Keepers' Diaries, May 2018

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Voi Reintegration Unit

It has been three years since the last orphans from Nairobi Nursery were moved to the Voi Reintegration unit. In December 2015 Arruba, Mashariki, Rorogoi, Elkerama, Suswa and Embu were relocated and since then have thrived in their natural environment. This month Mbegu, Ndotto, Ngilai, Godoma, Lasayen and Murit were earmarked to make the journey to Voi, which would help to even out the gender balance of predominately females currently at Voi too. With Tahri and Araba currently the youngest babies at the Voi stockades and with all the females jostling for their affection, some more ‘babies’ among the herd would be no bad thing. Now Panda, Mudanda, Kihari, Suswa and Rorogoi would have some other babies to molly-coddle too!

Before the Nursery babies arrived at the end of the month, it was decided that Kenia, Ndii, Mbirikani, Naipoki, Kihari, Ishaq-B and Panda were old enough to be weaned off milk and since they were not taking the initiative themselves, the Keepers begun the weaning process by not providing them with a milk bottle at the noon feeding time. They seemed to take this in their stride, and when they came running down for their bottles and were met with empty hands, they walked down to the water trough and had some water instead.

Another significant change to the Voi stockades before the Nursery babies arrived occurred on the 11th when Ajali and Mbirikani chose to join up with a wild herd and stay with them out in the wild, bidding farewell to the other orphans and their human family, the Keepers. At 7 and 8 years old now Ajali and Mbirikani are big elephants and perfectly capable of handling themselves in the wild, especially with a wild herd that have been willing to accept them. Both were rescued at a slightly older age and were taken straight to the Voi stockades to recover from their wounds, so traveling with a wild elephant herd now would not be too strange to them. That Ajali could be afforded this second chance of a family after his miraculous recovery from life threatening injuries having been hit by a vehicle, is uplifting, and so very rewarding. This was only due to the fact that our dependent orphans at Voi were also willing to accept him as part of their own family as well. This is the same for Mbirikani who was rescued at a slightly older age, around 4 years old, having suffered from the effects of a horrendous cable-wire snare caught around her foot which meant she was in terrible pain and could not keep up with her mother and herd. We are so delighted that she recovered and flourished at the Voi Unit surrounded by a loving family, and now has been given a second chance at a life in the wild with a new elephant family. Joseph Sauni our Head Keeper at the Voi Stockades has been on the lookout for them since they left, tracking wild herds all the way to Mundanda Rock and when they are sighted again we will inform all our supporters, but we wish them every bit of luck on their new journey.

Finally the day arrived and the first batch of Nursery orphans arrived early in the morning on the 21st having had a smooth journey down from Nairobi with little traffic. The Voi orphan elephants led by Kenia, Ndii and Kihari stood by with great expectation waiting for Mbegu, Ndotto and Lasayen to finish their milk so that they could rush in to greet them. Kenia and Ndii were at the forefront of the welcoming committee, which was very emotional as all the older orphans gathered and jostled around to pat and greet the new babies, trumpeting with delight. Initially poor little Araba and Tahri felt a little side-lined, used to being the favourites with the older females, but in time things settled down and each went back to being Kenia and Ndii’s little cosseted babies. Poor Mbegu had to get used to not leading a herd as well, as she was now in the presence of older females also used to leading, and Lentili would take over if she felt Mbegu was getting ahead of herself. Ndotto took to his new surroundings like a duck to water, and quite literally as well as he launched himself into the water hole upon arriving there at noon for their milk bottles. Whereas Mbegu and Lasayen remained a little shy over the coming days and stuck to their Keepers, Ndotto certainly looked like he had arrived home. All three enjoyed the variety and sheer amount of all the vegetation around, this month having been decided as the best time to move the orphans due to the bountiful rains we received around the Voi area this rainy season, with all the fresh water sources for them to enjoy drinking and frolicking in. Voi must have felt like paradise for the new arrivals as they feasted on luscious grass, green bushes and colourful creepers while butterflies danced in the air around them.

Either she was aware of the impending arrival of new orphans, or she heard the jubilant trumpets of the other dependent orphans, but that same evening ex-orphan Lissa and her two calves visited the stockade at 7pm and had a drink of water from the stockade water trough. Lissa, who was with her last born, Leo, and her second last born Lazima (her first born Lara and her own calf were absent), stayed the next day to browse with the dependent orphans. Ndotto was a little scared seeing elephants that were so much bigger than him, not being able to recall any that big because he was rescued at just a few weeks old, and nearly ran away, but the Keepers managed to console him and he settled down.

On the 23rd the next three orphans, Godoma, Murit and Ngilai arrived. Murit was promptly welcomed by Mbegu who was happy to see him, but Godoma was a little overwhelmed at the sight of the larger Voi orphans and tried to run off into the bush! The Keepers who escorted her from Nairobi rushed to calm her and then she enjoyed a fresh milk bottle to compose and settle her. The orphans then made their way to the mud bath where all twenty six wallowed in the water with excitement, even managing to scare off a wild elephant herd in the process with their rambunctious play! There are great many things for the new arrivals get used to in their new environment, new sounds, smells and experiences, but we are confident that with the loving care from the older females at the Voi Stockades, and the guidance from the diligent Keepers there too, they will be happy with their new home in the wild with their elephant family in no time.

May 2018 day to day

01 May

The orphans began the day playing happily around the stockade compound following their milk and supplement feeding. They then made their way to the browsing grounds there they settled to feed on the eastern side of Msinga Hill. They came down the hill at 3pm and whilst heading towards the big water hole they came across a big wild elephant with two calves, followed by a wild elephant bull. They did not stop to interact with any of the wild elephants as they were in a rush to get to the waterhole. Later in the day, Lentili and Kihari teamed up to tackle Tundani in a tough head butting, pushing competition. When they were done with their strength testing games the three rejoined the rest of the group who were busy browsing before returning to the stockades for the night.

Arruba and the others behind her

Mashariki, Nelion and Arruba

Naipoki dust bathing