Keepers' Diaries, November 2021

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Elephants love their routines. We are constantly reminded of this. Sagala, Tagwa and Tamiyoi usually guide the orphans out to browse, but they were lagging a bit one morning, so Ndoria took the lead. The girls apparently rankled at this, because in the following days, they stood well in front of the herd, in order to ensure it was they who led their friends out to browse!

Araba used to be the darling of the Voi herd, but Pika Pika has rather displaced her. This means that Araba has the opportunity to forge new friendships among the other orphans, especially Murit. On the way to a milk feed, she bestowed her new friend with lots of affectionate pats. Ironically, this drew Pika Pika’s attention, who came over to join their conversation. Mbegu became covetous of Murit, who has been part of her herd since their Nursery days, so she tried to shepherd him away from Araba. Her efforts to separate the two friends were futile, as they just kept dancing around her.

Jealousy happens in elephants of all ages. One afternoon, Panda was rolling in the red earth, showing off to Ngilai, Godoma and Mbegu. Mudanda, who is one of the older members of the herd, wished that she could have the attention of the three young spectators. She sauntered over and tried to engage Panda in a pushing match, hoping to turn the spotlight over to her.

As the orphans grow up, their personalities and friendships evolve. Lasayen and Ndotto were best friends at the Nursery, but recently Lasayen has become a much quieter bull. One day, he teamed up with Ndotto for a rare sparring match, which caused Ngilai to do a double take. It wasn’t long before he was back to browsing, away from the action. Just as much as Ndotto and Ngilai love to play, Lasayen loves to relax. 

Because of the continued heat and dry conditions, everyone was quite relaxed this month, trying to conserve their energy. They often use the cooler morning hours to catch up with each other, as afternoons are all about browsing. Ishaq-B and Tundani spent a lovely morning together in the compound, affectionately patting one another, while the rest of the orphans feasted on lucerne grass. Another day, poor Tamiyoi couldn’t bear the scorching sun and sought refuge under the shade of an acacia tree for several hours. Perhaps inspired by Panda’s tactics, Pika Pika decided to get into the water trough for a swim one afternoon. Ndii was so impressed by Pika Pika’s ingenious method of cooling off that she climbed in to join her! 

While Mbegu is the mini matriarch of her little herd, Kenia is the overall matriarch of Voi. She is a gentle leader, but she can be steely when the need arises. One day, Ngilai engaged his new friend, Tagwa, in a sparring match. He then took things a step too far and tried to climb on her back. Unfortunately for Ngilai, Kenia had been observing from the other side of the mud bath and didn’t like his behaviour one bit. She came charging over and pushed Ngilai away quite roughly. It just goes to show that even when we aren’t aware, the matriarch is always watching over the rest of the herd. 

Because of the continued presence of lions in the area, Cheza and Ivia the buffalos and Diria the zebra didn’t stray too far from the compound this month. Ngilai must miss his sparring partner, Ivia, but the conditions aren’t too conducive to playing anyway. 

Indeed, we continued to feel the effects of the dry season around Voi. Creatures who had been barely hanging on for weeks reached a breaking point, leading to an overwhelming number of orphans. Our Keepers assisted in a number of rescues over the course of the month. Many of these babies were helped in the nick of time, and are now recovering at the Nursery. Tragically, several were too far gone to make it.

It is incredible how attuned the orphans are to these goings-on. One morning, sweet Tamiyoi sensed that a new arrival had sadly passed away in the night and wanted to pay her respects. She stood at the gate for a moment, silently acknowledging the elephant now covered lovingly in a blanket, before moving on to have her milk bottles. For the more fortunate orphans who pulled through, Tamiyoi always went out of her way to say hello to them, lovingly reaching her trunk into their stockades. She is such a caring elephant. 

We also had our fair share of non-elephant orphan rescues. A charming zebra foal joined the fold mid-month, after Rukinga Ranch scouts found him by himself. At the end of the month, an orphaned giraffe was spotted walking amidst a herd of zebras in Ngutuni Ranch. She was rescued and brought to the Voi stockades, where she spent several days regaining her strength. The team was delighted to have a new baby in their midst, and even more so, to be in a position to help her. 

For all the rescues, there were also some happy reunions. One afternoon, the KWS warden reported a wild elephant calf stuck in the water trough at the Didaerea windmill. The Voi Keepers raced to the scene, extricated the little elephant, and reunited him with his mother and family, who were waiting nearby.

We also had some happy reunions of our own. On the 16th, Bada appeared from the pipeline area and walked straight over to the orphans, who warmly welcomed him back to the herd. We haven’t seen Bada in nearly two years, so it was wonderful to find him looking so well. On the evening of the 21st, Laikipia visited the stockades for the first time since January! After quenching his thirst, he loitered in the feeding area, wistfully staring at the pellet store. The Keepers caught his hint and duly served him some lucerne. The orphans must have been happy to be in the company of such a handsome 22-year-old elephant. Tundani even attempted to follow Laikipia for a short distance, but Laikipia is very fast, so the younger bull was forced to turn back and rejoin his dependent friends.

While we still wait for the heavens to open, we had a little bit of rain this month. A small shower on the 17th caused unbridled joy among our orphans. Araba used her front feet to create a soft pile of earth, and then invited Godoma to join her in the wet soil for a dust bath. We can only hope that this is a precursor of more rains to come.

November 2021 day to day

01 Nov

It was a lovely beginning to the day, with the orphan elephants leaving the stockades soon after finishing their milk and lucerne.

Ngilai and Emoli, who had missed playing with one another while still in the stockade compound this morning, engaged in a sparring match as soon as they arrived on the southern side of Msinga Hill to browse. Rorogoi and Araba greeted each other very affectionately and entwined their trunks.

The orphans made their way to the baobab tree mud bath for their noon milk bottles. Soon after they finished wallowing, the Trust’s air patrol reported an orphaned elephant alone in the Sobo area. The Voi team was mobilized for a rescue, but after three hours of searching, they still couldn’t locate the calf. Meanwhile, we received another report from the Kenya Wildlife Service, Tsavo East Warden regarding an orphan stuck in mud at the Ndololo water hole. We quickly made our way over to rescue that orphan, who was completely collapsed and very skinny. He was later airlifted to the Nairobi Nursery.  

Rorogoi and Araba greeting each other

Ngilai and Emoli playing

Murit Browsing