Keepers' Diaries, November 2020

Select your unit:

Voi Reintegration Unit

The rains arrived around Voi in a slow and steady manner. We awoke some days to a light drizzle that wet the parched earth and put the elephant orphans in a happy mood. For the last five months, throughout the dry season, numerous bush fires have raged across Tsavo’s plains, but those first few light showers was all that was required to set off the chain reaction to rejuvenate life. Fresh grasses have started to shoot through the moist earth and the once grey dead-looking shrubbery has sprouted a profusion of fresh green leaves – all favourites of the elephant orphans as nothing tastes better to them than sweet succulent fresh new-growth – heavily nutritious as well! In just a few short weeks this month, the land has become a Garden of Eden. Dung beetles appeared from nowhere and feverishly started rolling their nests with the output of the elephants combined with the damp conditions, and the Keepers nearly have to dance while walking to avoid stepping on them. Already we can see the creepers beginning to grow and unfurl their fresh green leaves across the bush. 

The orphans were eager every morning to head out in search of these fresh new leaves, and by the end of the month we started to receive our first serious heavy rain showers. This meant the Voi orphans spent less time playing at the main water hole in the early afternoon, as it was often cloudy after their noon milk bottle, but come late afternoon when it warmed up significantly they were overwhelmed with the number of options of water pans and puddles available to play in. 

All the fresh water sources and a now raging Voi River meant that the wild elephant herds also chose not to frequent the baobab waterhole as they dispersed across the land, so the Voi orphans this month have had fewer interactions with wild herds. Of course a few herds did pass through, including a couple with young babies which our orphans always find enchanting. Tamiyoi is often the first to greet any wild herd, and was so besotted with one baby one day that she almost left with her and her mother, but the Keepers called her back to join her family and she duly returned to her friends.

Tamiyoi is still very close to her Nursery friend Tagwa and Sagala too. Tagwa is looking wonderful and very much settled these days. Mbegu has been a lot friendlier to her of late, and is more willing for Tagwa to lead the herd about on their daily excursions. The impact of this new-found rapport with Mbegu is visible on Tagwa and this is the best we have seen her since she returned from her recuperation in the Nairobi Nursery in March.

Kenia’s slightly older herd of orphans including Ndii, Araba, Ndoria, Mudanda, Mashariki and Ishaq B still choose to spend the day with the dependent orphans and return to the stockades at night with them, even though they might no longer be milk-dependent. Kenia loves to spend time with her adopted baby Pika Pika during the day, and Ndii with Tahri. Araba has grown up a lot in the last few months and is much more independent; from once being the molly-coddled baby of the group, he is much less cosseted now but this seems to suit the young bull as well. Suswa, Arruba and Embu are the oldest orphans in the dependent herd at seven and eight years old and are very much in charge should Kenia’s herd ever wander off on their own for a while. 

On most days the elephant orphans are still joined out in the bush by the orphaned zebras Diria and Nzuki and the orphan buffaloes Ivia and Cheza. The most extraordinary and unique friendship continues to blossom between Ngilai and the male orphan buffalo Ivia, mostly instigated by Ngilai, who actively seeks out the male buffalo in order to initiate a playful game. This month sometimes Ivia has been more concerned with napping or eating than satisfying Ngilai’s requests to play, and poor Emoli can only look on from the side-lines. He is a willing play mate of Ngilai’s and looks a little bored whenever Ngilai chooses to play with Ivia the buffalo instead. Ngilai does sometimes remember to entertain Emoli who is always very excited to participate in some pushing or strength-testing games.

Emoli, Godoma and Pika Pika are usually the first to any milk feed and the three orphans are often witnessed sprinting to be the first at the feeding area. One day Pika Pika and Emoli even tussled over who should be fed the first milk bottles the closest Keeper was holding, and this delayed them getting any milk because Godoma and the others arrived creating a bottleneck so the Keepers tried to sort them all out in an orderly manner!

With all the rain around one of the orphans’ favourite activities is to dig at the soil with their small tusks to produce a fun mound of damp earth to throw on their bodies. One day Godoma was doing just that whilst being watched over by Sagala and Emoli, when Murit came over to join in, pushing Sagala and Emoli out of the way in an effort to engage Godoma in a sparring session instead. Luckily Sagala stayed and wasn’t going to take any funny antics from Murit, so she stood and mediated the pushing game which turned out to be a friendly encounter. In the end the whole game was broken up by a large leopard tortoise who came sauntering out of the bushes and past the shocked party of elephants who ran away towards their Keepers; it is funny how elephants, despite their size and strength, can at times be alarmed by the tiniest creatures.

On the 12th of the month we went to the aid of an orphaned baby calf found on the Mwatate Sisal Estate. Despite rescuing the emaciated three year old calf once it was clearly established he was on his own, and doing our utmost for him, unfortunately he never recovered from his poor condition and stomach parasite overload, and we very sadly lost him. 

November 2020 day to day

01 Nov

The orphans began the first day of the month with their usual routine of a morning milk bottle followed by the supplement feeding and games around the stockade compound. Today it was drizzling as the orphans left for the Park where they enjoyed playing and browsing on the wet grass.  

After about four hours, Ngilai decided to take a break and engage his new friend Ivia the buffalo in a sparring session. Cheza, the other buffalo, and Emoli, watched the two playing, after which the orphans visited the baobab tree waterhole for their noon milk bottle and a brief swim as it was a cloudy day. 

Suswa enjoyed a scratching session against an acacia tree close to the water hole and was later joined by Arruba and then Embu. Ndoria lay on the side of the soil pile and tried to entice her friends to join her, but they chose to have a soil bath on the opposite side of the big mound.  The afternoon browsing session took place to the west of the waterhole.

Ngilai playing with Ivia

Arruba and Suswa scratching

Ndoria dust bathing