Keepers' Diaries, May 2021

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Compared to the rest of Tsavo, Voi has received relatively little rainfall this year. We have a long dry season ahead of us, which hasn’t escaped the notice of the wildlife in the area: While the Voi water trough always receives a steady stream of wild visitors, an influx of elephants came through this month, eager to quench their thirst under the shade of the baobab tree. 

Our dependent females eagerly welcome visitors, especially if they arrive with tiny calves in tow. While Sagala, Mashariki, and Rorogoi demurely wait for their invitation, Tamiyoi boldly strides up to any wild elephant and introduces herself. She and Pika Pika occasionally become so transfixed by their new friends that they start to amble off with them, but the Keepers always shepherd them back. While their extroversion will serve them well in their reintegration journeys, Tamiyoi and Pika Pika are still far too young for a wild life.

Of course, Kenia, Ishaq-B, and Ndii would never allow Pika Pika to join a wild herd. They often show no interest in these visitors, preferring to keep Pika Pika firmly sandwiched between them. In fact, Ndii’s obsession with Pika Pika reached troubling heights this month. One afternoon, she found Ishaq-B browsing with the little girl and flew into a fit of jealous rage. She grabbed poor Ishaq-B’s tail and refused to let go, ultimately biting the tip clean off! Everyone was astonished at how dramatically the situation had escalated, including Ndii: She knew she had crossed a line and separated herself from the rest of the herd, remaining in self-imposed exile for several hours. Miraculously, Ishaq-B didn’t hold a grudge and the girls’ friendship remains as strong as ever. In the wake of this incident, Ndii has been much less possessive over Pika Pika, which is a positive outcome for everyone. 

Tundani is the only boy in Kenia’s partially independent herd of nine, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is such a gentle bull and an excellent role model to the younger orphans. He is still the only one brave enough to feast on the gloriously green patch just beyond the stockades, reaching his trunk carefully through the electric fence to enjoy the spoils.

When Kenia’s herd arrived back into the fold, Arruba was forced to relinquish Pika Pika into their care. While Arruba defers to the older girls, she is still very much a leader: Her agemate Mudanda can be a bit naughty, and when she gets into one of her moods, Arruba prods her with her tusks to keep her in line. Ndoria, who was once a notorious tail-biter, seems to be fully reformed — but the orphans haven’t quite forgotten her old ways. During one mud bath, Ndoria decided to use Arruba’s bottom as a scratching post. Arruba feared that she would incite the older girl’s ire if she moved, so she stayed stock-still until Ndoria walked off! 

The Keepers call Ndotto the celebrity of the Voi herd. If he is not playing with Arruba, he is immersed in a game with Mbegu, who has been a firm friend since their Nursery days. Ndotto also loves to spend time with Ivia the buffalo. He hijacked this friendship from Ngilai, forgoing the mud bath in order to maximise time with his unlikely playmate. They seem to have a mutual understanding that mornings and afternoons are reserved for browsing, as the elephant and buffalo alike must fill up their tummies during the dry season. The hour following the noon milk feed, however, is reserved for playtime. Mbegu wants in on these games, too, but Ivia shows little interest in her. She is quite a bit bigger than Ndotto and Ngilai, so perhaps he is just judicious about sizing up his playmates!


Curiously, Cheza the buffalo shows zero inclination to play with the elephants. She is becoming more interested in seeking attention from male buffaloes, but this will have to wait for a bit: The wild buffaloes are currently in the south of Voi, whereas the orphans remain north of the hill. As the dry season sets in, they will surely migrate around the hill in search of water and more vegetation. This will be a good opportunity for Cheza and Ivia to interact with their wild kin.

Ever since losing his friend Nzuki to a pride of lions, Diria the zebra has remained close to his Keepers. Although the Keepers try to encourage him to mingle with the wild zebra in the area, he is still too afraid to leave their sides. We are sure this will change as he grows up and becomes more confident. For now, however, Diria shadows his favourite Keeper, Peterson, giving him playful nips and nose butts all day long.

While Ndotto and Ngilai happily play with anyone in the herd, Lasayen and Murit only show interest in the other bulls. They are always initiating wrestling matches amongst themselves, but they hardly ever initiate a game with any of the girls! One orphan is delighted that Ngilai is no longer Ivia's chosen playmate: Emoli spent a few fraught months stewing over Ngilai’s special friendship with the buffalo and feeling rather cast aside. Now that Ivia only has eyes for Ndotto, Ngilai and Emoli are back to being inseparable. 

Godoma and Pika Pika are the water babies of the Voi herd and rarely miss a mud bath. They can be quite possessive of “their” territory and charge at the wild zebras who try to come for a drink! Godoma is still best friends with Mbegu and serves as her second-in-command. While Mbegu is the undisputed mini matriarch of the junior orphans, she has granted Tagwa, Tamiyoi, and Sagala the privilege to lead the herd to and fro. It is remarkable to see how this large herd, with all its big personalities, has worked out such a wonderful hierarchy that leaves everyone feeling fulfilled.

May 2021 day to day

01 May

The orphans had their milk bottles and then went to feed on the lucerne supplement grass. Arruba then wanted to play with Emoli and she kept holding and pulling his leg to get him to play with her, but Emoli showed no interest in playing and walked away. Arruba decided to go to her ‘old faithful’ friend who will always play with her, Ndotto, and engaged him in a sparring session. All this time Suswa enjoyed lying on the pile of loose soil, throwing soil on herself. Ndoria stood below the terrace wall collecting lucerne pellets and was joined by Panda who enjoyed scratching her bottom against the wall.  

On the way out to the Park for the day, Arruba decided to take a detour and follow a path that led to some slippery rocks which she managed to navigate safely, before joining the rest of the herd for the morning browsing session.  

The orphans visited the baobab tree waterhole at noon where they had a quick mud bath before resuming their browsing activities.  This afternoon, while on the way to Manyani, some Kenya Wildlife Service rangers spotted an orphan elephant around 6 months old, which they reported to the Keepers at the Voi stockades. Unfortunately the calf ran into some thick bush which made it hard to find. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust helicopter came to help the search from the air, but the little calf just couldn’t be found and the search will continue tomorrow.  

Arrruba and Ndotto sparring

Ndoria enjoying pellets

Panda scratching