Keepers' Diaries, May 2009

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Voi Reintegration Unit

It has been a very exciting month for Lesanju, Lempaute, Shimba, Wasessa, Siria, Sinya and Mzima, now based at the Voi Stockades in Voi. Wasessa, who was orphaned older than the others, and who also comes from the area not far from the Voi Stockades, is the most outgoing of all when it comes to meeting wild herds, quick to run and greet the wild herds without any hesitation, whereas the others are more reticent. On the 5th , whilst feeding out in the bush, the orphans encountered a wild herd, and Wasessa spent a long time interacting with a wild calf who even tried to suckle her ears in a very familiar way. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Wasessa actually knows this wild group -perhaps they may even be part of her former wild family. Her joyful interaction with the wild group on that day encouraged the other Voi orphans to pluck up sufficient courage to come and join in leaving their Keepers behind observing events from a safe distance. Eventually, Lesanju decided enough was enough, and headed back to the Keepers, followed by all the others save Wasessa, who headed off instead in amongst her wild friends. She was so obviously comfortable amongst this wild group that the Keepers feared she might join up with them permanently.

It has been a very exciting month for Lesanju, Lempaute, Shimba, Wasessa, Siria, Sinya and Mzima, now based at the Voi Stockades in Voi. Wasessa, who was orphaned older than the others, and who also comes from the area not far from the Voi Stockades, is the most outgoing of all when it comes to meeting wild herds, quick to run and greet the wild herds without any hesitation, whereas the others are more reticent. On the 5th , whilst feeding out in the bush, the orphans encountered a wild herd, and Wasessa spent a long time interacting with a wild calf who even tried to suckle her ears in a very familiar way. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Wasessa actually knows this wild group -perhaps they may even be part of her former wild family. Her joyful interaction with the wild group on that day encouraged the other Voi orphans to pluck up sufficient courage to come and join in leaving their Keepers behind observing events from a safe distance. Eventually, Lesanju decided enough was enough, and headed back to the Keepers, followed by all the others save Wasessa, who headed off instead in amongst her wild friends. She was so obviously comfortable amongst this wild group that the Keepers feared she might join up with them permanently.

The Keepers took the rest of the orphaned group to the usual noon day milk and mudbath venue, and upon arrival, were happy to find Wasessa and her wild friends already there, having a marvelous time in the waterhole. When the wild herd eventually moved off, Wasessa returned to the Keepers for her milk ration, and spent the afternoon as usual with the rest of the group, browsing until it was time to head back to the Stockades for the night.

Wild elephants have come to the Stockades to drink from the Stockade trough on several occasions this month. They were there during the late afternoon of the 8th, their presence detected by the orphans who all raised their trunks in the air as they neared the stockades. Again Wasessa ran to greet the wild herd before joining the others and taking her evening milk ration. Another wild group turned up to drink during the evening of the 14th, when our orphans were already in for the night, but they exchanged greetings with rumbles, trumpets and screams from Mzima!

It was a red letter day on the 11th because Natumi’s group returned to the Stockades during the late evening after a long absence as part of the wild Tsavo elephant community. The last time Natumi and the now wild orphans who often accompany her independently of Emily, last visited the Voi Stockades was in May 2008, so the Keepers had not seen them for a full year. Apparently they were very happy to find some new recruits in their erstwhile Stockades. Solango ran to greet them, but the youngsters had only one thing on their mind that day, and that was their milk!

Natumi’s group returned the next day, on the 12th, after the youngsters had already left the Stockades. The Keeper on duty noticed that Natumi and Lolokwe were obviously suffering discomfort from swellings on their body, which appeared suspicious. The Trust’s Mobile Veterinary Unit was summonsed, and the two ex orphans were sedated so that the swellings could be investigated. Sure enough they were arrow heads, one on Natumi’s head and another on her thigh, while Lolokwe had one in his hindquarters. The arrow heads, which fortunately were not coated with Akokanthera poison, were surgically removed, the wounds cleaned and treated and the two orphans revived. They ambled off to join the rest of their group who were waiting for them nearby.

It must be noted that what is happening to our now wild ex orphans is an indication of what is actually happening to the main population amongst whom they are now an integral part. The Tsavo population is surrounded by particularly un-ele-friendly tribes who have settled the elephants’ traditional migratory corridors. Whilst our orphans are able to return and get help whenever they feel the need, the wild elephants are not so fortunate, and are suffering great hardship on a daily basis, many dying from the affects of arrow poison, others incapacitated from being caught in wire snares. Unfortunately, the extent of the decimation of Kenya’s irreplaceable wildlife heritage seems inconsequential to those in charge, who prefer to try and keep the bad news from the public domain.

