Keepers' Diaries, May 2002

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- All the Nursery inmates continued to thrive throughout May. Burra rapidly gained weight, and his skeletal appearance rapidly disappeared, as did the deep groove wound at the back of his neck, caused by the wire noose. Nor did half his damaged ear fall off, as we suspected it might. Instead, he now sports one ear divided into two sections, the blood supply to the two halves adequate. He can also flap both "bits" together easily. He is a gentle and very loving little elephant, who has formed a strong bond of friendship with Solango.

Nursery Elephants:- All the Nursery inmates continued to thrive throughout May. Burra rapidly gained weight, and his skeletal appearance rapidly disappeared, as did the deep groove wound at the back of his neck, caused by the wire noose. Nor did half his damaged ear fall off, as we suspected it might. Instead, he now sports one ear divided into two sections, the blood supply to the two halves adequate. He can also flap both "bits" together easily. He is a gentle and very loving little elephant, who has formed a strong bond of friendship with Solango.

On 23rd May we moved Mweya and Sweet Sally down to Tsavo to join the older set, which, for us in the Nursery, is always an event tinged with sadness and a few farewell tears. The move went very smoothly, but when surrounded by so many much larger strangers at the other end, Mweya was clearly scared. We expected this, because she was orphaned too young to be able to remember her elephant family clearly. Sweet Sally, on the other hand, was much calmer, but then she was already 6 months old when she lost her mother, and therefore would remember adult elephants. However, within a very short space of time, they were all happily feeding together at the base of Mazinga Hill near the Night Stockades. That first night, Mweya objected loudly, clearly missing the comfort of her Nairobi Nursery stable, but she soon settled.

Back at the Nursery, Thoma missed Mweya sorely. For a day or two she searched for her, checking Mweya's Nursery stable every evening, and scouring the bush out in the Park where the Nursery orphans spend their days. Eventually, however, she settled down, and slotted into her new role as mini Matriarch, teaming up with Seraa, who previously had always been something of a loner.

The arrival of little "Mpala" on the 31st was a welcome distraction for Thoma and all the Nursery babies. The mother of this calf died of bullet wounds on Mpala Ranch in Laikipia, obviously a poaching victim from beyond, who came to die on this 54,000 acre protected Ranch. Deprived of his mother's milk, her 6 month old calf was doomed to die unless rescued, but he eventually sought the protection of one of the cattle herdsman on the ranch, whom he trailed. Disconcerted at this turn of events, and fearing that the calf's mother might appear at any moment to reclaim her baby, the herdsman reported the matter to the Ranch Manager. Having come across the body of a cow elephant some 2 weeks earlier, the Manager put two and two together and rightly assumed that this baby elephant must be her orphaned calf. We were alerted, the calf was captured, loaded into the back off a Pick-up truck modified for the journey and brought to Nairobi, arriving at the Nursery at 7.30 p.m. that night. He was very emaciated and hungry, but amazingly calm considering that he was a wild elephant just days earlier. Eagerly accepting milk from a bottle, he slept well that night, and by the following afternoon, was calm enough to be allowed out to join the other Nursery elephants. Immediately, he battened onto Thoma, and has kept close by her ever since. So far, so good; he is feeding well, and sleeping well, and we have had none of the usual stomach problems that normally follow trauma and stress and the introduction of different milk. We are confident that this little elephant, named "Mpala" will thrive, and will soon feel happy enough to join in playing, romping around with the others. Already he is taking his cue from them by joining in the chase of any warthogs they encounter on their travels.

