Keepers' Diaries, May 2006

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.

01 May 2006

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.

02 May 2006

Following thunderous rain for most of the night, the orphans emerged in a joyous mood. Thoma led the column out into the bush, with Mweiga keeping pace well. Sosian, who was just in front of Mweiga, kept looking behind to make sure that she was O.K. Because it was a cloudy day, none of the orphans went into the mudbath, but concentrated on stuffing their mouths with as much food as possible. Later, the group split into two – Natumi taking her group to Mazinga Hill, and Laikipia leading the others further afield at the bottom. The Keepers had to round them all up in the evening when Laikipia took the lead and Natumi kept Mweiga company at the end of the line.

03 May 2006

As soon as the Stockade Gates opened, the orphans ran out, trumpeting with joy as they headed straight out to the feeding fields. Sosian and Mweiga split and fed slightly apart from the others. At mudbath time Burra and his friends waited patiently for their milk. Seraa and Mpala quarrelled over the right to scratch against a tree stump, until they were separated by Solango. After the babies had taken their milk ration, they ran to join the older elephants, leaving Mweiga, who chose to stay close to the Keepers while they took their lunch under a tree. The orphans fed with a male giraffe looking on, and before heading home, had fun in a waterhole, instigated by Burra.

04 May 2006

The orphans spirits were high at the start of another busy feeding day. They headed for Mazinga Hill, Sosian, as usual, always mindful of Mweiga, so he remained at the base, feeding happily alongside her. Laikipia and Burra responded to the Keepers’ call and came down in preparation to head off into the main Park, Sosian and Mweiga having the lead, since they were at the bottom anyway. The orphans fed seriously all afternoon, the only two taking a break from this task was Seraa and Thoma, who enjoyed a pushing game. All had fun at the big waterhole, which now held enough water for them to submerge completely when Burra found a toy dry stick, with which he spent time playing, but discarded it when he saw that no-one was watching his stick game. Mweya and Solango emerged to sort out a difference. Meanwhile Mweya and Mpala enjoyed pushing the water barrels around, which attracted Edie, who joined in this game with vigour, as though trying to scare any onlooker. As usual Laikipia led the way back home in the evening.

05 May 2006

As usual, the morning was welcomed with trumpets and rumbles, Mukwaju, who enjoys climbing very much, headed for the hill, but the Keepers called him and his friends back, wishing to take them into the main Park where there was fresh vegetation and water. They loved the big waterhole, plunging in, playing, mimic mounting, trumpeting, rolling around and striking the water with their trunks. They played thus for almost an hour, after which they dispersed in all directions to rub themselves against anthills. They then fed quietly until it was time to return in the evening, when Laikipia took the lead as usual.

06 May 2006

As the orphans headed out, they enjoyed playing hide and seek with one another. The morning excitement was duplicated in the waterhole at noon when the orphans teamed up with friends, to run in and out of the water, trumpeting. After a brief rest under shade, they resumed feeding, and in the evening Burra led the column home, at a fast pace, in order not to be overtaken by Laikipia!

07 May 2006

Before heading out, on a cool morning, the orphans greeted each other by touching trunks. Today Mweiga emerged swinging her head from side to side happily, and blew a loud trumpet of joy as they headed off. Down on the plains, they spread out to feed, forsaking the waterhole at noon, since it was still cool. Instead they went to the waterhole at 4 p.m. when Lolokwe, Laikipia and Nyiro stood aside with their heads and trunks touching, like village elders discussing events in their village! The gathering broke ranks when Laikipia tried to mount onto Lolokwe, when Nyiro protested by walking away. Laikipia looked embarrassed by his mistake, taking up soil with his trunk as though nothing had happened. The other orphans ignored him, and merely headed back to the Stockades, and today Laikipia, feeling shamed, did not run to the front of the column as usual, but walked at the end.

08 May 2006

The orphans joined a wild group of 3 big cows with two calves out in the Park today. Loisaba made the first approach, followed swiftly by all the others, who were very happy to see them. The big cows were very friendly to them and as they fed calmly together, the wild calves played with Irima and Salama, entwining trunks and jostling. The orphans left the wild herd when it was time for the mudbath, after which they continued to feed happily for the rest of the day.

09 May 2006

The orphans enjoyed a soil bath at the Stockade this morning, soil having been loosened by the tractor levelling the ground for the new stables to accommodate our little zebra and kudu orphans. They fed seriously all day, interrupted only for a quick mudbath and the usual milk run at noon. Laikipia was in the lead again in the evening.

10 May 2006

Again, the loose soil was the attraction this morning. The orphans loved playing in it, causing a huge cloud of dust obscuring each other, when Mweya and Seraa collided head on. Both bellowed loudly which brought Natumi rushing to the rescue, reaching them as they were both getting up again. She touched them gently to comfort them, and then led them to join the others who had long gone down the hill. The day was spent feeding and in the evening Laikipia took his usual place at the head of the column.

