Keepers' Diaries, May 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- May is always one of the loveliest of all months in Nairobi. The April/May rains have produced a feast of green, the wild flowers adorn the pastures, the wind is stilled, and the ambient temperature is deliciously comfortable – neither too hot, yet not yet too cold for all inhabitants, whether four legged or two.

Nursery Elephants:- May is always one of the loveliest of all months in Nairobi. The April/May rains have produced a feast of green, the wild flowers adorn the pastures, the wind is stilled, and the ambient temperature is deliciously comfortable – neither too hot, yet not yet too cold for all inhabitants, whether four legged or two.

It has been a peaceful and satisfying month in our Nairobi Elephant Nursery, with all the little inmates now healed, both mentally and physically, and all now settled, happy and thriving. Morani’s horrendous bullet wounds are now just a painful memory, and instead of wanting to kill every human in sight, he now gentles them all, as forgiving as only an elephant can be. Seraa’s pneumonia of 2 years ago, that almost took her from us, is an even more distant memory, for she is now plump and healthy, Mpala and little Ol Malo who, for weeks, could not sleep at night being so psychologically traumatized, now enjoy untroubled and peaceful sleep, nightmares a thing of the past. Tomboi and Selengai have cut their first molars, over all the teething problems these usually bring and, Wendi, who owes her life to Thoma’s blood plasma, has been one of the fittest babies we have ever had, ever since! She is Mini-Mum to Selengai, firmly in control and resisting any competition for this role, whilst Seraa respects this whim, and is happy to shower Ol Malo with protective matriarchal affection. Morani and Mpala are best buddies, always feeding a little apart from the junior set and always together, and all the babies have greatly enjoyed the puddles, the mud and the greens brought on by the recent rains.

On the morning of the 30th, the Keepers, who were sitting, chatting to one another, were puzzled by the behaviour of Seraa, who kept running forward a few paces, with ears out and a squeaky trumpet, then returning to them, kicking them with a hind leg, and repeating the performance again and again, until Keeper Julius understood that she was trying to tell them something important. The Keepers got up and went forward to see what was troubling Seraa, and sure enough, there was something very threatening, crouched low in the grass, watching the little elephants with a lean and hungry look. It was a lion – one of the very few left in Nairobi National Park, most having been speared by the Masai inhabitants of the Kitengela dispersal area to the Park.

Seraa arrived in the Nursery when just 3 months old, the equivalent in age to a 3 month old human baby. If she had ever seen a lion at all, it must have been in her Shaba homeland when less than three months old, yet she knew immediately that she had to alert her human family to something she knew instinctively represented danger. To the best of our knowledge, Seraa had never seen a lion before, yet, somehow she knew that her Keepers must be alerted to this threat and she did this in the way a mother elephant would wake up her sleeping baby – by kicking it gently with a hind leg. Working with animals is a humbling experience. They are so much smarter than arrogant homo sapiens in so many ways and certainly the elephant babies are a never-ending source of wonder and amazement to us who are privileged to be able to count them as “family”!

Tsavo Orphans:- Whilst the rains have been good in Nairobi, sadly Tsavo has had very little, but when it does rain, the orphans are joyful and exuberant, trumpeting, playing and generally celebrating. This month has seen a lot of wild contacts, our orphans meeting up with 12 wild elephants on the 4th, when Edie and Ilingwezi enjoyed playing with wild age-mates. On the 10th, they found a wild bull submerged in their mudwallow, with just his head exposed, which scared them at first. However, he turned out to be very friendly, even allowing Ndara and Tsavo to climb on him. On the 12td the orphans joined a group of 7 wild elephants when Emily enjoyed a game with a young bull of her age and on the 14th Aitong took Sally to meet up with 5 others who had a 5 month old calf. Sally was enthralled with this wild baby, but Aitong was discouraged from close contact with the calf. On the 15th the orphans joined another herd of 6, when Laikipia found himself pushed down by a wild playmate, and was helped up by the wild Matriarch.

The 17th proved a special occasion for the wild Matriarch known as “Naomi” took Emily’s and Natumi’s group up Mazinga Hill, where they all spent a night out, returning to join the baby group in the Stockades only at 5 a.m. (This is the first occasion that the orphans have opted to sleep outside at night, something that caused their Keepers a sleepless night, wondering if they would be alright!)

On the 19th Sosian and Salama had a wonderful time playing with agemates amongst a wild herd of 9, and remained behind with the wild elephants when the others left. However, Emily noticed their absence, and returned to retrieve them, trumpeting to them as she went.

On 20th, Lissa, who is now aged 17 and has two wild-born babies, brought her two calves back to the Stockades to be with the other orphans. Then on the 21st Salama and Laikipia introduced themselves to a wild herd of 13 and enjoyed playing with wild age-mates. On the 22nd the orphans met up with 3 wild cows who had a small baby and whilst Mulika and Nasalot were allowed to touch the baby, Aitong was kept at bay.

Sosian is a very outgoing little elephant, and obviously remembers his time with wild elephants before being orphaned. On 24th he initiated contact with a herd of 6 wild elephants and on the 27th he and the others in the Baby Group of orphans were taken to the mudbath by the wild Matriarch “Naomi”, who watched over them and her family wallowing together, but did not go in herself.

The 28th saw all the orphans absorbed into a herd of 30 wild elephants. They all went up Mazinga Hill to feed and again, on the 31st, Lissa and her two babies returned to the Stockades with Uaso in tow, allowing Mweya, Sosian and Thoma to be close to her offspring, but discouraging overtures by Emily and Aitong!

Reading the Diary one becomes aware of strong attachments between individual orphans. For instance, Aitong adores Sweet Sally, often taking her to feed apart from the others. Mweiga loves little Solango, who is a great favourite with them all, being the smallest. Burra is very fond of Emily, and on one occasion had the privilege of being encouraged between her forelegs (but couldn’t fit!) The middle sized boys, as usual, are very competitive, often sparring together, something that inevitably ends in a punch-up. Laikipia, Salama and Lolokwe are the usual contestants, with Sosian, Mukwaju and Nyiro trying their luck now and then! Natumi, Ilingwezi, Icholta and Edie, having shared the Nursery, are close friends, and being female, often find themselves having to separate warring boys, or discipline one that has tried to mount them.

All the orphans know exactly in which Stockade every individual should be at night, and whenever any are in the wrong place, they are frog-marched out and returned to where they rightly belong! Mweya views herself as the Matriarch of the Baby Group, returning to the rescue of whoever bellows for help, or happens to have got left behind. Ilingwezi and Yatta are great pals, as are Mweya and Kinna.

There have been the usual encounters with intransigent buffaloes, which the orphans have learnt to respect. Two friendly Monitor Lizards who reside at the Night Stockades seem to be being accepted as part of the “family” at last, as are the hornbills who hang around the Canteen feasting on left-overs. Tsavo, Ndara, Loisaba, Mukwaju and Laikipia ganged up to chase off two bushbucks who were drinking at their waterhole and Solango “trembled” for hours, having been scared by a baboon who jumped off the tree under which he, Lolokwe, and Icholta were resting!

May 2003 day to day

01 May

Laikipia and Salama peacefully approached, and joined two giraffe who had a small baby with them. The elephants tried to investigate the giraffe calf with their trunks. Emily and Aitong came along, and wanted to chase off the adult giraffes and keep the baby, but the giraffe family left, their baby safely in amongst them. Following the noon mudbath, Mweiga joined Solango under a tree. Placing her trunk gently over his back lovingly, she dozed but whenever Solango tried to leave, she brought him back. They spent the rest of the day close together.