Keepers' Diaries, March 2006

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Voi Reintegration Unit

It has been a very busy month for all our elephants, since the BBC have been back to embark on the filming of Elephant Diaries Series II, following the success of Series I, as have many other Film Units.

It has been a very busy month for all our elephants, since the BBC have been back to embark on the filming of Elephant Diaries Series II, following the success of Series I, as have many other Film Units.

Mweiga, our precious weakling, who we suspect suffers from a heart condition, is now eight years old, and could soon cycle. Because of her obvious physical handicap, we are convinced that she could not carry a calf, or, for that matter, endure being mounted by a large bull, so an expert on Elephant Contraception in the person of Dr. Henk Bertschinger, agreed to come to Kenya to share his expertise with us (and other interested parties), and to protect Mweiga with a series of three contraceptive injections. The first of these she was given on the 20th and the others will be administered by our Mobile Vet Unit. Thereafter she will need just one booster each year. Whilst here, Dr. Bertschinger also took dung samples from both Emily and Aitong to ascertain whether or not they are, in fact, pregnant, as we suspect, and if so, how far advanced is any pregnancy.

An amazing event occurred towards the end of the month when the orphans encountered a wild herd comprised of 3 big cows, 2 middle sized calves and a tiny baby. Whilst Loisaba and Mvita enjoyed tussling with wild age-mates, Ilingwezi was besotted with the baby, and when Natumi signalled that it was time to head back home, Ilingwezi flatly refused to return and instead went off with the wild herd, despite being repeatedly coaxed back by both the Keepers and Natumi. Amazingly, however, she was deposited by the wild herd with Emily, Aitong, Sweet Sally and Tsavo, who were drinking at the Break Pressure Tank below the Voi Safari Lodge, and by the time the BBC arrived to film this exciting event, Emily had already taken full charge of Ilingwezi, communicating with her in low, loving, rumbles. Hence, Ilingwezi is now part of Emily and Aitong’s wild unit and out in the Big Wide World.

Whilst Emily and her unit have often been spotted feeding behind Mazinga Hill, on one occasion in amongst the large l000 strong buffalo herd, they have not returned to the Stockade now for an entire month. The Keepers report that Aitong appears to have lost a lot of condition during this very harsh dry season, something that Dr. Bertschinger also remarked upon, but we are confident that she would have returned to the Stockades for a hand-out of Copra if she felt desperate, as has Emily in the past. March is the hottest time of the year, and also the driest, and when the October/November rains fall short, drought conditions become progressively more severe until the next rains break in April/May. There was, however, a heavy rainstorm in the afternoon of the 20th, and this has been a Godsend, for it will bring on a green flush that will assist the orphans until the next rains break. This dry season has been extremely harsh, and the quest for enough food has occupied most of the time of our Voi Unit orphans. However, the dawn of every new day is exuberantly greeted with a touching ceremony of joy and excitement, as all the orphans greet each other, spend a little while playing together, or, in the case of the bulls, testing their strength in tussles, before heading out to feed in the Park at a signal given by their Matriarch, Natumi. Mukwaju (the champion climber) loves going up Mazinga Hill to find tasty tidbits, and often tries to steer the column that way and on one occasion he and Lolokwe chose to stay up the hill all day, foregoing even the noon mudbath and drink in order to do so. But, Natumi is the unquestioned Matriarch, although Icholta also aspires to this role, and sometimes tries to persuade the orphans to follow her, instead of Natumi, but without success. Natumi is just one year older than Icholta, so they are very close in age and since age determines rank, even in the females, there is unusual competition amongst female orphans of a similar age.

Again, very touching, is the concern and care shown to weakling Mweiga by all the elephants, but especially by her best friends, Mweya and Sosian, who unselfishly constantly watch out for her, and even forego climbing the hill for tasty tidbits in order to remain at the bottom to keep her company. Natumi also shows special compassion, often escorting Mweiga to take her milk, and standing beside her to ensure that none of the exuberant young bulls try to hijack her share. When Mweiga finds herself amidst an exuberant crowd of orphans, others move in to protect her from being inadvertently shoved and knocked down.

All young bulls, just like their human counterparts, are exuberant and enjoy testing their strength in competition with one another. According to the Diary, Lolokwe is becoming a very proficient wrestler, but Salama has his measure, employing steady staying power until Lolokwe begins to tire, and then exerting his superior strength to ensure victory! The winner of any tussling competition is jubilant and enjoys advertising the fact to all the others, running around trumpeting which leaves the loser feeling very sheepish! Scores and arguments are settled in this way, and when things become too heated, either one of the older bulls, or one of the big females, moves in to separate seriously warring parties for there is a recognized difference between fun tussling and serious fighting which is not tolerated within an elephant family. Nyiro and Lolokwe had one such punch-up, which was broken up by Laikipia, who returned from some way off to “warn them”! They heeded his warning, but went round another bush hidden from view to resume the battle and settle the score when champion wrestler, Lolokwe emerged as the winner! Solango, Mpala and Burra are good friends who enjoy tussling together on an almost daily basis and love chasing the warthogs, who provide excellent chasing targets! So long as the target obliges by retreating, the orphans relish this past time.

Despite the serious daily quest for food, the orphans remain in good health and as always are a very happy unit, especially now that Natumi is more confident in her role as Matriarch, and Emily seems to be satisfied that her extended family are, indeed, under competent leadership. Meanwhile, Mweiga is enjoying supplements to try and build up more strength. Since Dr. Bertschinger felt she might be suffering from arthritic problems, she is now also having Aloe with Glucosomin added to her milk.

Keepers’ Notes:- The baby zebra from Serena Lodge in Amboseli National Park, who arrived in a very weak state, is gaining strength, and so far, doing well. She is called “Serena” and the Keeper assigned to “Zebra Duty” dons a striped coat, since zebra’s imprint on their mother’s stripes. This is a pre-requisite that we have learned to ensure that an orphaned zebra will be able to recognise its wild peers when grown. A baby buffalo orphan, newborn in the rainstorm of the 20th, died during the night, too cold and weak to survive its traumatic and very unfortunate debut to the world.

March 2006 day to day

01 Mar

After the usual morning greeting, drink and play, Laikipia led the orphans to the feeding grounds in the Park, where they all scattered, each searching for anything to eat. Finding enough food during this very dry year takes priority each day, and when time to move to another place, Natumi, as Matriarch, usually gives the order. After the mudbath even the usual midday siesta gave way to a search for food, so that when evening came, and the orphans were back home, in the words of the Keepers, “they achieved a complete slumber like angels in a peaceful resting paradise”.

The orpahns in a line having some milk