11 May 2006

Once again, it was the soft soil game when Loisaba sat on a rock, and dug her back legs into the soft earth until she was looking at the sky as though praying for the rains to continue. Her prayers were cut short when Salama crept up from behind and tried to mount her, causing them both to roll down together. Now it was time for revenge, and knowing that Loisaba usually bites tails when angered, Salama ran off urinating and screaming, forcing the Keepers to intercede and save him! During the rest of the day Salama made sure that he was feeding far from Loisaba, but by the end of the day, she seemed to have forgiven him!

12 May 2006

The orphans headed up the hill again today, coming down at noon for the milk run. Mpala and Seraa had a disagreement over whose bottle was whose, but the Keepers kept order. Edie and Salama had a pushing game after the bath, when Edie emerged victorious and celebrated rolling around trumpeting as Salama ran off. Icholta and Natumi shared a stump to scratch on, and fed together for the rest of the day.

13 May 2006

Having finished their morning milk feed, Burra, Mpala, Morani, and Solango, joined Mvita, Nyiro and Sosian who were feeding behind the Stockades. Meanwhile Laikipia and Edie were squaring up to one another at the Stockades, and making a lot of noise about it, which attracted the attention of all the others who are very sensitive to the wellbeing of the entire group. They all stopped feeding to raise their trunks and came charging back to investigate what was going on. Realising that Laikipia and Edie were simply playing a game, they headed out to the feeding grounds, where Loisaba and Salama still had a difference to sort out. Natumi intervened to keep the peace, separating the two.

14 May 2006

The orphans left in the usual joyous frame of mind, heading for the base of the hill to scratch themselves against the rocks and dislodge the ticks. Solango and Salama each sat on a rock, opposite one another, and trumpeted tossing their trunks skywards. Solango then climbed up on a rock to get an overview of all the others. Communication amongst the elephants is a complex affair, but it was Ndara who blew the end trumpet and led the others out into the feeding grounds. Laikipia began showing off by lying and rolling in the grass, hoping to attract the attention of the others, but they all ignored him! They took water at noon, and then continued feeding. On our way to inspect the Aruba Windmill, we came across DIKA who was near the road, majestically following six large cows, some teenagers and calves. He was looking massive and very happy. The wild group, taking the cue from him, was also very calm, confident because Dika was so close to us.

15 May 2006

When the orphans arrived in a rush at the big waterhole, they were joined by a wild cow and her calf. This wild cow has only her calf with her, the calf being about 3 years old. The cow is very docile, as though tame and she has been feeding in the area where the orphans feed for the past week, moving around as though searching for them and whenever they meet up, she is very friendly as though she knows them. Today at the waterhole, she allowed all the orphans to surround her calf and interact with it, so they all enjoyed one another’s company, until after the mudbath, when she separated, heading for the western side of Mazinga Hill. Other Notes:- Chuna, the baby lesser kudu is doing fine, feeding well, and so far has not shown any signs of being unwell. Serena, the little orphaned zebra foal, suffered loose stools when the green grass first appeared, so the Vet gave her some de-worming medicine. We are still assessing her carefully. The Aruba Windmill’s water trough has been repaired, having suffered massive damage from the activity of all the wild elephants that have been coming to drink there during the dry season.

16 May 2006

After leaving the Stockade, there was the usual baby play and a drink at the Stockade waterhole before leaving for the main Park to feed, where the orphans spread out. They enjoyed their mudbath, fed for the rest of the afternoon until Laikipia decided it was time to return home, and led the group back, with Burra trying to take over unsuccessfully.

17 May 2006

The orphans were highly excited as they went down the hill to the feeding grounds, with Mweiga keeping to the edge of the group to avoid being knocked down inadvertently. At the mudbath Mvita and Thoma enjoyed wallowing together, sitting in the water and digging soil on the banks with their little tusks. Others enjoyed other games, with Sosian and Irima in a contest of strength, which was won by Sosian, who celebrated his victory in style. Meanwhile the other orphans went to greet a passing wild herd with trunks held high, but the wild group ignored them, so they returned to play in the water, wallowing with great energy.

18 May 2006

Emily was spotted with a group of wild elephants on the banks of the Voi River, amongst whom were 3 wild bulls in musth, paying great attention to Emily and a wild cow who seemed also to be in season. The bulls were very attentive to both Emily and the wild cow, and Emily seemed a little shy, trying to hide behind her wild friend whenever the bulls approached and looking tiny in comparison to them. Aitong and the rest of Emily’s group was not with them. The other orphans noticed the wild group, and Burra tried to approach, but then thought better of it and accompanied the orphans back to the mudbath!

19 May 2006

Laikipia led the happy group out in the morning, They fed quietly, enjoyed a wonderful mudbath and then headed home, led as usual by Laikipia with Sosian accompanying Mweiga at the rear of the column.

20 May 2006

The morning was characterised by the usual baby games. On the way out to feed Sosian noticed that Mweiga was lagging behind, so he went back to be with her, paving the way for Loisaba and Mvita to lead, since Natumi was busy dislodging a tick from her ear by rubbing against some rocks. Having fed for a while, the orphans were lucky to be joined by Emily and her wild friends – the same group that was seen with her yesterday. There was a brief reaching of trunk greetings, before the two groups settled down to feed together until it was time for the mudbath, when the orphans peeled off, leaving Emily and her friends behind. They did not meet up again in the afternoon.