A recent report from Tsavo indicated that Mweya is a reformed character, no longer "bossy" or "pushy" as she was in the Nursery, but still displaying her characteristic mischievousness and outgoing tendencies, having the cheek to challenge Lolokwe just a day or two after arrival to a trunk pulling contest, which he good naturedly allowed her to win! However, the appearance of Mweya and Sweet Sally in Tsavo, who are both smaller than the incumbent Tsavo orphans, has brought out the usual jealous traits amongst the smaller set, particularly evident in Tsavo who has suddenly become even more possessive of Emily. There has been resentment as well from Ndara and Maungu, who feel that the appearance of others smaller will inevitably detract the limelight from themselves. The young bulls, Salama, Laikipia and Lolokwe are, however, particularly attentive and gentle with the Nairobi newcomers, whilst of the females Natumi, Kinna, Yatta, Mvita and Ilingwezi are obviously eager to embrace them as part of their middle sized group. Imenti has displayed a detached curiosity, coming to take a closer look at the newcomers from time to time, especially when they are in their Night Stockade. Interestingly, Mulika and Nasalot have not featured much as yet, although they must recognise the newcomers having shared the Nursery with them not so long ago. I think they are probably in awe of the older females, not wanting to risk displeasure by monopolizing the newcomers too closely. No doubt, this will change once the novelty of the newcomers subsides, and then, I am sure, we will see those early Nursery bonds renewed and reinforced.

Tsavo Group:- Of the Big Boys, only Edo appears in this month's Diary, returning to interact briefly with the orphans on two occasions. No mention at all of Ndume, Dika or Uaso, or of Lissa and her baby, Lara, but it would appear that Imenti is beginning to show signs of becoming more independent, and this is a positive development. Nor has Lewa turned up back at home, so he has obviously settled happily amongst a wild Tsavo West herd in the Ngulia Valley, and that we are relieved about.

Emily has mingled with a wild herd on three occasions, obviously competitive and very friendly with a young cow of her age, with whom she interacts closely. Insofar as adventures involving other species, the highlight of the month is on the 2nd when Emily protected the Keepers from two aggressive lions. Circling the Keepers protectively, she demonstrated to deter the two lions who roared their disapproval, which must have been very terrifying for all concerned. Emily won the day, however, because finally the lions took off. Other incidents involve the usual scares from a flock of weavers, sparring impalas and a woodpecker, as well as a baboon jumping on the Stockade Shelter roof. Charges and chases involve yet other baboons, the usual lone buffaloes - (a speciality of Imenti) - an ostrich, waterbuck and two zebra chases plus an attempt to intimidate two warthogs, who refused to cooperate by running away. We see again the strong bonds of friendship that unite specific individuals, namely Ndara and Maungu, and Nasalot and Mulika, but also between Edie, Natumi and Ilingwezi, with Icholta having a soft spot for Nyiro. We also see an example of elephant compassion when Lolokwe came to the aid of Nasalot, who was being bullied by Nyiro and Icholta. Rushing to her aid, he reprimanded the aggressors roundly, sending them scampering off out of reach.

As always, one cannot help but notice the competitive nature of the little boys, especially Nyiro and Mukwaju, who seem to indulge in an ongoing test of dominance. Salama features a lot, as usual, as does Icholta and, as always, Aitong fulfils the role of a very caring and conscientious "Nannie", always at hand to come to the rescue of anyone in need of help. Emily seems to be feeling the need for a little more "space", which is not surprising in view of the numbers within her care. She often detaches herself from the others to feed apart, but always returns periodically to check up on them. But, when elephants are apart, they are never really separated, because they can still communicate with their mysterious infrasound, so even though Emily might distance herself from the others in human terms, she is never far from them in elephant terms.

May 2002 day to day

01 May

Upon leaving the Stockades in the morning, Kinna and Yatta had a wonderful game chasing each other around the bushes. Laikipia decided to leave Natumi's middle sized group and spend the day with Yatta and the babies. Meanwhile Emily and Imenti left the other orphans in the care of Aitong, and spent time feeding together some way from the main group, joining them again at l0 a.m. After the mudbath Emily joined a wild herd, and enjoyed testing her strength with a young cow of her age. She returned to join the others on their way back to the Stockades in the evening.
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