Keepers' Diaries, June 2014

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Voi Reintegration Unit

In the month of June a number of school children were able to visit the Voi Orphans through the Trust's sponsored field trips program for Schools on the Boundaries of Tsavo. The children got a real thrill from this exposure to elephants, and loved seeing the very obvious varying characters of the orphans and the elephants loved showing off to an audience. Ndii soon became the children's favorite when she persisted in scratching her bottom on a rock which had them all dissolving in giggles. Lesanju and Ishaq B felt a little left out so began pushing Ndii off the rock so they too could get some of the attention. Dabassa watched from afar and decided it was time he got in on the action so he climbed onto a flat rock, very close to all the children, and sat on it! This was going to be a day they would never forget. The orphaned elephants, just like children, love to play. For the bulls the strength testing games are a particular favourite and these include the constant pushing and wrestling games. These games are important lessons as it teaches them not only to learn how to win but also how to lose. Good manners are vital for when they finally choose to leave the safety of their keepers and venture out with the wild herds. Bad behavior is not tolerated in elephant society and naughty little bulls soon get put into line; more often than not by the older females who dislike rambunctious behavior around their young.

In the month of June a number of school children were able to visit the Voi Orphans through the Trust's sponsored field trips program for Schools on the Boundaries of Tsavo. The children got a real thrill from this exposure to elephants, and loved seeing the very obvious varying characters of the orphans and the elephants loved showing off to an audience. Ndii soon became the children's favorite when she persisted in scratching her bottom on a rock which had them all dissolving in giggles. Lesanju and Ishaq B felt a little left out so began pushing Ndii off the rock so they too could get some of the attention. Dabassa watched from afar and decided it was time he got in on the action so he climbed onto a flat rock, very close to all the children, and sat on it! This was going to be a day they would never forget.

The orphaned elephants, just like children, love to play. For the bulls the strength testing games are a particular favourite and these include the constant pushing and wrestling games. These games are important lessons as it teaches them not only to learn how to win but also how to lose. Good manners are vital for when they finally choose to leave the safety of their keepers and venture out with the wild herds. Bad behavior is not tolerated in elephant society and naughty little bulls soon get put into line; more often than not by the older females who dislike rambunctious behavior around their young.

Lesanju is the main matriarch of the dependent group, but she has her helpers in Sinya and Wasessa. These three protect their little herd and do their best to ensure that everyone is behaving themselves. There was a day when mayhem unfolded as Kihari pulled at a dry branch from a tree only for the whole tree to fall on poor Ishaq B and Naipoki. Fortunately it was not too dramatic, but the two were caught unawares and took off in different directions whilst screaming in shock. Sinya and Lesanju were quick to respond and check on them all ensuring that calm returned, and of course their ever present Keepers were quick to the scene.

At this age it’s all fun and games but sometimes these games can get out of hand and one of the older females is required to intervene, especially when the boisterous bulls Dabassa, Rombo, Taveta, Tassia are involved. Dabassa in particular is a tough little bull and the others are often trying to get the better of him. Sometime they resort to sneaky tactics such as when Tassia staged an attack from behind while Dabassa was battling with Rombo. Poor Dabassa ended up having to scream for assistance from both Sinya and the Keepers. These games continue until such time as Lesanju decides it’s enough, things are getting too rough and they stop out of respect for her; though sometimes it is the Keepers who have to intervene.

This month there were some very hot days, but also some very cold days. On the colder days hardly any of the orphans dare to enter the water. Dabassa, Kivuko and Ndii are the water babies no matter what the weather is doing, and they simply love their mud baths. Sometimes their exuberance coaxes some of the others to take the plunge. On the cold days when they are less than enthusiastic to climb into the cold mudbath they resort to dust bathing, throwing red earth over their bodies. Kihari particularly loves her dust bathing routine. On another chilly day Kivuko and Panda lay around playing in the cool earth for a good long time, and this attracted Ishaq B to join in too.

