Keepers' Diaries, June 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Emoli has become the ‘big brother’ of the Voi herd. Thamana is his favourite mentee; the boys spend hours together, between browsing sessions and daily sparring lessons. While Emoli is always up for a game, Thamana isn’t quite so inexhaustible and often isn’t in the mood. On several occasions, we saw the older bull plod after Thamana wherever he went, hoping he would relent and play with him. This tactic of dogged determination was often highly effective!  

Later in the month, Itinyi joined Emoli’s wrestling classes. Thamana used to be his only student, but now the gentle bull is mentoring two young friends. For Thamana, this was an unwelcome development. He was jealous of Itinyi, which he demonstrated through unwarranted shoves. 

Our Voi orphan herd has grown significantly in the past year. This is due to the addition of the ‘Voi kids,’ the new rescues who skipped the Nursery stage and were brought directly to Voi. Mbegu is an excellent matriarch, but it’s an increasingly big job and she needs help from her team. Luckily, everyone is eager to assist — even Pika Pika, who was once the baby of the herd! Tagwa, Tamiyoi, Godoma, and Sagala are excellent deputies and have each taken charge of specific ‘kids.’ It’s lovely to see how everyone is stepping up and pulling their weight. 

Murit is such a peaceful bull. He craves peace and quiet above boisterous games. One afternoon, he joined Itinyi and Lemeki in the mud wallow for a cooling dip. When Ngilai plunged in after them, Murit decided that the event was becoming too hectic. Instead, he wandered over to the dust pile and hosed himself with red soil. Murit gets along with Ndotto and Ngilai, but he has always preferred gentle Lasayen’s company best. 

On 3rd June, we were treated to a special visitor. The orphans awoke in excitable moods, and a few minutes later, it became clear why: Ex-orphan Panda sauntered in, joining the herd at the feeding trough. Ndotto welcomed Panda by challenging her to a sparring match on the terraces. As Ndotto is four years younger than Panda, he was at a distinct disadvantage. The thoughtful female made the contest fairer by moving onto the lower terrace, thus giving her dependent friend a height advantage. 

A week later, we were treated to more special visitors. In the evening, after the dependent orphans had settled in their stockades, ex-orphans Kenia, Araba, Kihari, Panda, Suswa, Rorogoi, Arruba, Mudanda, and Ndoria wandered up to the terraces. They hung around for a few hours before disappearing silently into the night. The group continued to visit throughout the month, all looking well, despite the increasingly dry condition around Voi.

More so than any other unit, our Voi herd wakes up each morning with vastly different energy levels. Some days, they rise full of energy, sprinting out of their stockades in a trunk-to-tail line. Other days, they take their time, relaxing before the day ahead. When it’s chilly, they are less enthusiastic than usual about leaving their stockades and trundle down to the feeding area in reluctant groups.

Voi had some wonderful wild visitors this month. As the orphans converged at the baobab tree water hole for a drink and a wallow, they found a family of wild elephants waiting for them. The two groups mingled peacefully as they stood around the pool.

Later, a different herd of wild elephants joined the orphans at the mud bath. Some of the swimmers clambered out to greet the newcomers. Godoma and Mbegu ambled towards them, trumpeting greetings and escorting their wild friends to the wallow. The elephants drank deeply from the trough, having walked a long distance. Doing their best to impress, the two girls noisily chased away some thirsty waterbucks, ably assisted by Pika PIka.

Ngilai has a longstanding, largely unrequited crush on Tagwa. One afternoon, however, we saw them on a date beneath the baobab trees, heads together as they enjoyed each other’s company. While Tagwa has stolen his heart, Sagala managed to steal something more tangible: One morning, Ngilai picked up a large pile of lucerne and carefully placed it to one side for a snack. As soon as his attention wandered, crafty Sagala pinched his hoard and darted away!

We are often asked how and when orphans stop drinking milk. We encourage individuals to wean at their own pace, although we help the process along by reducing feeds and changing to an increasingly watered-down formula. Lasayen, Mbegu, Ngilai, and Ndotto are no longer milk-dependent; vegetation now makes up their diet and they have lost an interest in bottle feeds. Still, we can’t help but notice that they tend to walk very slowly past Keepers during milk time, as if nostalgic for their bottle days!

This month, ex-orphan Arruba felt the milk nostalgia particularly keenly. While the young orphans ran in for their bottles, the big ex-orphans continued down to the mud wallow. However, Arruba decided to test her luck. She paused next to the milk truck and lifted her trunk to a Keeper, opening her mouth. It was as if she hoped that he would mistake her for a younger, milk-dependent orphan! The Keeper ordered her away with a whistle and, reluctantly, she plodded down to the wallow. 

As the saying goes, an elephant never forgets. One afternoon, ex-orphan Ndoria paddled into the mud bath, where she had a splendid time splashing around. The other elephants stood in an arc, watching but not joining her. Ndoria used to be a notorious tail-biter, chomping on her friends’ tails just for the fun of it. She has long since given up the habit, but her friends won’t take any chances.

Pika Pika is shaping up to be an excellent nanny, but all nurturing goes out the window when swimming is involved. She is a water princess and has no interest in sharing the throne. On a hot afternoon, Itinyi was full of confidence in the water. He rolled among his older friends and submerged his body so only his trunk could be seen like a snorkel. He remained in the water until Pika Pika put a stop to his fun and chased him out of the water, so she could have it all to herself. He bit his trunk in anger as she reclined for a swim.

The month ended with an attempted kidnapping. The orphans padded down for their afternoon milk feed and mud bath, where they found a large herd of wild elephants. Kilulu, Hildana, Kenderi, Dabida, Baraka, and Epiya sprinted down, ears flared and trunks aloft. Full of confidence, the Voi kids almost succeeded in scaring away the wild elephants. 

When the wild ones strolled away, they deliberately took several of the Voi kids with them. The Keepers gave chase as Mbegu trumpeted in alarm. Some of the orphans turned around and returned to the Keepers, but Epiya and Hildana continued to wander away. The Keepers drove after the elephants in their vehicle and rescued the two babies, both of whom are milk-dependent and too young to spend a night away from the stockades. Mbegu welcomed Epiya and Hildana, trunk touching them and keeping them close for the rest of the day.

June 2023 day to day

01 Jun

The sky was clear as the orphans wandered out of their stockades and down the path for breakfast. They downed their bottles and plodded over to the lucerne feeding area. Emoli and Thamana stood side by side as they picked up the pellets – the two friends have been spending lots of time together, with the older Emoli giving Thamana daily sparring lessons. Nearby, Godoma was trunk hugging Ashanti, laying her trunk along her back and round her belly, as Tamiyoi struck some impressive poses on the terraces.

As the sun rose in the sky, the herd headed out to browse around Msinga Hill. Content not to travel far today, they returned in the afternoon to the stockades for more milk and lucerne, lining up on the terraces to enjoy their supplementary greens. Heading out again, they settled in an open area at the foot of the hill. Ndotto lay down on his side to relax as Ngilai and Sagala played the pushing game and Lasayen rolled around in a patch of dry soil. Sagala then challenged Tagwa to a wrestling match but Tagwa turned her back and wandered off. Soon, Ndotto clambered onto his big feet to spar with best friends Ngilai and Lasayen. Not far away, gentle giant Emoli was teaching little Thamana some more skills. As the day grew cooler, the herd meandered back to the stockades for the night.

Thamana and Emoli

Godoma and Ashanti

Ndotto relaxing