Keepers' Diaries, May 2006

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Whilst Ithumba has had plentiful rain during the current wet season, Voi has had just 4 inches. While this has been sufficient to promote a green flush and temporary relief from the severe drought conditions with which the Voi orphans have had to cope, it is not sufficient to alleviate the next dry season (June through to October/November when the next rains break), so the Voi group have more challenging times ahead.

Whilst Ithumba has had plentiful rain during the current wet season, Voi has had just 4 inches. While this has been sufficient to promote a green flush and temporary relief from the severe drought conditions with which the Voi orphans have had to cope, it is not sufficient to alleviate the next dry season (June through to October/November when the next rains break), so the Voi group have more challenging times ahead.

Two very important events are documented in this Diary – meeting 18 year old DIKA on the 14th on the Aruba Road who was with 6 wild adult cows, and their offspring. According to the Keepers Dika looked “majestic”, towering over his wild friends and was also looking very relaxed and happy. Because he was so close and calm, his wild friends took the cue from him. It is always a great thrill to meet one of the Nursery reared ex orphans enjoying a quality of life in wild terms, and Dika has always been a favourite, ever since he came in as a heartbroken baby of just 3 months old, way back in August 1988, having seen the slaughter of his entire elephant family.

Another interesting event has been the presence of a lone adult cow with her calf of approximately 3 years old, who spent a week in the area utilized by the Voi unit, and who was extremely “tame” and also friendly towards all the orphans when they met up on the 14th and enjoyed the natural waterhole together. Unusually, this cow allowed all the orphans to crowd around her calf and interact with it, making the Keepers believe that she must also be an ex orphan. Could it perhaps be Eleanor, or Mary, or even one of the earlier orphans such as Fatuma, Sobo, or Aruba? If and when we get a photograph of her, the older Keepers may be able to identify her.

The orphans met up with another wild group of 3 adults and 2 calves on the 8th, when Loisaba led the approach, and Irima and Salama enjoyed jostling with the wild calves. The orphans enjoyed their company for an entire morning, separating only to go to the waterhole for a swim.

Always, very evident in each Diary is the joy with which the orphans greet each new day – clearly a lesson for us humans – and the joy with which they greet each other each morning, as well as the care they take of one another, responding to any distress call, and to other messages passed amongst themselves, living as one happy family, with, of course, the odd disagreement like all human siblings. Loisaba is known for her particular form of retaliation when “miffed” when she resorts to nipping the tail of whoever has offended her. This month, it was Salama, who crept up behind her when she was “sitting” on a rock, pushing her off when he tried to mount her. Knowing what was coming, he then ran off screaming as fast as he could bringing Natumi to the rescue. But, even so, for the rest of the day he was very careful to keep his distance from Loisaba, for elephants have a habit of settling scores!

The tractor has been busy levelling the ground behind the Stockades, where two small stables will be constructed to house our little orphans, namely “Serena” the orphaned zebra foal from Amboseli and “Chuna” the baby lesser kudu, who currently sleep in the milk mixing store. The soft earth pushed up by the tractor has provided a great deal of fun for the orphans who have enjoyed playing in it, raising a huge dust cloud within which they play hide and seek. However this game ended badly one morning when Mweya and Seraa collided head on, knocking each other down, which was another occasion when Natumi rushed to the rescue in response to their cries, and touched them both gently to soothe them.

Sosian, yet again, is seen as always looking out for his great friend , weakling Mweiga, constantly keeping her company when she cannot climb Mazinga Hill, but instead feeds at the base, and when leading, constantly casting a backward glance to ensure that she is alright. The friendship of Sosian with Mweiga is extremely touching, particularly as he is a bull, for little bull elephants just like little male human children usually enjoy playing with one another rather than baby-sitting a girl. Mweiga, although by no means a fit elephant, is, nevertheless a very happy one, indicated by the way she is recorded as swinging her head from side to side with a happy trumpet. The head swinging is a show of happiness in elephants. She enjoys the compassion and care of all the others but particularly of Sosian, and, to a lesser degree, Mweya.

Natumi is proving a very conscientious and able young Matriarch, assisted by her friends Icholta and Edie. Laikipia is head-boy, who always leads the herd back home in the evenings, except when Burra manages to outpace him and hold first position. The description of his discomfort and embarrassment having failed to mount Lolokwe is amusing. His friends isolated him and he felt so bad that he even relegated himself to the end of the line in the evening, rather than at the front!

Emily, Aitong, Loisaba, Tsavo and Sally have again been conspicuous by their absence this month, although the BBC filming team busy getting footage for Elephant Diaries II came across Emily flirting outrageously with a large handsome suitor. According to the results of the dung samples taken by the South African Vet, Dr. Bertschinger, neither Emily or Aitong are actually pregnant yet, but by all accounts Emily soon will be! The Keepers still believe that Aitong will produce a surprise for Dr. Bertschinger, but from our perspective, it is a relief that they are not yet pregnant after the experience of Malaika trying to give birth at l0, and dying as a result of not being able to deliver the calf.

With the large natural waterholes filled with run-off rainwater, the orphans have had wonderful swimming pools, and have made the most of them, running in and out trumpeting with joy, splashing each other, submerging their entire bodies, and sometimes enjoying the luxury of filled tummies, spending a full hour there simply having fun. They have made the most of the brief green season, feasting on the fresh regeneration which, sadly, will be short lived, because come June, usually the Tsavo rains are over and another dry season sets in.

Interludes with other species this month include a bull giraffe, who fed close to the orphans, and Mweya being startled by a dikdik, which she roundly chased off once she was sure it was just a dikdik!

The baby zebra “Serena” and the baby kudu named “Chuna” are, so far, both doing well, apart from the little zebra suffering loose stools as a result of the new green grass. The Keeper assigned to the kudu is the man who rescued it in the first place, and fed it on milk from his goats and cows for its first month of life. With that sort of empathy, he has the makings of an excellent elephant Keeper once his charge grows up and goes wild, especially as he comes from the Orma pastoral tribe which border Tsavo. The little zebra is accompanied by a different elephant Keeper each day, always wearing the magic striped coat which identifies him as “mother”.

May 2006 day to day

01 May

It was a chilly morning. The orphans had a lot of fun at the Stockades before heading out into the bush, led by Natumi. The Keepers went armed with raincoats and umbrellas, hoping that heavy rain would fall from the rain clouds above. Today the orphans decided to feed up Mazinga Hill, Natumi remaining behind to ensure that all her charges were O.K. Mweiga remained at the bottom, accompanied by her great friend, Sosian. Burra, Mukwaju and Salama found a place with lots of green food. At noon the little ones came down for their milk, followed by the older elephants. Again Natumi monitored all of them to make sure they were all present and correct, and then led them to feed on the open plains, where they remained until the evening. Sara, who was feeding peacefully, was startled by a Dikdik, and she retaliated by charging it forcefully, sending it on its way with the speed of light! Laikipia played with Mweya, who allowed him to mount her twice, and then it was time to return for the night when the rain came down heavily.

Orphans at mazinga hill