Keepers' Diaries, May 2005

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally were absent until the 9th, when they turned up to await the return of the orphans on the road leading to the Stockades. Their appearance startled Mweiga, who bellowed, but was comforted immediately by the tender and reassuring touch of Emily’s trunk. Emily, Aitong and Sally then escorted her and the other small calves up to the Stockades where their milk awaited them, before returning to the road to greet the older orphans who were following at a more leisurely pace. There a joyful and extremely touching reunion took place. The next appearance of Emily. Aitong and Sally was on the 10th, when the Keepers remark that Aitong looks much more rotund with enlarged breasts suggesting that her pregnancy is well advanced. Four days later, on the 14th, Emily, Aitong and Sally turned up again, this time with Lissa and her family and Lissa wandered off with her older daughter, leaving little Lali in Emily’s care. This would be viewed by Emily as a great privilege, accepting her as a trust-worthy calf-sitter or “Auntie”. Emily and her satellites later followed in the direction taken by Lissa obviously with the intention of joining up and handing back her baby again. It is touching also that little Lali was happy to remain with Emily, Aitong and Sally rather than follow her mother and sister when they departed.

Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally were absent until the 9th, when they turned up to await the return of the orphans on the road leading to the Stockades. Their appearance startled Mweiga, who bellowed, but was comforted immediately by the tender and reassuring touch of Emily’s trunk. Emily, Aitong and Sally then escorted her and the other small calves up to the Stockades where their milk awaited them, before returning to the road to greet the older orphans who were following at a more leisurely pace. There a joyful and extremely touching reunion took place. The next appearance of Emily. Aitong and Sally was on the 10th, when the Keepers remark that Aitong looks much more rotund with enlarged breasts suggesting that her pregnancy is well advanced. Four days later, on the 14th, Emily, Aitong and Sally turned up again, this time with Lissa and her family and Lissa wandered off with her older daughter, leaving little Lali in Emily’s care. This would be viewed by Emily as a great privilege, accepting her as a trust-worthy calf-sitter or “Auntie”. Emily and her satellites later followed in the direction taken by Lissa obviously with the intention of joining up and handing back her baby again. It is touching also that little Lali was happy to remain with Emily, Aitong and Sally rather than follow her mother and sister when they departed.

On 16th Emily’s group again joined the orphans at 11.20 a.m., to enjoy a mudbath with them, after which the afternoon was spent feeding with the orphans. The next day, on the 17th, Emily, Aitong and Sally arrived pre-dawn at the Stockades, in order to lead the orphans out of the Stockades and into the Park to feed, and on the 19th, they meet up again with the orphans on their way back in the evening. Ten days later, on the 29th they turn up to drink at the Stockades just as Loisaba is seeing the small orphans into their top Stockade for the night. Loisaba trumpets excitedly upon spotting them and they then rush up to join her and the babies, bringing the entire entourage back down to enjoy a drink at the waterhole with them before returning them back for the night.

It has been an exciting month for the Voi Orphans, who have enjoyed plenty of contact with wild herds On the 12th, they received a special welcome from a herd that was travelling very fast in a set direction, but having been with the wild herd for a while, found the pace exhausting, so peeled off. On the 13th the orphans were again joined by a wild group led by a Matriarch with very long tusks, whom they found somewhat daunting. However, she was very friendly, so they all interacted happily, Mukwaju and Edie making friends with a slightly older wild bull whilst Tsavo and Loisaba did the same with another wild age-mate. When the wild herd left, Laikipia and Salama went off with them, returning later to rejoin the orphaned group. Another wild Matriarch they met that same day was not so not quite so accommodating, so this group was given a wide berth by the orphans.

On the 16th the orphans enjoyed a warm welcome from three adult cows and a 4 month old calf, contact that was initiated by Laikipia and Salama, both of whom are very out-going when it comes to fraternising with wild herds. Lolokwe and Nyiro enjoyed playing with a wild age-mate, but Natumi and Ilingwezi were bent on trying to persuade the wild calf to come with them. The mother moved in to thrwart their plan, and thereafter kept her baby close, so Natumi and Ilingwezi had to content themselves by just being able to touch it between the legs of the adults.

Feeding nearby the orphans on the 18th were numerous wild herds when 3 cows and 6 offspring joined the orphans. This time Tsavo and Laikipia enjoyed a very playful youngster, who found himself left behind when his family left, and did his best to persuade his orphaned friends to accompany him back to his family, pushing them in the direction taken. He was, however, unsuccessful, and in the end had to give up. Later that day, the wild herd led by the Matriarch known as “Catherine” came to drink at the Stockades after the orphans had retired for the night. They took time to circle Natumi’s Stockade, extending their trunks in greeting, before wandering off.

