Keepers' Diaries, March 2021

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Voi Reintegration Unit

At the beginning of March, temperatures soared and the vegetation around Voi became yellowed and bone dry. Towards the end of the month, however, clouds were beginning to build, promising rain and cooler temperatures on the horizon. Our water bowser seemed constantly on the move, ensuring the Voi waterhole remained topped up. During the dry season, it is one of the only sources of water in the area, so it is a popular haunt for wild herds and our orphans alike. It was not unusual to see dozens of elephants clustered under the shade of the giant baobab tree, enjoying a refreshing drink and a respite from the blazing sun. 

The waterhole is always a favourite destination of our orphans, but especially during the dry season. They had great fun splashing about, coating their round bodies in mud and thrashing their trunks in all directions. Many passing herds had the same idea, so the orphans enjoyed plenty of opportunities to mingle with their wild age-mates. Elephants are very social creatures, so the Voi herd was visibly delighted to meet so many new friends. These everyday wild interactions are vital to a successful reintegration process.  

During the midday mud bath, Ivia the buffalo and his unlikely friend Ngilai engaged in their sparring games, almost as if they had privately organized a scheduled playtime. It appeared that Godoma also wanted to be included in their games, as she often tried to engage Ivia in a sparring session. Ivia, however, continues to show no interest in playing with Godoma. Whenever she approached, he flaunted his indifference by running off and throwing his head around. It seems he only has eyes for Ngilai! Happily, the feeling is mutual: Even when Ngilai is engaged with Emoli, who is his best elephant friend, he will promptly abandon the game if Ivia invites him to play. This leaves Emoli feeling rather dejected, and we often saw him stomping off to vent his frustration on an unsuspecting tree. 

Fortunately, Emoli is never short of playmates. Older girls Kenia and Ndii have been smothering little Pika Pika, barring the other girls from spending time with her. While Ishaq-B or Arruba took this in stride, Araba found herself at rather a loose end. As a result, she started to pay a lot more attention to Emoli. This suits Emoli just fine, as he clearly wants some spoiling of his own!

With the vegetation drying in the area, the orphans were particularly eager to exit their stockades in the morning to begin browsing. As dawn breaks, the Keepers sometimes heard them banging on their gates, impatiently signaling that they were ready to have their milk bottles and supplement food. Tundani found a special feeding spot within the compound, where the vegetation remained fresh and green, but reaching it came with its own risks! The nighttime stockades are fenced in electric wires for the orphans’ safety, but Tundani has cleverly figured out how to stretch his trunk over the live wires to reach the tasty greens on the other side. After observing her friend, Mashariki adopted this technique as well.

Lasayen woke up full of energy this month, which he often channeled into trying to steal his friends’ milk bottles. Mudanda, on the other hand, was a little moody in the mornings. The orphans look out for each other, and no one is tolerant of Mudanda’s temper. When she picked on Tagwa one morning, Ishaq-B came running to Tagwa’s defense and chased the mercurial girl away. The orphans know that avoidance is often the best tactic, and when Mudanda started pushing Mashariki and Araba one morning, they simply moved to a feeding spot further away.  

It’s safe to say that Mbegu was in a state of muddy bliss this month. While she is all business when it comes to looking after her little herd, she absolutely loves the mud bath. She had the best time rolling around in the water with Ndotto, even letting the jovial bull climb all over her. After mud bathing, she gathered her herd of Ndotto, Emoli, Godoma, Ngilai, Lasayen, Tagwa, and the others to browse at the base of Msinga Hill. Kenia and the older orphans, plus their beloved Pika Pika, preferred to venture further uphill. 

This month, tragedy struck when a pride of lions honed in on the water hole. Despite the Keepers’ valiant attempts to fend them off, a lioness managed to gravely wound little Nzuki the zebra. Tundani was positively heroic. The moment he saw the Keepers moving in to repel the lions, he came barreling down the hill to join their efforts. Tundani lost his best friend, Nelion, to lions, and this memory obviously still haunts him. We were struck by his selflessness in such a harrowing situation, as he ran to support the Keepers without a moment’s hesitation. 

Nzuki was immediately taken back to the stockades, where he was surrounded by the Keepers who loved and raised him. Unfortunately, the relief that he survived the attack was short-lived. After exploring all possible options, Dr. Poghon concluded his head injuries were too severe and he needed to be euthanised. Everyone mourned the loss of sweet Nzuki, but it hit Diria the zebra especially hard. He misses his sidekick deeply, and has been seeking solace from the Keepers, who give him lots of support and special attention.

The presence of predators is a fact of life during Tsavo’s dry season. For the short time they remained in the area, the Keepers adapted by keeping the orphaned buffaloes and zebra near the stockade compound, where they could be better protected. The orphaned elephants coped with Nzuki’s loss in their own way and also chose to remain closer to home, browsing high on Msinga Hill above the stockades. For the rest of the month, they returned to the compound for their afternoon milk bottles and mud bath, which they seemed to enjoy.

March 2021 day to day

01 Mar

The orphans enjoyed playing around the stockade compound following the milk and supplement feeding. Ndotto invited Arruba for a sparring session but she declined as she wanted to join Pika Pika for a dust bath. Tundani was busy browsing on acacia shrubs on the other side of the stockade fence line, and he was joined by Mashariki so both of them enjoyed browsing side by side. Sagala, Tagwa and Tamiyoi led the orphan herd out for the day, while Ndoria, Suswa and Ndotto remained behind at the stockade compound for awhile to make sure that every last Lucerne pellet was eaten. 

The orphans settled to browse at the foot of Msinga Hill where they spent the morning browsing. At noon they made their way to the baobab tree water hole for the milk-dependent babies to have their milk bottles and so they could all enjoy wallowing in the mud bath there. Godoma, Tagwa, Emoli and Pika Pika were the first to arrive. Once the babies had finished their bottles the group made their way to the mud bath where they had a drink from the water trough before entering the water.

The afternoon was spent browsing on the open grasslands under the shadow of Msinga Hill. In the evening the orphan herd made their way back to the safety of the stockades for the night.  

Panda, Ndii and Suswa having a drink

Mashariki browsing

Mbegu and others browsing