Keepers' Diaries, June 2005

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Surprisingly, Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally have had contact with the orphaned unit just once this month; on the 5th, when they came to drink at the Stockades, and then waited for the babies at the Spring Gate. Of course, there was a joyful and noisy reunion when the orphans appeared, with Emily and Aitong touching each and every one gently with their trunks, before escorting them back home and only leaving once the babies were settled into their Stockades for the night. Lissa, her two calves, Lali and Lara, along with ex-orphans Mpenzi and Uaso feature twice, once when they were feeding at the top of nearby Mazinga Hill and also when they, too, came to drink at the Stockades in the evening, when Lissa and Uaso went round all the Stockades, greeting the occupants.

Surprisingly, Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally have had contact with the orphaned unit just once this month; on the 5th, when they came to drink at the Stockades, and then waited for the babies at the Spring Gate. Of course, there was a joyful and noisy reunion when the orphans appeared, with Emily and Aitong touching each and every one gently with their trunks, before escorting them back home and only leaving once the babies were settled into their Stockades for the night. Lissa, her two calves, Lali and Lara, along with ex-orphans Mpenzi and Uaso feature twice, once when they were feeding at the top of nearby Mazinga Hill and also when they, too, came to drink at the Stockades in the evening, when Lissa and Uaso went round all the Stockades, greeting the occupants.

As usual, the competitive nature of the little boys is clearly illustrated on an almost daily basis, with shoving and pushing matches, and tussles for dominance. Strong bonds of friendship are in the process of being forged between certain individuals is again evident. Burra and Morani are firm friends, as are Thoma and Seraa, whilst the very caring nature of Mweya towards the weakling of the herd, Mweiga, is graphically illustrated when she deliberately bars Nyiro when he had intentions of mounting Mweiga. Understanding that Mweiga would not be sufficiently strong to withstand Nyiro, Mweya thwarted him at every turn, and even put up with being instead mounted herself in order to protect her friend.

Mounting one another, although most prevalent amongst the boys, is also one of the ways in which the females reinforce a quest for rank amongst calves who are of a similar size and age. Laikipia, Lolokwe and Salama are extremely competitive, as are Mukwaju and Nyiro, all bent on mounting or tussling with one another. Being Leader is also a highly prized privileged, and one which Burra has greatly enjoyed this month, seen to be clearly annoyed when Solango and Natumi overtook him one day, resulting in a tough fight between him and Solango, which allowed Natumi free reign. However, a few days later he was allowed to lead the orphans to the mudbath, and the Diary records his happiness, swinging his trunk from side to side, and increasing his pace to prevent any of the others from enying him this treat.

In the absence of Emily and Aitong, Natumi is the Matriarch of the Orphaned Group, with Edie a strong competitor. Natumi is a very gentle member of the unit, caring of all her “family” who also responds sympathetically to the cry of a wild baby nearby.

Encounters with wild elephants have been frequent this month – on the 9th when Burra led the orphans to greet three large cows and four teenagers and enjoyed a gentle tussle with a very obliging large wild Matriarch who was careful not to hurt him with her large tusks. On the 10th the orphans comfortably integrated into a herd of 15 wild elephants, happily feeding and playing with age-mates as though part of that wild group. When a teenage bull appeared from the bushes 20 minutes later, Ilingwezi and Natumi went forward to greet him fondly and escort him back to join all the others. The orphans spent the entire day with this wild herd, leaving them only in the late evening to return back to the Night Stockades. Again on the 11th the orphans enjoyed the company of 7 wild elephants, whom they accompanied towards the Park Airfield, separating again when it was time to return home, but leaving Laikipia behind with the wild group. He joined up with the orphans at the Spring Gate later in the evening. On the 24th, before the orphans had a chance to drink, ten wild elephants enjoyed their drinking water placed in drums at their mudbath and this was when the yell from a wild baby upset Natumi. She would have liked to investigate further, but lacked the courage to do so when none of the others opted to come along too.

On the 21st it was Sosian who bellowed, having found himself left behind in the bush when Laikipia led the orphans back in the evening. His yells brought his friend, Irima back in a hurry to retrieve him, again reinforcing the bonds of friendship and caring that unite the orphans as a family.

That elephants can reason and plan is also illustrated by the fact that Ilingwezi plucked vegetation and placed it carefully on her back in order to accumulate enough to keep with her on which to feed later. This strategy was interrupted when she noticed Loisaba approaching, obviously with the intention of snatching some of it for herself, so Ilingwezi had to retrieve her stash, and consume it hurriedly. We also read about Salama choosing a suitable stick, which he carefully carried to the mudbath, placing it on one of the drums whilst he took his drink, and then using it as a means of scratching in between his legs. When Nyiro had an interesting mounting game interrupted by the arrival of Salama, he takes a trunkful of earth and flings it directly into Salama’s eyes in an act of revenge!

The fact that Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally are now spending more time away, is an indication that Emily is content that her extended orphaned family is in safe hands to enable her to now confidently take her place as an independent member of the wild community, set to start her own immediate family as Lissa has done before her. The difference between Lissa and Emily is, however, that Emily was orphaned in very early infancy as a calf of just one month old, reared by humans from that age through the Nairobi Nursery, whereas Lissa, having been orphaned older, was able to be given directly into the care of the then Tsavo Elephant Matriarch, Eleanor who was already a grown elephant. Lissa would remember her life as a member of a wild unit, whereas Emily would probably have no recollection whatsoever of her early elephant life and family. That these two orphaned female elephants have both ended up as perfectly normal “wild” elephants, is, indeed living proof of the success of our Orphans’ Project, and that the much vaunted possible “post-traumatic-stress-disorders” seen as a cause that produces abnormal behaviour in Southern African orphans, has never been apparent amongst our orphans. This is testimony to the healing nature of just two human ingredients – care and kindness, which are, indeed, the key to handling elephants.

The Keepers are pretty sure that both Emily and Aitong are, indeed, pregnant, and that Aitong’s pregnancy is more advanced than that of Emily, so, who knows, we may have a surprise in store over the coming months! What a celebration that will be!

June 2005 day to day

01 Jun

By 6.45 a.m. in the morning, it was already very hot, so the orphans went to the waterhole to drink and bathe at l0 a.m. Whilst returning in the evening, having had a good day feeding and playing with one another, Burra and Seraa played a fascinating game of hide and seek, running later to catch up with the others, who were already nearing the Stockade.

Morani places his trunk on Thoma's head

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