On the hot days it is a different story with most of the orphans enjoying the cooling effects of their midday mudbath and they love nothing more than playing in the water hole. On a normal day the orphans finish their morning milk, copra cake, diary cubes, lucerne and games around the stockades compound before heading out to browse. There mud-bath time is around the hottest time at midday. This is an extremely care free time when the weather is right with mud flung everywhere and trumpeting boisterous elephants charging in every direction. Little Mbirikani loves plunging into the water and rolling around like a hippo. Her great excitement attracts the others of course like Wasessa, who joins her in her bathing games. Dabassa has also been having great fun lying on the water hole embankment and sliding into the mud down the steep slope.

There is one orphan however who tends to avoid the mud, having remembered the experience of falling down a well which caused her to become an orphan. On the rare occasions Sinya gets into the mud-bath even the other orphans look on in amazement as she play in the water! Sometimes the Keepers are forced to use buckets to cover her in mud just so that she can benefit from the cooling effects and protection that it provides without having to overcome her fear of water. Rombo decided one day he would help the Keepers out and picked up a huge amount of mud with his trunk and flicked it straight onto both Sinya and Dabassa.

The orphans have met with wild elephants a number of times this month and wild herds have even been visiting the stockade water trough, especially during the night when the orphans are in their stockades. They often rumble greetings to the orphans and some individuals, like Mbirikani and Panda, greet them enthusiastically in return. Lesanju and Kenia’s group are luke warm about the wild herds and they frequently retire to their stables whilst others, such as Panda greet and play with wild calves their own age. Wasessa, Sinya and Lempaute even grouped together in an attempt to steal a tiny calf from a wild herd, but the baby’s family were quick to spot what was taking place and put an immediate stop to it.

Both Tassia and Taveta are becoming bolder and have initiated contact with wild herds. Mzima too is becoming more independent, and with Lesanju and Dabassa, have enjoyed playing and making wild friends. Mzima frequently chooses to stay behind with the wild herds before following the rest of the orphans back to the stockade. These wild interactions will slowly become more frequent until they decide to overnight with their wild friends. Lesanju does a good job of discouraging this as she very much wants her family to remain intact.

Wasessa is still very protective over her little baby Mudanda, but has now also made friends with little Panda. Panda loves to invite Mudanda to play hide and seek with her and Mudanda gets a real thrill from this. Wasessa during these times is content to watch over her precious calf from a distance and only intervenes when necessary. If Wasessa takes her eyes off Mudanda for a second one of the older females is quick to kidnap her, but, Wasessa is Mudanda’s undisputed adoptive mother and it doesn’t take her long to reclaim her back.

Every orphan gains independence at a different pace with some, like Kivuko, Layoni, Mbirikani and Ishaq B, being more so than most this month – One day they decided to trek up a hill to continue their browsing away from the safety of the herd and their Keepers. On the 30th of June little Mbirikani went missing and a search team had to be assembled. Mbirikani was rescued when quite old and remembers her wild life well, so she in recent months is becoming increasingly independent. However, her leg, which was injured from a terrible snare, is not fully healed and she is still quite lame which would make her vulnerable to the Tsavo lions. Eventually the keepers found her on the hill alone, but she was in no hurry to return. Eventually she was tempted back to the stockade with a bottle of milk where she was welcomed by her best friend Panda in a flurry of excitement.

Our hand raised zebra stallion Lualeni has been translocated to Sagalla Ranch to be with other zebras. Lualeni was becoming increasingly dangerous to strangers and when charging with gnashing teeth he could be a terrifying sight. While he loved the Keepers he viewed casual visitors as a threat and was becoming a handful for the Keepers to manage. He seems very happy with the company of other zebras, and also has the company now of an orphaned eland. He seems to have settled well and we are ensuring he and his new friends have the Lucerne that he loves. Our team continues to keep a close eye on his progress.

June 2014 day to day

01 Jun

The orphans quickly took their share of the copra cake and milk for the youngsters in Kenia’s group before Lesanju led them to the browsing grounds. A group of school children visited the orphans today and they were very interested in the project and loved their trip as they were entertained by Tassia and Taveta who enjoyed a wrestling match. Kivuko and Dabassa, had a lovely time in the mud bath as they lay in the water and rolled around playing with one another trumpeting in excitement. The orphans spent the rest of the day browsing in small groups.

Kivuko and Dabassa playing in the mud

A School coming to visit the elephants

Lesanju taking the lead

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