Keepers' Diaries, June 2020

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Conditions in the southern sector of the Park where Voi is situated have dried out considerably and our teams in the Voi area have been kept very busy fighting bush fires that have sprung up close to the boundary. Thankfully these fires have been stopped in their tracks with effective back burning and the use of our water bowsers and energetic ground teams with fire fighting equipment. The fires have thankfully not affected the area our orphans rely upon either. So many wild elephants have been visiting our mud bath water trough recently, eager to quench their thirst as some of the water pans across the area have begun to dry out, but it is the fresh quality of the water that they are drawn to. 

Initially some of these wild herds were shy to approach our orphans but as the month wore on there were some lovely interactions between the wild elephants and the youngsters. Arruba, Tamiyoi, Tagwa, Pika Pika and Rorogoi were eager to greet their wild friends and especially if they had a young baby in their midst! Females can never resist the opportunity to meet and cuddle a baby, however their ambitious behaviour was slightly unnerving to the family who usually stepped in and denied them access to the baby. 

Ndotto was also happy to meet the wild elephants perhaps more in search of a potential sparring partner as he is still so very playful and eager to test his strength. Mbegu isn’t usually willing to tolerate his bullishness and doesn’t like him showing off so she doesn’t often agree to play with him, so Ndotto’s finest playmate is still Arruba. Being two years older than him Arruba possess the qualities he desires in an opponent and she is also willing to entertain his antics. When Arruba is not with Ndotto she is of course looking after her adopted baby Pika Pika. Mashariki tried to walk off with Pika Pika one day while Arruba was still wallowing in the mud bath, but she came charging out of the water to intercept. Instead of messing around and playing Mbegu can often be seen taking care of her own little group that she arrived from the Nairobi Nursery with, and is particularly fond of looking after little Emoli. Mbegu is also not shy of taking on some of the wild elephants when they try to dominate the orphans’ waterhole!  She is clearly going to grow into a very capable matriarch in the fullness of time. 

While Tamiyoi settled down immediately into her new environment after moving to Voi in May, and has taken everything very much in her stride, our big girl Tagwa took a little while longer to acclimatize to her new surroundings again. Sensing this perhaps, wonderful Sagala stepped in to welcome and comfort her, and over the last few weeks we have seen Tagwa come out of her shell a lot more and appear to be a lot more comfortable. Sagala goes everywhere with Tagwa and Tamiyoi and has been a very loving and reassuring presence. We didn’t think that Mbegu had taken very much of an interest in her old friend Tagwa, but it was she who went to fetch Tagwa one day when she got a fright from a wild bull following her trying to say hello. Elephants have so many wonderful and complex methods of communication that we run the risk of misunderstanding their behaviour sometimes.

Kenia’s independent herd still come and go meeting up with the dependent orphans and the Keepers as they please. Sometimes Kenia, Ndii, Araba, Ndoria, Ishaq-B, Mashariki, Nelion and Tundani arrive altogether in the morning, around mud bath time or even in the evening, but sometimes they arrive separately to spend time with the dependent orphans too, particularly we find Nelion, Mashariki and Tundani arriving on their own. They always patiently wait for the dependent orphans to finish their milk feed before either accompanying them out to browse or to their mud bath for a swim. When Kenia comes she is always very happy to see Tahri and likes spending time with her, but so does Ndii and when she comes the Keepers have to keep an eye on her as they have a feeling Ndii will try to take Tahri with them, and at the stage she is still too small and milk-dependent to be roaming with them out in the Park.

On hot days in the dry weather the orphans have really enjoyed having mud baths. They always show off their delight at enjoying their wallowing session by vigorously playing in the water, rolling around and trumpeting excitedly, slapping the water with their trunks. We watched on one day as Nelion and Arruba were so happy, they charged around, kicking up water with their feet. They stayed in the water even when the rest of the orphans walked away choosing to catch up with them later on to continue browsing. One day Ndotto got so excited playing in the water he decided to sit on Mashariki’s head as she was submerged. Kenia’s whole herd was with the dependent orphans that day and she didn’t like this naughty behaviour one bit, and came charging in to discipline Ndotto, causing a commotion which had all the orphans scurrying out of the water. Tahri was playing in the water at the time and yelled out loudly which brought Kenia, Ndii and Ishaq-B coming over to reassure her. Ndoria dominated the waterhole another day, rolling around in the water, but only Ishaq-B felt comfortable enough to play with her, as she has a tendency to bite the other orphans’ tails!  

On the 22nd Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers from Tsavo West National Park brought us a very young zebra foal, less than a week old. He had been rescued from a village called Nzukini, which means ‘an area of bees’ in the local Kamba language. We are not sure what separated him from his mother, but he ended up in a Masai manyatta; we have called him Nzuki. Diria, the other zebra foal currently being raised by the Voi Keepers, initially ignored the newcomer, but they have now become very good friends. The buffaloes Ivia and Cheza are also very comfortable at Voi, having been moved there from our Kaluku Nursery to reintegrate back into the wild, and are always happy to do as they please. Rorogoi has never really fully accepted the fact that they are a part of the orphan herd now and is always seen charging them and trying to chase them away, sometimes with the support of Arruba too. Godoma stopped browsing one afternoon to charge at the two buffaloes, who were feeding close to the elephants, but Ivia and Cheza were totally unperturbed, as they always are whenever the elephants try to chase them away, and Godoma ended up just returning to browse when she saw that her attempts were in vain. This counts for wild elephants too, not just ones they are familiar with! One day a wild elephant herd tried to chase them away from the mud bath water trough but they stubbornly refused to move until they had their fill of water, after which they moved away of their own accord. We are confident these two will be just fine in the wild when they are ready!   

June 2020 day to day

01 Jun

The orphan elephants exited the stockades this morning for their milk and supplement feeding. Murit, Tahri and Godoma had their milk and walked straight to the Lucerne pellet feeding area where they were joined a few minutes later by Tagwa and Ndotto.  Sagala enjoyed an early morning dust bath while the rest of the orphan herd played around the stockade compound.

Arruba and Ndotto led the group out for the day and up Msinga Hill where they settled to browse while Sagala, Emoli, and Godoma browsed at the base alongside Suswa, Lasayen, Tagwa and Tamiyoi.  

When it was time for the noon milk feed Ndotto came down the hill and led the group to the baobab tree waterhole. After the milk feed the orphans had a drink from the water trough after which Lasayen and Pika Pika led the group into the water, where Arruba submerged herself before inviting her adopted baby Pika Pika to join her. Rorogoi remained in the water to showcase her wallowing skills while Arruba, Pika Pika and Mudanda had fun on the soil piles where Mudanda blew soil over everyone.

Murit & others enjoying Lucerne pellets

Arruba browsing on Msinga Hill

Ndotto coming downhill