21 May 2006

The orphans emerged in a relaxed manner today, and began the day feeding near the Stockades. Natumi, Mvita, Ndara and Nyiro went to feed apart from the rest while Loisaba, Salama and Laikipia formed a separate group and Sosian, Edie, Lolokwe and Mweya took a dustbath. The orphans took a drink at the Stockade waterhole before heading to feed at the foot of Mazinga Hill before proceeding to the main Park. Seraa and Mpala had some difference to sort out before joining the others. In the evening Laikipia led them all back.

22 May 2006

Burra was happy to be leader today, shaking his head from side to side in happiness, excited that Laikipia had allowed him the chance! They spent a quiet day feeding peacefully, had a wonderful mudbath, more time to feed and then returned for the night.

23 May 2006

Upon reaching the Northern side of Mazinga Hill, the orphans split into small groups with Lolokwe and Salama finding a favourite spot while Burra led another group. Thoma took her friends towards the milk van, followed swiftly by Morani, who didn’t want to be left behind. They fed for the rest of the day until it was time to return to the Stockades.

24 May 2006

The orphans went to the feeding grounds with trumpets and rumbles, playfully chasing each other around the compound before heading out. Burra joined Sosian feeding from a lush bush, while others enjoyed pushing games. Morani and Ndara enjoyed a dust bath which was interrupted by Lolokwe. Ndara tried to punish him, but found him a lot stronger. Later Lolokwe was enjoying a dust bath when Laikipia and Edie came to mount him. His screams for help were ignored by the others.

25 May 2006

Having taken a drink and their milk, the orphans took a rest under a tree during the heat of the day when Uaso, in the company of a large tuskless cow and her calf of about 8 months, joined them. After a highly charged greeting filled with excitement and confusion, Natumi took control of the youngster, whilst Uaso was trying to mount the female orphans. Salama and Laikipia engaged each other in a game, and later all the elephants, including Uaso and his wild friends, climbed Mazinga Hill. At 4 p.m. the orphans came down, leaving Uaso and his wild friends up the hill, and enjoyed playing in earth dampened by a shower of rain. Laikipia lay on some rocks to warm himself, while Natumi encouraged Mweiga to roll in the mud and Edie escorted Morani to a big scratching rock.

26 May 2006

After a drink at the Stockade, and the usual early morning games, Lolokwe and Nyiro had a score to settle, the reason for which was not clear to the Keepers. Laikipia found himself in trouble when he tried to mount onto Salama, so pretended to lead the others towards a waterhole and was spared Salama’s retaliation. Laikipia met up with Uaso’s tuskless wild cow friend and her calf, and escorted them to the mudbath, although it was a cool day, so no one was keen on wallowing but enjoyed splashing water over themselves whilst Burra tipped over the water barrels to make his own little wet patch. Uaso turned up at 3 p.m. and he and his wild friends spend the rest of the day feeding with the orphans, returning to Mazinga Hill only when the orphans were all inside their respective Stockades.

27 May 2006

The loud joyful trumpets of the early morning games attracted Uaso, who came down from the hill and startled the group by suddenly appearing from behind! He accompanied the group to the feeding grounds. Icholta, aware of Uaso’s mounting intentions, kept her distance from him, and Edie realised that she had made a mistake by entertaining Uaso, who separated her from the others, and enjoyed a ride on her back. She took shelter in the Stockade at 4 p.m., and when the others returned a little later, he wandered back up the hill.

28 May 2006

The orphans headed towards Mazinga Hill in the morning, but there was no sign of Uaso. Natumi, who views Uaso as something of a challenge to her leadership, settled down, having scanned the hill, and lay down in a trench so that Morani and Thoma could playfully climb on her. Natumi was anxious to win the confidence of her charges before Uaso returned and became the focus of attention.

29 May 2006

Mukwaju and Lolokwe had a tough battle for some unknown reason out at the feeding ground today, which was ignored by all the others, who concentrated on feeding.

30 May 2006

The orphans fed up the hill during the morning, and did not wallow today, since the weather was not conducive. Instead they splashed water around using their trunks, and later returned to feeding until it was time to return.

31 May 2006

The sky was clear, so it was a sunny day, which saw the orphans spread out over the feeding area. There were a lot of wild herds further afield, but no contact was initiated. They enjoyed the mudbath because it was hot, then took a rest under shade, before resuming feeding until time to return. Other Notes:- Chuna, the baby lesser kudu is doing fine, feeding well, and so far has not shown any signs of being unwell. Serena, the little orphaned zebra foal, suffered loose stools when the green grass first appeared, so the Vet gave her some de-worming medicine. We are still assessing her carefully. The Aruba Windmill’s water trough has been repaired, having suffered massive damage from the activity of all the wild elephants that have been coming to drink there during the dry season.