Keepers' Diaries, March 2005

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Very evident in this month’s Voi Diary is the strong friendship and tremendous compassion displayed by the little Ugandan elephant, 4 year old Mweya, towards the weakling of the group, Mweiga, who has always been a particularly fragile member of the orphan unit. We read how Mweya helps Mweiga up the steep incline of a gulley, pushing her from behind with her forehead; how Mweya remains behind at the foot of Mazinga Hill with Mweiga, when the others ascend the hill; how she remains close to Mweiga’s side out in the feeding grounds, and instead of running ahead to the mudbath with the others, keeps pace with slow Mweiga, even holding onto the older elephant’s tail in a gesture of friendship. Nyiro, who has always shared Mweiga’s Stockade during the night, took to persistently trying to mount her during the night, prompting the Keepers to remove him from Mweiga’s Stockade and put him in with Natumi and her night-time colleagues. Since Nyiro’s big buddy happens to be Tsavo, who occupies Natumi’s Stockade at night, this could have been a deliberate ruse to initiate such a change! The fact that elephants reason is illustrated many times in the Diary – for instance when Mpala can’t reach a particular branch, and climbs onto a rock in order to do so, and when Burra can’t quite manage to mount Mpala, and takes advantage of a fallen log to gain height, ending up draped across the log as Mpala moves off!

Very evident in this month’s Voi Diary is the strong friendship and tremendous compassion displayed by the little Ugandan elephant, 4 year old Mweya, towards the weakling of the group, Mweiga, who has always been a particularly fragile member of the orphan unit. We read how Mweya helps Mweiga up the steep incline of a gulley, pushing her from behind with her forehead; how Mweya remains behind at the foot of Mazinga Hill with Mweiga, when the others ascend the hill; how she remains close to Mweiga’s side out in the feeding grounds, and instead of running ahead to the mudbath with the others, keeps pace with slow Mweiga, even holding onto the older elephant’s tail in a gesture of friendship. Nyiro, who has always shared Mweiga’s Stockade during the night, took to persistently trying to mount her during the night, prompting the Keepers to remove him from Mweiga’s Stockade and put him in with Natumi and her night-time colleagues. Since Nyiro’s big buddy happens to be Tsavo, who occupies Natumi’s Stockade at night, this could have been a deliberate ruse to initiate such a change! The fact that elephants reason is illustrated many times in the Diary – for instance when Mpala can’t reach a particular branch, and climbs onto a rock in order to do so, and when Burra can’t quite manage to mount Mpala, and takes advantage of a fallen log to gain height, ending up draped across the log as Mpala moves off!

Also again very evident is the continuing and very close link that binds Emily, Aitong, and Sweet Sally with the other orphans. Although these three are no longer enclosed at night, and free to go where they will, they have obviously foregone accompanying their wild friends to lush feeding grounds in order to remain close to the other members of extended family. Most days find Emily’s little group waiting outside the Stockade Gates in the early mornings, in order to be at hand to escort the other orphans out to the feeding grounds. Alternatively, they meet up with the dependent orphans out in the bush, or at the mudbath, appearing as though by magic to help whenever a member of the younger set calls for help. When Salama bellowed, finding himself left behind up Mazinga Hill one day, not only did all the other orphans rush back to retrieve him, but Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally suddenly appeared from nowhere to answer his distress call. On another occasion, they startled Laikipia by silently surrounding him as he was bent on feeding and did not see their approach, but were quick to reassure him when he was left trembling, walking with him to join up with the others.

It is interesting to read that on the 25th Emily took Salama from the main group to spend a night out, and that he was apparently chuffed to have been selected for this honour, appearing the next day with them at the Stockades to escort the others out. However, his friend Sosian missed him sorely, and although Salama was tempted to follow Emily’s group again the next day when they peeled off from the main group, he changed his mind ten minutes later, and came running back to instead remain with Sosian. During the entire month, there have only been very few occasions when Emily, Aitong and Sally have not met up with the others, and at such times, Natumi takes charge, ably assisted by Icholta and happy to entrust the care of Mweiga to Mweya, Thoma, and Seraa, who remain with her when the others choose to go far afield. However, in the absence of Emily, Natumi’s group are not quite so brave when it comes to meeting up with wild elephants, an example being on the 4th when they came across two very large wild bulls with long tusks, and were clearly apprehensive about joining them. Mukwaju very bravely was first to introduce himself, whilst Laikipia was busy trying to push the others forward! In the end, they all joined up with these two bulls, and thereafter spent quality time with them until it was time to leave for the mudbath, when Mukwaju chose to remain behind and join the group later. However, the entire group was clearly all daunted by an even bigger fellow who came to share their mudbath on the 12th for on this occasion they all hung back until the Big Fellow moved off.

There is evidence in the Diary of elephant jealousy, Ally taking exception to the other orphans crowding close to Emily and Aitong. She sets about shoving them away until Emily punishes her by pushing her off instead, thereby allowing the others to have a turn at close contact. Following this, Sally has no option but acquiesce and behave. Again she was jealous when Ndara wanted to be close to Emily.

During the month, and following a fresh flush of greens after rain, the orphans have been going further afield than usual, and this is what prompted the Keepers to separate the group into two, in order to spare Mweiga such long treks keeping Mweya, Thoma and Seraa back as company for Mweiga . The way that all the orphans watch out for Mweiga is very touching, illustrating yet again the tremendous out-pouring of compassion and care that elephant extend to the less fortunate, even when young.

Apart from the encounter with the two wild bulls, and the almost daily encounters with Emily’s group, there has been no other contact with wild herds this month, all the elephants having moved from their dry season range to where the rain has been heaviest, and the vegetation is most lush, which is far from the area occupied by our orphans, along the Park’s Eastern boundary and across the Galana river in the Southern Section of the Northern Area. Encounters with other species have also been few. Icholta enjoyed chasing some rock hyrax into a cave, and two lesser kudus who were being chased by the main group found themselves in trouble as they were fleeing when they ran into Emily’s group, who were on their way to the mudbath from the opposite direction.

March 2005 day to day

01 Mar

Mweiga was having difficulty climbing out of a deep erosion gully that the orphans were crossing, so Mweya went behind her, and helped by pushing her up the steep embankment. Mweiga rumbled softly to say “thanks” and the two fed close together for the rest of the day.

Mweya helps to push Mweiga up the hill

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