On the 16th Natumi’s group came to the Stockades early to greet the new orphans as they were emerging in the morning. There were happy rumbles, trumpets and screams as Wasessa rushed in to greet them, while Lesanju, Lempaute, Shimba, Siria and Mzima hung back briefly, but then mingled with them. The entire group played around the stockades for a while until the Keepers called the youngsters indicating that it was time to head out into the main Park to browse. Natumi’s group escorted the babies to the Spring Gate, before peeling off and returning to Mazinga Hill, their departure barely noticed by the youngsters who by now were in a high state of excitement and running happily down the hill.

During a routine patrol on the 17th undertaken by some of the Keepers in their little Suzuki, in order to try and determine the whereabouts of Natumi’s group, they happened upon Emily and all the orphans, including Natumi’s group, who were in amongst a lot of wild herds on neighbouring Ngutuni ranch where the vegetation is very lush. (This ranch seems to be a favourite haunt of our now wild orphans as well as the wild elephant community.) Emily was actually in the process of being mated by a large wild bull, who objected strongly to the presence of the Keepers’ vehicle, as they tried to get closer in order to determine the whereabouts of Emily’s baby, Eve. As they maneuvered around the thickets, they were excited to come across Edie and discover that she, too, had a newborn female baby (whom we have since named “Ella” and who was about 3 weeks old, obviously born at the beginning of May). Edie is a very young mother for she is just aged 10, the same age that Malaika was when she died in childbirth, unable to give birth to a large calf lying breach. Mweya was giving Edie’s baby a great deal of loving care, stroking it with her trunk, and following its every movement, obviously the newborn’s main “Nannie”. Nearby was baby “Eve” who was being attended by Sweet Sally and Vita whilst Emily was otherwise occupied. All the orphans were delighted to see their Keepers and welcomed them into their midst, as their wild friends moved away.

Whilst studying photographs of the orphans, it was noticed that Laikipia (now l0 years old) had a swelling on one of his legs, which suggested a wire snare. The Mobile Veterinary Unit accompanied the Keepers the next day and located the orphaned group at Ngutuni in amongst a lot of wild elephants. They were able to single out Laikipia and undertake a physical inspection of the leg which had obviously had a snare but the wire had somehow become detached, leaving just a mark.

On the 22nd during another monitoring patrol, the Keepers came across Lissa and her three calves (Lara, Lali and Lugard), Mpenzi and her wild-born baby named “Asante” and Big Boy Uaso in amongst another wild herd. Lugard appeared to have some sun damage on one ear, but all looked well and happy, Mpenzi’s calf playing with a wild age-mate.

The seven new orphans at the Voi Stockades are now very happily settled, regularly being introduced to wild visiting herds by Wasessa, who is very outgoing. Siria and Mzima, like Wasessa will have a clear recollection of their previous wild life, but Lesanju and Lempaute and Shimba were orphaned very young, and are therefore less comfortable when confronted with huge wild strangers! However, they are taking their cue from Wasessa and beginning to mingle happily with wild friends.

Several wild herds have been coming to drink at the Voi Stockades this month, usually in the evenings when the orphans are already in for the Night. One wild herd which came on the 28th spent a long time at the Stockades, rumbling to our orphans, and paying no attention to the proximity of the Keepers just a few paces away.

Others:- The 3 little kudu orphans being reared by the Voi Elephant Keepers at the Voi Stockades (namely Mkuki, Njia and Aruba) are all doing well, and mixing frequently with a wild group of kudu who frequent the vicinity. The young eland, named Mkonge is also thriving, and beginning to browse a little. The kudus prefer not to associate too much with him because of his size, so he sticks close to the Keepers.

May 2009 day to day

01 May

Having emerged from their Night Stockades, and after a drink of water at the Stockade trough, Lesanju led the orphans out to browse towards Mazinga Hill, waiting for the Keepers to join them and escort them further afield. They all browsed calmly throughout the morning, and having taken their noon milk feed enjoyed a mudbath, Mzima and Wasessa competing to be the best “wallower”, which ended when Wasessa tried to climb onto Mzima’s back. He then left the wallow and went to join Shimba in a dust-bath. Lesanju and Siria enjoyed a pushing game in the water while Lempaute first went to scratch against a tree before joining the others. It was a hot afternoon, so he orphans kept to the shade during the afternoon browsing session, and before returning to the Stockades in the evening.

Lesanju leading the others

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