Keepers' Diaries, March 2007

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Lissa, now for many years a “wild” elephant, is now 2l, and has given birth to her third calf earlier this year. This time she has a little boy to join her two girls, Lara and Lali. He has been given the name “Lugard” and is about 2 months old. She, and her Nannie Mpenzi, who were in the company of 2 wild cows and a 4 year old calf of one of them, brought the new baby to the Stockade for the first time on the 14th. Lissa came in as a poaching orphan when just 6 months old and she represents the success of the Trust’s Orphans’ Project. Celebration indeed, and wonderful for Mpenzi, who lost her first baby to the lions, and who will enjoy being the Nannie to another newborn until she has another of her own.

Lissa, now for many years a “wild” elephant, is now 2l, and has given birth to her third calf earlier this year. This time she has a little boy to join her two girls, Lara and Lali. He has been given the name “Lugard” and is about 2 months old. She, and her Nannie Mpenzi, who were in the company of 2 wild cows and a 4 year old calf of one of them, brought the new baby to the Stockade for the first time on the 14th. Lissa came in as a poaching orphan when just 6 months old and she represents the success of the Trust’s Orphans’ Project. Celebration indeed, and wonderful for Mpenzi, who lost her first baby to the lions, and who will enjoy being the Nannie to another newborn until she has another of her own.

This month’s Voi Diary is extremely intriguing in that we are now able to see the affiliation orphans from many different populations, having grown up together, retain as “family”, who will undoubtedly share life-long familial bonds. Since this is the first time in the world that elephants hand-reared by humans from infancy, having grown up under the care of human Keepers, have been integrated successfully back into a wild population. Many people believed that this would be impossible, and they have been proved wrong. Each Diary teaches us more about the very human characteristics of the world’s largest land mammal, and reinforces the importance and educational value of the Trust’s Orphans’ Project, which extends far beyond humanitarian compassion and which has proved such a critically important tourist attraction and educational tool to a world-wide public, changing the world’s perception about elephants, and how they should be treated.

A fundamental change within the Voi Unit, is that the older elephants are no longer incarcerated in a Stockade at night, but free to come and go as they choose, their Stockade doors left ajar throughout the hours of darkness. Sometimes, they are accompanied by Emily and her now wild unit; at other times in the company of 21 year old Dika and l0 year old Uaso, (both reared from infancy) who often have totally wild male friends in tow. The orphans in the new free ranging group, (known as “Natumi’s group”), besides Natumi herself, include Loisaba, Edie, Salama, Icholta, Laikipia, Lolokwe, Nyiro, Ndara, Irima, Mvita, Mukwaju and Sosian. The younger elephants that still are protected at night in a Stockade, which have become labeled “Thoma’s Group”, include Thoma, Burra, Solango, Seraa, Mpala, Mweya, and Morani plus 8 year old Mweiga, who is considered not strong enough to cope on her own without the supervision and assistance of the Keepers. Mweiga has difficulty keeping up with the others – even the younger set – and still cannot get up from a sleeping position without assistance. Her condition has definitely deteriorated since her Replacer Milk ration has been removed, even though she has been given extra supplements such as Bran, Range Cubes, Barley and Copra. Since she is a special case, the Milk Replacer will be resumed, especially during the dry spells, as well as medication to relieve her arthritic joints. All other members of the Voi Unit are now completely weaned off milk.

Initially, this month, a member of the Free Ranging group, either Natumi herself, or Icholta, or the entire group, and sometimes Emily on her own, or Emily accompanied by her satellites, i.e. Aitong, Sally,Tsavo and sometimes Ilingwezi, have been turning up each morning to escort the youngsters out. Latterly, however, it would appear that Natumi, Emily and the older elephants have entrusted Thoma to lead them out in the mornings, and meet up with Natumi’s group somewhere out in the bush. Thoma knows exactly where to find them, and not a day has passed this month when the two groups of orphans have not spend the entire day together, the older orphans usually escorting the youngsters back to their Night Stockades each evening. Often Emily and her group are with Natumi’s orphans out in the bush in the mornings, at other times 20 year old Dika is with them, Uaso is usually either with Emily, or with Dika when he is around, and Dika and Uaso usually have wild Bull friends in tow, who are equally as comfortable with the orphans of both groups.

