Keepers' Diaries, November 2009

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Some rain in Tsavo (and the supplements sent from Nairobi) came just in time to save the wild-born babies of both Emily and Eve, the two young mothers having brought their babies back to the Stockades because they were becoming weaker from lack of sufficient milk. Supplements were rushed down from Nairobi to promote better lactation from the two mothers, and since then both calves have improved considerably. Since then, both Emily and Edie have been coming regularly to the Stockades and enjoying supplementary feeding.

Some rain in Tsavo (and the supplements sent from Nairobi) came just in time to save the wild-born babies of both Emily and Eve, the two young mothers having brought their babies back to the Stockades because they were becoming weaker from lack of sufficient milk. Supplements were rushed down from Nairobi to promote better lactation from the two mothers, and since then both calves have improved considerably. Since then, both Emily and Edie have been coming regularly to the Stockades and enjoying supplementary feeding.

They were both there on the 2nd to enjoy their supplements, but missed the Stockade dependent Voi orphans on that day who had already left their Night Stockades to browse around Mazinga Hill. Rain in November has brought up a green flush of vegetation in the area which all the orphans are currently enjoying, especially in the large enclosure which used to house most of the older now Keeper Independent orphans under the Matriarchship of Emily. Helped by years of elephant dung, soft fresh green grass has sprouted in this now unused Enclosure, which the young Stockade elephants feast on whilst awaiting their Keepers to accompany them out to the bush for the daily browsing session. Others that also come to enjoy the new grass and small legumes growing in amongst it are the three little now Keeper Independent orphaned kudus, Mkuki, Njia and Aruba, who usually find themselves chased out whenever the Voi orphans want to have a turn and feel that it is their prerogative!

The arrival at the Voi Stockades on the 4th of ex Nursery babies Kenia and Shira was, as usual, an exciting event for the earlier orphans who are now established there, namely Lesanju, Lempaute, Sinya, Wasessa, Shimba, Mzima, Siria, Tassia and Taveta, all of whom had shared Nursery time with the two latest arrivals, so the usual rapturous welcome ensued. Recognition was immediate, and the two new arrivals were immediately escorted along to the Stockade water trough to quench their thirst, when Shira actually jumped right in, finding the heat of Tsavo somewhat uncomfortable! It was on the very next day that they met the three little kudu orphans in the vacated Enclosure, when Kenia decided to expel them!

Both Kenia and Shira have settled in remarkably quickly, obviously reassured and “shown the ropes” by the others who are established. All the ex Nursery orphans who have recently been up-graded to the Voi Stockades couldn’t be happier in their new surroundings.

On the 7th Emily returned after dark to partake of the supplements, so again missed actually fraternizing with the Stockade group, who were already ensconced for the night. But Mweya and Icholta from her group returned the next day, and being older than their current Matriarch, Lesanju, managed to hijack little Shira and escort her off to join Edie’s ex orphaned group, who were browsing some distance away. Lesanju was not at all happy about this, but Shira, of course, was orphaned old enough to remember her Elephant family and her time as part of a wild herd, so she seemed to relish the “outing” but was escorted back later by l0 year old Salama who is usually part of Emily’s group. However, Edie’s Splinter group usually encompasses others from Emily’s group, and the two groups exchange members frequently, all part of one large extended “family”. Splinter groups often travel independently of the main Matriarch, because all females love to be Leaders and enjoy taking anyone who would like to accompany them, undoubtedly, however, still keeping in close touch with others left behind through infrasound communication. The understanding by the ex orphans of the milk needs of others that are younger and still milk dependent is astonishing and is something that is recorded regularly in the Keepers’ Diaries over the years, testament yet again to the very human attributes of elephants. That Salama brought little Shira back to her Keepers and her group is very touching, no doubt under orders!

Emily returned again to the Stockade on the 9th, again after the Youngsters were already in for the night, an occasion when Solango and Irima had a disagreement over the Dairy cubes. It is curious that Emily has tended to avoid fraternizing with the new Voi ex Nursery arrivals but Edie is more sociable. On the 10th Edie came back with her baby Ella, along with Mweya, Thoma, Ndara, Solango, Salama, Icholta, Morani, Lolokwe and a wild bull who was bigger than Salama (therefore about 11 or 12 years old) who was seen trying to mount Mweya.

Mweya has always been very interested in small babies. She has been the Chief “Nannie” to Edie’s wild-born baby, and she returned on the 11th to be with the youngsters and escort them out to join Edie’s group, spending time playing with Siria. On this occasion the wild boy was absent from Edie’s group.

