying his bull independence and confidence, dealing with the mongoose that scared Olmalo, and teaching the smaller babies how to cope with the drying vegetation. Selengai chased off a dikdik, (which is quite a brave thing for a baby elephant to do). I am confident that these l0 front runners in our new Ithumba Re-integration base will thrive in the Tsavo environment, which is, ostensibly, prime elephant country, with all the correct minerals and nutrients in the vegetation to ensure that they grow up strong and healthy. The Northern Area of Tsavo at one time was reknowned for its huge Tuskers. In the fifties and sixties it was not unusual in an afternoon’s drive along the Tiva River to see half a dozen massive bulls, each carrying ivory of well over 100 lbs. a side. The poaching holocaust of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s changed all that, but today the elephants are returning to the North, an area they abandoned for three decades, and some of those massive Tuskers are still living, having been in hiding all these years.

Tsavo Elephants:- A main event has been the move to the North on the 21st of Mulika, Nasalot, Yatta and Kinna, taken there to look after the six Nursery elephants who were moved to Ithumba on the 18th. For over a week they remained back at the Stockades, whilst Emily and the others went out to browse, and whilst Emily returned to retrieve them initially, she soon understood that they were held back for a reason, and accepted it stoicly.

Following the initial difficulty of loading Yatta and especially Kinna, the 3 hour journey to Ithumba went very smoothely. Upon arrival, Mulika and Nasalot were first out, and understanding that the others would be in the next two vehicles, they were ready and waiting as the back doors were lowered, to greet their friends. The six Nursery babies were then brought along to be introduced, and the four older orphans were delighted and excited, greeting them with an out-pouring of love and excitement, as though the journey they had recently endured mattered not one whit! Soon they were all in the mudbath together. Mulika took an early lead as Matriarch, but soon Nasalot seemed to take over. Kinna and Yatta, although older, seem happy to accept this situation, but we feel that all four young females will be very caring of the young and share the Matriarchal duties.

It has surprised us that Emily and Aitong appear not to have missed them. From years of experience, we are sure that elephants have the ability to decipher thought processes, telepathy being a very real means of communication within the Animal Kingdom. We are certain that the reason is that Emily and Aitong know exactly where they are, and why! Might sound far-fetched, but elephants have many mysterious abilities and surprises for us humans!

There has been a lot of wild contact for the Tsavo group this month, with regular visits from Uaso, who often turns up unexpectedly to share the mudbath, or feed with our orphans. He is now part of Lissa’s family, and she and her two young calves spent time with Eleanor’s wild Matriarch friend, the cow named Catherine. Lissa and her babies put in an appearance at the Stockades on the 11th, along with Uaso.

An exciting event that took place on the 8th June has been the absence for the whole of one night of Aitong and her favourite orphan, Sweet Sally, who followed a wild herd at 5 p.m. and spent the night out with them, returning to the Stockades the next morning. This is the first time that Aitong has chosen to spend time away from the group. However, the Keepers report that she is enjoying spending more time on her own, with Sally as company, and we wonder whether we will see the group split, yet keeping a loose affiliation, which I am sure they will. Aitong has always been an out-going elephant, enjoying the company of both wild bulls and cows.

The usual friendships are evident – the young bulls Laikipia, Salama, Lolokwe often tussling together, testing their strength, with Nyiro, Mukwaju and Tsavo joining in and Irima throwing his weight around at the noon bottle feed. Thoma, Solango, Seraa, Mpala and little Morani are great buddies whilst the mischievous streak of Sosian is illustrated when he splashed cold water on the others on a cool day when everyone is doing their best to avoid the water. One thing is evident throughout the Keepers’ Diary, and that is that Nursery friendships endure. We find that the calves who have shared the Nursery together, remain very closely bonded, enjoying a loose affiliation with all the other orphans, yet sufficient unto themselves.

The Rhinos:- Shida is today a bouncing 10 month old with a 3 inch horn, who goes about the serious business of visiting the dungpiles and urinals of the wild rhino community on a daily basis, following “the coat” and whichever Keeper happens to don it. He comes into the mudbath ahead of the elephants, charming all the visitors, and has a good following of foster-parents, being as charming as only a baby rhino can be. He has, apparently, physically met Magnum out in the bush. Magnum is a very gentle bull, who wants nothing more than a peaceful life, and who has befriended a large cow and her three quarter grown calf. However, Shida’s Keepers do their best to steer clear of Makosa, who is much more feisty character, and at 5 years old, is almost the same size as Magnum, even though Magnum is two years his senior. More importantly, Makosa has a sharper horn, since Magnum is on his second, having off-loaded the first against the bumper of a car when a year old!

It is not unusual to see Magnum and several wild rhino friends enjoying the Salt-lick together at dawn as the sun rises. Makosa keeps to the area behind the Trust Headquarters, often meeting the young elephants and their Keepers out in the bush, though not encouraged to fraternize too closely! Magnum avoids contact with Makosa by calling on us in the mornings, demanding a hand-out of “goodies” by seeking out his erstwhile Keepers at the Staff Canteen. The kitchen peelings and copra cake are then wheeled out in the wheel-barrow and taken down the hill, making a unique cavalcade – a man pushing a wheel-barrow followed closely by a fully grown Pachyderm and a host of opportunistic warthogs trotting along behind eager to share the spoils which Magnum happily shares with them. Having enjoyed his daily hand-out, he then sometimes puts in an appearance at the mudbath, delighting all the visitors, even though the little elephants have to wait in the wings until he has been doused!

June 2004 day to day

01 Jun

After the noon mudbath Aitong took Sally with her, and both were away for two hours before rejoining the group.
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