Keepers' Diaries, June 2010

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Voi Reintegration Unit

The Ngutuni Ranch abuts the Western boundary of Tsavo East National Park, and aside from occupying a migration route of elephants, last year enjoyed more rain than the Park itself. The vegetation there is more lush and incorporates large stands of the Grewia shrub whose bark is a valuable source of minerals and trace elephants for elephants and therefore much sought after. This has tempted both our ex orphans as well as the wild herds to go there from time to time, regularly passing through the derelict electric fenceline, which both the Ranch owners as well as KWS have failed to maintain.

The Ngutuni Ranch abuts the Western boundary of Tsavo East National Park, and aside from occupying a migration route of elephants, last year enjoyed more rain than the Park itself. The vegetation there is more lush and incorporates large stands of the Grewia shrub whose bark is a valuable source of minerals and trace elephants for elephants and therefore much sought after. This has tempted both our ex orphans as well as the wild herds to go there from time to time, regularly passing through the derelict electric fenceline, which both the Ranch owners as well as KWS have failed to maintain.

For the second time this year Emily and her group returned to the Stockades, an arrow embedded in Emily’s rump and one also in the top of Laikipia’s trunk. Many of the wild elephants have also been targeted and have arrows embedded in their bodies. Ngutuni Ranch is obviously a hot-bed of both bushmeat and Ivory poachers, occupied by a particularly un-ele-friendly community where elephants and humans are constantly in conflict. That this crucial fence-line that ought to protect both the people and the elephants from the people has not been properly maintained is a disgrace that has cost both communities endless hardship and suffering.

Since the Vet attached to our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit happened to be attending a Workshop in Moyale in Northern Kenya at the time, the Trust had to charter a plane in order to fly in another Vet from the KWS Veterinary pool in order to immobilize both Emily and Laikipia and extract the arrows. That of Laikipia’s trunk was deeply embedded and difficult to extract and once removed looked as though it might have been coated with some sort of poison because there was evidence of string around the shaft. However, both elephants were resuscitated successfully and given a shot of long-acting antibiotic to aid healing. Emily’s group, which includes Laikipia, visited the Stockades again on two occasions during the month, on the l9th and 20th, and the wounds of both elephants are healing well.

The Trust moved in swiftly to undertake the repair of the Ngutuni fence and block the exit across the railway as well, and since this has been done no elephants have been able to cross onto Ngutuni Ranch. It appears that the maintenance of this fence is going to have to become yet another permanent conservation commitment for the Trust, since those that ought to be maintaining that vital fenceline barrier in the interests of both the people and the elephants seem incapable of doing so.

Meanwhile, Shira still being absent with the wild herds, the remaining 13 Keeper Dependent Voi Unit orphans are all thriving and growing apace with Lesanju as their main Matriarch, ably assisted by Lempaute, Sinya, Wasessa and Kenia. Kenia has taken possession of little Kimana, the smallest of the group, of whom she is deeply possessive. Wasessa has the next youngest, Tassia as her favourite, and both these females keep a very close watch over their favourites. Shimba and Mzima remain best friends, and Siria is the boss of the boys and also the most outgoing member of the group, the first to greet both wild elephants they encounter on their daily browsing sessions around Mazinga Hill and in the main Park, and also very fond of the boys in Emily’s ex orphaned group, especially Solango. Dida and Ndii still prefer to keep close to the Keepers, but both have been leaders of the column this month, which is a good sign.

On the 17th June, 2010, a yearling calf was spotted in amongst a group of 25 large bulls near Aruba, several carrying trophy tusks, with no cow herds anywhere nearby. The calf was quite obviously an orphan, already showing signs of loss of condition and strength through being deprived of milk. Separating this baby from his very large Protectors was no mean feat, for large bull elephants are not used to being messed around, but fortunately it was successfully accomplished by Robert Carr-Hartley who moved in swiftly and boldly to separate the calf, all filmed for posterity by the IMAX crew from the back of his Landrover. Once captured the calf was driven to the Voi Stockades and was in with Kenia and Kimana for the night before being airlifted to Nairobi the next morning. Kenia, mindful of its distress and fear, was extremely caring of the newcomer, who has been named Kandecha. The next morning, when he had to be again captured, bound and driven to the plane recumbent on the Capture Tarpaulin, she stood by and did not interfere with the Keepers, despite the bellowing of the calf. Once he was loaded into the back of the Pickup, she came and touched him lovingly as though to reassure him that all would be well, and that he was in good hands.

The Park is drying out very rapidly, so the next hazard for Tsavo East is likely to be huge bushfires driven by the strong winds of the dry season, unless the Eastern firebreak is cleared in time, which does not seem probable. After the prolonged drought conditions of 2008 and 2009, even despite reasonable rains since, the land has not fully recovered, and widespread fires will exact further damage and suffering. Furthermore, poaching continues, so the results of the anticipated elephant census will be very enlightening for those who maintain that poaching is under control which, sadly, is far from the truth.

June 2010 day to day

01 Jun

After their morning milk feed, the orphans enjoyed playing in a pile of soft red earth, after which they headed out to browse. With the Park drying out rapidly, they fed without interruption until mudbath time, after which they brosed their way back home to the Stockades in the evening, led by Lesanju, their Matriarch.

Lesanju leading

Mzima left & Siria playing in soil

Kimana front,Ndii left & Kenia

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