On the 14th Lesanju’s Voi Stockade group bumped into ex orphan Lissa (now 24 years old and again heavily pregnant) plus her three wild-born calves, Lara (born January 1999), Lali (born in November 2002) and Lugard (born in January 2007) who were on their way back to the Stockades. However, instead they decided to spend the day with the Stockade group, and even shared the noon mudbath with them. Kenia was very taken with Lissa, even eager to suckle her, something Lissa gently dissuaded her from doing, by blocking access with a front leg!

On the 15th Seraa, normally a member of Emily’s group, returned to the Stockade with a wound on her back. Dr. Ndeereh, the Vet attached to the Trust’s Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit, immobilized her thinking that perhaps an arrow head was still imbedded, but found the wound more likely to have been as a result of a spear trap. This is yet another form of poaching, whereby a spear is positioned high in a tree, and falls on top of an animal when triggered by the animal brushing against a string attached to something on the ground. The spear had penetrated deep enough to splinter a rib, so the Vet was able to clean out ships of bone, and it is since healing nicely.

Emily’s group returned again during the evening of the 17th, again when the Youngsters were already ensconced for the night. Laikipia and Salama were with Emily on this occasion, as was Mweya, and again the two cheeky elephant youths were seen trying to mount Mweya. On the 19th Solango from Emily’s group came alone to partake of some Copra without competition from other members of the now wild orphaned group and having had his fill, then left, obviously heading out to re-join the others ex orphans who have been browsing within reach of the Stockades, so that Emily and Edie can continue with their Dairy Cubes.

The 22nd was a very sad day at the Voi Stockades, for the little eland bull called Makonge who was being hand-reared by the Keepers, was obviously bitten by a snake whilst browsing in a thicket. He returned with a huge swelling on his body, and although the Vet did what he could to save him, sadly he died during the early hours of the next morning.

On the 23rd Emily returned for another feed of Dairy Cubes and Copra Cake, this time with 17 other ex orphan members of her group. And on the 25th, while the Voi Junior Orphans were enjoying their noon mudbath, a wild herd was seen approaching from afar, amongst whom the Keepers recognized Lissa’s family along with Edie’s group. It so happened that some officials were at the mudbath on that day, and as soon as the approaching herd saw them, they did an about turn and began to flee. However, the Keepers called the orphans by name, which stopped the herd in its tracks, and all then returned to join the Stockade group at the waterhole. Lissa’s eldest daughter, Lara was very interested in the two smallest boys from Lesanju’s group, namely Tassia and Kenia, while Siria engaged a wild boy in a wrestling match! It was a spectacular day for the visitors, who were able to witness the amazing trust the orphans have in the specific individuals who form part of their erstwhile human family, and yet have a healthy fear of humans that are strangers!

On the 26th Edie’s group joined the juniors as they were on their way back to the Stockades in the evening and walked back with them. With Edie and her calf on this occasion were Thoma, Ndara, Solango, Salama, Icholta, Morani and Lolokwe. Lesanju’s group spent time with the ex orphans around the Stockade, as they enjoyed their usual supplements, and Siria was tempted to remain with them, reluctant to follow the other Juniors into their Night Quarters until the Keepers urged him to do so.

The month of November has indeed been action packed for Lesanju’s group, and for the Voi Elephant Keepers, who have been delighted to welcome back so many of their former charges. Still to return are the following ex orphans, who apparently are still on Rukinga Ranch with Natumi’s Splinter Group:- Natumi, Illingwezi, Nyiro, Tsavo, Mukwaju, Sweet Sally, Burra, Sosian, Mpala and Irima. The one orphan that we worry about is Aitong, (born in l994) who was heavily pregnant at the same time as Emily, and should by now also been the young mother of a wild-born calf. Her very special orphan was always Sweet Sally, who has since been persistently seen with Emily’s group, without Aitong, which make us wonder about the fate of Aitong. We believe that having always been so close, Sweet Sally is likely to have been a “Nannie” for Aitong’s baby, and we wonder therefore whether some misfortune has befallen Aitong, who began life as a very fragile baby, who could only walk in circles for many months, following a blow on her head during an elephant stampede in the Masai Mara. Perhaps she could have died giving birth, as did orphan Malaika - it happens to humans who do not have the luxury of modern medical care, and we know from experience that it also happens to elephants.

November 2009 day to day

01 Nov

Recent rain has brought on a fresh flush of green grass and browse so food is plentiful for the Voi orphans. At the noon mudbath Mzima and Shira were the stars with Shimba just getting a few splashes as the others flailed their trunks.

Mzima in the water

Shira enjoy a central wallowing position