Voi Reintegration Unit
The month began on an action-packed note, as our team received reports of an infant elephant who was stuck in a nearby water trough. At the time of the call, the mother wasn’t around, but when we arrived, she had returned! The team managed to retrieve the stricken baby from the trough and reunite him with his mother.
Pika Pika remains the little queen of the Voi herd. She is very bossy, simply because she knows that the others will pander to her every demand. Arruba has appointed herself Pika Pika’s ‘big sister’ and watches her with hawkish vigilance. One afternoon, Ngilai seized a golden opportunity to play with Pika Pika while Arruba’s back was turned. Unfortunately, he took things too far and tried to climb on the little girl, which Pika Pika strongly objected to. As Arruba came running over, Ngilai prudently made himself scarce, lest he find himself at the receiving end of her sharp tusks.
Lemeki is such a character. She only graduated to Voi in January, and given her sheltered upbringing at Kaluku, we anticipated that the presence of big, wild elephants might overwhelm her. We should have known that nothing daunts Lemeki. We were reminded of this on several occasions this month, when wild elephant families came to drink from the water trough. Far from being deterred by the visitors, Lemeki boldly walked over and stepped right into the trough for a private swim. Every time, the bemused elephants continued drinking, astonished by the little girl's boldness!
When Lemeki and Thamana first arrived at Voi, Mbegu was a bit standoffish. Now, she seems very smitten and has been working hard to woo the pair. She is always inviting them to browse and play with her. Mbegu is often unsure of newcomers, because she is so protective of her little herd.
On the other hand, Tagwa, Tamiyoi, and Sagala were quick to claim Lemeki and Thamana from day one. They are such good friends to the youngsters, looking after them and generally showing them the ropes of Voi life. Lemeki is becoming a bit less possessive of Thamana and opening her heart to new friendships. One day, the Keepers witnessed her shadowing Tagwa and affectionately patting her with her trunk.
Because of the continued presence of lions in the area, orphaned buffalos Cheza and Ivia have remained closer to the compound, along with Diria the zebra. On the 10th, Cheza and Ivia paid the herd a surprise visit. The elephants were delighted to see them and ran about in all directions, trumpeting and making such a celebratory racket. Ngilai welcomed his old friend Ivia with a sparring match, while Mbegu tried to take on Cheza. Cheza has never been as playful as Ivia, but on this occasion, even she joined in!
On 12th March, something miraculous happened. Just as the dependent Voi orphans were finishing their noon milk feed, a wild herd approached. Suddenly, one of the younger elephants broke rank and ran towards our orphans, trumpeting with her trunk high in the air. We couldn’t believe our eyes: It was none other than Tahri, an orphan who left with a wild herd just over a year ago! The orphans were delighted to be reunited with their old friend. It almost seemed as if the wild herd had come expressly to drop Tahri off; after stopping for a brief drink, they continued on their way without Tahri.
Although she spent a gruelling dry season in the wild, Tahri looked remarkably well. However, she has really been enjoying all her creature comforts back at ‘home’ and seems delighted to be back. She has slotted back into the old routines without a hitch — it really feels as if she never left!
Our growing boys are so full of energy. Ngilai, Murit, Ndotto, and Emoli are always embroiled in pushing games. Sometimes, they even invite the girls to join. Mbegu, Tagwa, and Godoma are quite playful, so they are usually happy to take on the boys. The Keepers wonder if Ngilai is in love with Tagwa, as they often catch the pair holding each other’s trunks as if they are in some kind of relationship!
Ndotto remains devoted to his new friend, Mudanda. Through his patience and guidance, he has helped the older girl embrace her playful side. In the past, Mudanda was known for being quite rough and the other orphans gave her a wide berth. Ndotto has taught her how to properly play, and now they seek each other out for daily sparring matches.
Mbegu is not the oldest female at Voi, but she is the undisputed matriarch. Although they are her seniors, Mudanda, Arruba, Suswa, Rorogoi, and Embu are happy to defer to her leadership. Some females simply do not have matriarch aspirations.
Mbegu may be a matriarch, but she is also very playful. One afternoon, she took Thamana and Lemeki to a very big rock for a special play session. Even when Sagala, Godoma, Tahri, and Tagwa joined in, Mbegu held centre stage, rolling around on the ground and encouraging everyone to play. Godoma answered her invitation and joined her on the ground. This made Tagwa jealous, so she sat on Godoma’s back, preventing her from rolling around and spoiling her fun. When Godoma yelled out for help, the Keepers came to her assistance, but this also put an end to the game. The orphans quickly made themselves scarce, as no one ever likes to be blamed for bad behaviour among the group.
Given the increasingly dry conditions, more and more wild visitors have been coming through Voi. One afternoon, a wild elephant family arrived at the stockade compound to drink fresh water from the trough. The family then proceeded to share lucerne with the orphans, but the orphans felt a little displaced and made their way out into the bush. Excluding Lemeki, the orphans are very conscious of elephant hierarchy and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
Towards the end of the month, we finally received a bit of rain. It was a very light shower, but everyone was still delighted. Sagala celebrated by rolling on the newly damp soil, while Lemeki looked on. Mbegu and Godoma started rolling around as well, but they made sure to give each other space, so everyone could fully indulge in the experience.