The joy we felt when the first rains arrived at the end of last month was indescribable. Around the southern are of Tsavo, where Voi is located we have been gripped by the worst drought in many years. We have been overwhelmed with dying drought victims, and some we have miraculously saved, but to see the rains break and know that there is respite for the wild herds is such a relief. This relief and joy was heralded by the return of our Ex Orphans who have been away this whole dry season, thankfully in a more forgiving environment as they all arrived in excellent condition with their babies all thriving. We Keepers felt so proud of them navigating such a challenging year, with our older orphans and matriarchs obviously making all the right decisions. They arrived on the 4th of November around noon, the Keepers were delighted to see Ndara, her baby Neptune along with Tassia, who came to join the dependent orphans while they browsed first. A short while later the Kenya Wildlife Service base reported that two elephants had missed the corridor under the newly constructed railway line, and were beside the Voi River but on the wrong side of the fence line. It was assumed they were two Ex Orphans and upon arriving at the scene the Keepers found that it was indeed Lesanju and Sinya. The two were escorted to a break in the fence line and from there they walked home with their human family and were reunited with their friends. The onset of the rain across Tsavo has allowed passage for our Ex Orphans to make their way back from where they have successfully thrived during the worst of the drought on the neighbouring dry season habitats and ranch lands, their passage assisted by the fresh vegetation now growing as well as replenished watering holes. Lempaute in particular seemed to be very happy to be reunited with her best friend Lesanju, the two having known each other since tiny calves in the Nairobi Nursery. The sound of deep rumblings of happiness and contentment filled the air around the stockades, and it was such a happy time for us all, made more significant because over 300 wild elephants have died this dry season in the southern sector of the Park due to lack of vegetation. Lempaute was so happy to have her friend back, that she and Kivuko joined up with the Ex Orphans, leaving the two bulls Dabassa and Layoni behind, and both of these boys continued to visit the dependent orphans every day whilst the senior Ex Orphan herd moved on.
Exactly a week later, other members of the Ex Orphan herd led by Emily including babies Eve, Emma, Edie, and her baby Eden, Sweet Sally, her baby Safi, Lolokwe, Siria, Taveta, Mweya all arrived with two wild bulls as company. They too had missed the new SGR railway corridor and had followed the Ngutuni fence line to the park entrance where it appeared they awaited patiently for assistance to be allowed back into the Park! Just two days later the rest of the Ex Orphan herd arrived at the Voi Gate, having also missed the corridor as they followed the same path Emily’s herd had taken, and they too waited for assistance to get back into the Park. The group consisted of Icholta and her baby Inca, Thoma and her calf Thor, Seraa, Wasessa, Rombo and Mzima. Once back in the park they went straight to the stockades where they had a quick drink, and caught up with old friends. The whole herd looked in great health and had successfully made the same trip of over 100km from the conservancies outside the Park. We watched on as the babies Emma, Eden and Safi played games of chase around the stockade compound, the picture of excitement, happiness and contentment. The prolonged drought this year claimed so many lives and watching the Ex Orphan babies play in the compound we could not help but proud that our Ex Orphans, raised by humans, had mastered the knowledge they required in the wild to weather such brutal natural circumstances, when it has sadly claimed the lives of so many others. Sadly, many of the older orphans, too big for the Nairobi Nursery, that we rescued during this harsh time and tried to nurse back from starvation also succumbed to the effects of being without nourishment for too long, and we poured our efforts into little Tahri, who seemed to be doing well after being with us for a few weeks.
Towards the end of the month, dependent orphans Embu, Rorogoi, Suswa, Arruba and Bada were brought into Tahri's big stockade so that they could socialise and get to know each other, in preparation of Tahri finally joining them out in the Park during the day. Arruba and Embu were quick to embrace their new friend while Suswa, Rorogoi and Bada showed little interest to begin with. The two days later Tahri came out of her stockade to join the rest of the orphans as they made their way deep into the park and the browsing grounds. Ndii ran up to Tahri to welcome her into the orphan elephant herd. She embraced Tahri and prevented her from interacting with the rest of the orphans as she wanted the newcomer all to herself. Panda and Mbirikani managed to get around Ndii and greeted Tahri warmly. Kenia, Ishaq-B, Kihari and Naipoki briefly greeted the youngster but did not spend much time with her as the juniors in the group were already seemingly squabbling over who would get to adopt the latest addition to the orphan herd! Tahri seemed to settle well into the new routine with the others and savoured finally being out and about now that her strength had returned.
The dependent orphans have been enjoying the new fresh and soft vegetation that has sprouted with the onset of the rains. They especially delight in feeding on the softly shooting grass after it has just rained, and sometimes chose not to even visit the water hole, having managed to quench their thirst out in the bush in fresh water puddles, so fixated they are with the abundant food they have once more. It really is the festive season for the elephants now. On warm days between showers, the mud bath was still a hive of activity, even Ajali, one not prone to enjoying mud baths given that he suffered broken ribs from such a terrible injury when hit by a truck on the Mombasa highway, joined in on some occasions. One day the orphans arrived at the mud bath, running in for the milk bottles but accompanied by two teenage wild bulls who joined them in their excited dash for their meal! The Keepers waiting to feed them were very confused, and sought refuge in the back of milk vehicle until the wild bulls had run past and it was safe to come out to feed orphans again.
Naipoki and Embu were very mischievous one day and arrived with the first group of orphans to sneak behind the Keepers, busy feeding Rorogoi, Lentili, Mashariki, Bada and Nelion, to steal the other orphans milk bottles from inside the milk vehicle. They grabbed two milk bottles out of the crate when the Keeper feeding Nelion saw what was happening, and managed to reclaim the two now half empty milk bottles from the two naughty orphans. Ndii has slowly been gaining Araba’s love and trust and the youngster often enjoys keeping company with Ndii instead of Kenia these days, especially at mud bath times.
Another significant change in the stockades this month occurred on the 13th when the male orphan eland Tawi, took Kore and Ngulia into the wild. Efforts were made to get the three to return back to the stockade, which Kore the eland and Ngulia the zebra, eventually did. Tawi, however, ran off, and remained in the park to live a wild life.