Keepers' Diaries, May 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Once the princess of the Voi herd, Pika Pika seems to be growing up. She has been spending a lot of time with big girls Sagala and Tagwa — but more as a peer than a little sister. We wonder if she is picking up nannying tips from them, as she has shown lots of interest in looking after the junior orphans. She has no shortage of youngsters to choose from; the ‘Voi kids,’ as we call the orphans rescued during the 2021-22 drought, are many in number. 

Usually, the females leap into protective mode when wild visitors filter through, wary that they might whisk away the younger orphans. One afternoon, however, it was Ngilai who played the role of protector. In the early evening, a wild elephant and her calf joined the herd. Everyone greeted each other amicably, but Ngilai remained notably close to Thamana until they returned to the safety of the stockades.

Ngilai is a good friend to both the ‘Kaluku babies’: Later in the month, he had a lovely afternoon with Lemeki, laying down in the soft earth as she rolled around next to the big bull. Lemeki is also still very close to her honorary big brother, Ndotto. The two spend a lot of time together, playing games and just generally enjoying each other’s company.

Losoito, the newest addition to our Voi herd, still spends most of her time in the taming stockade as she learns the ropes and adapts to her new life. She is comfortable there, feasting on nutritious meals of freshly cut greens and interacting with the other orphans as they come and go.

We were treated to some special visitors on 5th May. As dawn broke, ex-orphans Kenia and Araba strolled in to enjoy breakfast with their dependent friends. The herd was happy to follow Kenia out past Msinga Hill to the open savannah, where they browsed peacefully for several hours. Kenia and Araba continued to visit throughout the month. The Keepers enjoy watching their young charges bonding with ex-orphans, as these friendships are important as they work their way back to the wild.

Emoli is becoming quite the mentor! This month, the Keepers witnessed him teaching young Itinyi basic sparring and wrestling skills. The big bull played gently as the plucky boy trumpeted with excitement. 

However, he still has lots to learn himself. Later in the month, Emoli dared to challenge the older, stronger Ndotto to a contest. Things began in a light-hearted manner, but Ndotto continued putting pressure on his opponent and Emoli refused not to back down. Tempers frayed, the sparring became serious, and the smaller orphans moved away. Deciding that he had had enough, Ndotto rammed Emoli with the flat of his forehead. It might seem harsh to an outsider, but it is important that bulls learn and respect the herd hierarchy.

It’s funny how some days, certain orphans are full of energy for no reason at all. One particularly cool afternoon, Tagwa and Thamana refused to let the chilly weather dampen their spirit. They had an exuberant roll on the dust pile, flinging their trunks and rubbing their round bodies against each other. Sagala, Godoma, Busara, Tamiyoi, and Dabida stood around their friends, observing but not tempted to join the action.

It’s also funny how priorities shift on a near-daily basis. One morning, Dabida, Kilulu, and Hildana were incredibly impatient to be let out of their stockade. They stood at the gate, stamping their feet and flaring their ears. As soon as a Keeper let them out, the trio sprinted round the corner in a whirl of tails and trunks.

The next morning, however, all urgency was forgotten. Instead, the orphans pottered out of their stockades as if they had all the time in the world. Quietly, they drank their milk and wandered over to the trough full of pellets. Only Ashanti was in a lively mood, giving her friends little shoves as she did her best to pick up dairy cubes with her small trunk. 

Mbegu is a matriarch to all, but a special big sister to two. She is smitten with Busara and Baraka, who are among the youngest Voi kids. She often wedges herself between the two babies, ensuring that no one disturbs them or tries to lay claim to them.

By mid-May, it started to get very dry around Voi. The orphans had to become diligent about their browsing, wandering slowly as they searched for any remaining shoots of green. While our orphans will always be spared the worst effects, we are also proud to be in a position to support Tsavo’s wildlife through these increasingly trying times. We were poignantly reminded of this one afternoon, when a wild female elephant and her small baby stood waiting outside the Voi water trough. She clearly knew where to find safe resources in the landscape. As soon the Keepers filled it up, she and her baby drank deeply before moving off into the wilderness. 

It may be getting hot and dry, but the orphans’ energy levels are still at a high. Throughout the month, Murit, Lasayen, and Ndotto led energetic sparring matches, while Pika Pika was the reliable star of the mud bath. One day, Ngilai climbed into the water trough, splashing water all over the place with his front feet. Energy seems to be infectious; when one orphan is rowdy, it’s not long before the others are, too!

21st May marked a special reunion. As the dependent herd was enjoying breakfast, ex-orphans Suswa, Ndoria, Rorogoi, Kenia, Arruba, Araba, and Panda wandered into the compound. Former orphans mingled with current orphans, touching each other frequently as they ate. Close friends Ndotto and Arruba took the opportunity to play, trumpeting and waving their trunks as they rolled on the ground together. Ndotto misses his old sparring partner and was clearly delighted to see her again. 

The month ended sedately, with a hint of rain. Heading out to the bush, the orphans settled on the open plains on the other side of Msinga Hill, browsing and playing in small friendship groups. In the afternoon, they returned for more milk, but no one was keen to swim on a rainy day. They stood together quietly, with the older ones on the outside and the little ones in the middle. 

May 2023 day to day

01 May

On a cool clear morning, the orphans plodded out of their bedrooms and around the corner to the line of Keepers waiting with bottles held aloft. Groups of three or four elephants gulped down their milk and wandered over to the range cube feeding area. Big sister Godoma stood close to little Busara as they scooped up range cubes. Nearby, Lemeki was enjoying a soothing dust bath on the pile of red soil next to the water trough.

Ere long, the herd meandered out to browse in the area surrounding Msinga Hill, leaving Ndotto and Ngilai behind – the two growing bulls were engrossed in eating every last pellet they could find. On the open savannah, Pika Pika was hanging out with big girls Sagala and Tagwa.

On an overcast afternoon, the orphans stood around, rather than in, the mud wallow for a short time before returning to the bush for a final browse. Some clambered all the way up the hill as others remained at the foot. Mbegu, Kilulu and Busara stayed close together, browsing but also trunk and body touching. Pika Pika and Baraka wandered around contentedly – Pika Pika was in a protective mood and would not allow older orphans like Thamana and Hildana anywhere near her little friend. Nearby, Godoma was waggling her trunk around extravagantly as Busara played with Juni under her watchful eye.

Godoma browsing

Sagala, Pika Pika and Tagwa browsing

Ngilai left and Ndotto