On 19th Laikipia again led the orphans to join five adults and a calf when Salama enjoyed a chasing game with a wild friend, before engaging him in a head-butting contest, reinforced later by Laikipia, which irritated the wild opponent. However, between them, the two orphans managed to win this contest. On the 23rd 8 wild elephants with 3 youngsters paced fast past the orphans, bent on drinking the fresh water provided in drums at the wallow, and were disappointed to find that the orphans had already been there first! And then on the 30th the orphans were joined by a wild elephant mother and her 5 month old calf, who actually left their wild herd to spend time with our orphans. On this occasion Loisaba went back with her to her wild family, but returned to the orphans a little later.

Encounters with other species include an interesting dikdik chase, when two warring dikdik males darted in, out and round the legs of Natumi, Burra and Morani, who were doing their best to kick them in the process, but missed their target each time! 10 buffaloes who were drinking at the Orphans’ Mudbath on the 24th, retreated to await their turn when the orphans turned up, but the orphans deliberately thwarted their intention by playing around the mudbath longer than usual, until the buffaloes gave up on the waiting game and went to drink elsewhere.

A light shower of rain triggered great joy amongst the orphans on the 20th when all thoroughly enjoyed playing in the puddles, rolling in dampened earth, and generally rushing about joyfully in celebration. Solango sharpened his tusks on a rocky outcrop, whilst Morani climbed up the rock, and enjoyed towering over his peers, touching their backs from above. The celebratory mood continued for the next few days, and began all over again when more light rain fell on the 25th. However, apart from these two showers, the rains in Tsavo generally have been sparse and extremely disappointing, so yet again the orphans will be tested during another extremely drought ridden dry season before the November/December rains again bring relief.

Mweiga, our very fragile elephant orphan, has kept pace relatively well with the others during the month, but has opted out on two occasions, when Mweya and Sosian shared the responsibility of keeping her company as she took a rest beneath shade apart from the others. Then when Natumi led part of the group away to feed further afield, Laikipia remained behind with Mweiga and those who had chosen to stay with her, just to ensure that no-one was tempted to push her. Such tender caring and compassion from elephants who are still just children must surely teach their human counterparts something! Laikipia, is an extremely kind and caring young bull, who, along with the older cows, disciplines any unruly boys, always quick to come to the rescue of anyone in need. He and Salama are also usually first to initiate introductions when it comes to meeting the wild groups.

In the absence of Emily, Aitong and Sally, Natumi is the accepted Matriarch, ably assisted by Icholta, Edie and Ilingwezi. However, whenever Emily returns to spend time with the orphans, she is embraced by each and every one with a tremendous outpouring of joy and love. Yet, when Emily decides to depart, followed always by Aitong and Sally, few of the others are tempted to follow. This month only Ndara went a short distance with them before rushing back to the others. It is a surprise to us that more of the older elephants do not choose to become permanent members of Emily and Aitong’s group, as did Sweet Sally but that all view one another as an extended “family”, united by the common bond of being orphaned in early infancy, is something that is becoming very plain as the years progress. This is also illustrated by the fact that Lissa continues to keep in touch, and even entrusts her youngest daughter to Emily’s care. It is interesting also that little Lali was happy to remain with Emily, Aitong and Sally when her mother and sister departed.

The May Diary again illustrates strong friendships between certain individuals such as Burra and Morani, Solango and Seraa, (both orphans from the natural rock wells of Shaba), Mweya and Mweiga, joined now by Sosian - a surprising combination, and Salama/Laikipia and Lolokwe, young bulls all from Laikipia close in age, with Mukwaju and Nyiro from the younger age set. That the Voi orphans enjoy a very close association with wild herds, amongst whom they also have obviously also formed close friendships with wild age-mates, is something that illustrates clearly the heart-warming success of the gradual reintegration of the orphans back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo. They have taught us so much and so many very important lessons about their wonderful “Elephant People” who possess in such abundance all the kinder and better traits of humanity.

May 2005 day to day

01 May

Having left the Stockades, the orphans wanted to climb Mazinga Hill, where Lissa and her family were feeding, and having heard one of Lissa’s babies scream. However, having climbed half way up, the orphans relaxed and gave up the struggle, to return, feeding as they went. By 8 a.m. they were down, and ready to set off for their usual feeding grounds.

Lissa's group wanders off

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