Dika, has been absent for many years, and because one his tusks has been broken, at first the Keepers did not recognize him when he turned up at the Orphans’ mudbath first on the l0th. Since then, he and his wild friends have been regular visitors, although one wild Bull whom he met near the Stockades, who was taking an interest in Aitong, had to make himself scarce when Dika appeared. Dika was then seen mating with Aitong (as has Uaso), and has also taken a fancy to Edie pursuing her with sex on his mind, which left the Keepers concerned fearing that Edie would not be able to carry his weight! She was absent with Dika for a day or two, but then he escorted her back to the others, and she seemed to be none the worse and was happy to be with him. Aitong obviously has great sexual appeal for both our ex orphaned Bulls and also their wild friends, and has been seen being mated by several wild bulls over the past months, thereby earning the Title “Slapper of Mazinga Hill”!

What is obvious in this Diary is that all the hand-reared orphans, including those now living wild and free, retain the bonds that bound them as orphans growing up together during their infancy and formative years, and look out and care for one another at all times. Whenever they meet, there is always a joyous reunion, and when a wild Bull tries to mount on one of their number, the other young bulls and older females protest and try and interrupt the process unless it happens to be accepted as one of their number.

Understandably, there is inevitable competition for Leadership and Rank always amongst the young Matriarchs, Icholta acting as a replacement in Natumi’s absence, both young females being of a similar age. For several days it was Icholta that turned up alone to escort the babies out every morning, but then Natumi regained her Leadership role, and is viewed as the Older Group’s Matriarch when Emily is not present to take overall charge. Then Natumi automatically has to give way, since Emily is a lot older, and used to be in charge before going wild. Recently, Loisaba and Mvita have joined Emily’s group, whilst Tsavo and Ilingwezi have returned to Natumi’s group, for the time being at least. Laikipia still assumes a Leadership role over the youngsters on occasions, turning up to escort them out, and at other times take them back home in the evenings. We are likely to see a lot more to-ing and fro-ing from Emily’s group in the future, with Natumi and Icholta sub Matriarchs and Thoma turning out to be a very competent leader of the Baby Group who will eventually become part of Natumi’s group. This month’s Diary emphasizes the complicated communication between elephants, the youngsters knowing exactly where to locate their older counterparts each morning out in the bush, even when one or all of them don’t appear at the Stockades to escort them out. The orphans fraternize comfortably with wild herds now, interestingly usually following an “introduction” from Emily if a wild Senior Matriarch is present when they happen to join up. Once the proper introductions have taken place, the orphans are welcomed to join the wild herd and feed amongst them, but Emily is careful to devise ways and means of ensuring that they remain within her orbit when the time comes to separate, not happy to lose one of her number to the wild herd, although quite prepared to leave some of her satellites with Natumi’s group.
It is very enlightening to be able to follow the daily lives, and friendships of known individuals for so long, and to better understand their very human characteristics. That is the Trust’s reward for many years of very hard, and often heartbreaking, work.

March 2007 day to day

01 Mar

The younger elephants left their Night Stockade, and headed out to feed, today not having been collected by either Natumi or Emily. Thoma, Seraa and Mpala didn’t take long to locate Natumi and the older group, (who had been out all night) at the lower slopes of Mazinga Hill. Only Mweiga missed the joyful reunion, following slowly a long way behind all the others. Following a brief playing session, the entire group settled down to feed, and joined Uaso at 3 p.m. whom they found resting in the shade of a large Acacia tree. Later Mukwaju and Uaso left the others and Natumi’s group of older orphans turned up at the Stockades in the evening minus Mukwaju, who was obviously still with Uaso.

Mkwaju goes with Uaso

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