Keepers' Diaries, November 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Our Voi family had a peaceful start to the month. Our ex-orphan regulars — Kenia, Kihari, Arruba, Araba, Suswa, Mudanda, Ndoria, and Panda — were in attendance, and as soon as the dependent herd emerged from their stockades, everyone mingled for breakfast. Little Losoito hung out with Kenderi, Ashanti, and Lemek, while ex-orphans Suswa, Kihari, and Arruba bonded with many of their younger friends on the terraces. Godoma affectionately trunk hugged young Hildana and Kihari. Everyone was together and happy. 

On 2nd November, our team had a surprise mini rescue. We say mini, because the orphan in question was much smaller than our usual subjects. A tour driver reported to KWS that he had found a day-old Grant’s gazelle by the roadside. Her mother had been hunted and killed by a pride of lions. SWT were asked to rescue the baby, and brought her to the stockades for safekeeping. She is now doing very well at our Kaluku Neonate Unit.

November will be remembered as the month that Ndotto took a big step in his reintegration journey. For the first time, he spent a night out with the ex-orphans. We suspected this moment might be coming, as he has been spending a lot of time with his older cohorts. He arrived at the stockades before dawn with his friends, looking tired but excited to be home. For now, this was a one-time thing; for the remainder of the month, Ndotto returned home each night. This is all part of the process, as orphans slowly built their independence, at a pace they’re comfortable with.

Lemeki and Thamana remain our reigning ‘little leaders’ – every morning, they lead the orphan herd out into the bush. Tamiyoi has appointed herself their chaperone, making sure the youngsters feel confident and in control. We have also noticed that stout Losoito, who is even younger than Lemeki and Thamana, also likes to be part of the leader brigade. Mbegu always brings up the rear, so she can make sure all the Voi kids are present and correct! 

Mid-month brought about a rather disconcerting buffalo incident. Mid-morning, the Keepers spotted a lone buffalo lying in the orphans’ pool beneath the baobab tree. Suspecting that he might be injured, they slowly drove over to safely investigate the situation. All of a sudden, four lions materialised and ran at the buffalo. Their terrified prey clambered out of the water and cantered away, with the lions in hot pursuit. After a beat, however, the pride changed direction and disappeared into the bush. Apparently, the buffalo was just enjoying a rest — although our arrival may have inadvertently saved his life!

While they were never in any danger, the incident upset the orphans. That day, they boycotted the baobab tree mud bath, making their stance known by walking in circles with their ears flared. Some even trumpeted! The Keepers decided to instead shepherd everyone back towards the stockades, where they had a lovely afternoon playing on the terraces. 

Ngilai has a special party trick: In the morning, he moves between the two feeding areas with a pile of lucerne expertly balanced atop his head, saving a treat for later. In fact, he is full of scene-stealing moments: One morning, Ngilai put on a big show for little Itinyi and Epiya. As the younger elephants watched, he pushed his head against a large tree, twisting around with his trunk flailing and trumpeting enthusiastically. His impressive antics did not make the tree bend even slightly, but they did hold the attention of his friends. 

Our little Ashanti is growing in confidence. She often leads the first group of orphans down the hill for the milk feed, cantering confidently ahead of Kenderi, Seri, Lemeki, and Thamana. Despite her short trunk, which was severed by a poacher’s snare, she feeds adeptly.

Thamana has two best friends: Lemeki, his ‘big sister’ from their shared Kaluku days, and Emoli, his ‘big brother’ in Voi. Emoli is known for his relentless desire to play, while Thamana prefers a more peaceful pace of life. One afternoon, we were pleased to see a quiet moment between the pair: Emoli and Thamana browsed so close that they were almost leaning against each other, trunk touching at regular intervals. When Lemeki wandered up to them, they welcomed her into their little gang and the three friends ambled off, step in step. 

Unlike Emoli, Murit and Lasayen are very laid back bulls. One day, however, Murit repeatedly tried to join Emoli and Thamana’s sparring session. Each time, the younger bulls moved off and played another round in a different location. Murit is quite a bit bigger than both of them, so they knew they would be at a disadvantage! Luckily, Ngilai rescued the situation, sauntering over and challenging Murit to a wrestling match.

It finally rained in Voi this month, bringing about a proliferation of fresh vegetation. The ‘Voi kids’ couldn't believe their luck! At first, they blazed through the bush, as if afraid that the green would disappear if they didn’t browse at breakneck speed — but soon, with encouragement from the Keepers, they settled into a slower rhythm. During these browsing sessions, Mbegu, Godoma, Sagala, Tamiyoi, Tagwa, and Pika Pika keep an eye on all the kids, ensuring no straggles get left behind. 

Kenderi and Hildana remain little menaces in the morning. As soon as the sun peeks above the horizon, they start impatiently banging on their stockade gate. The moment the Keepers open the gates, they sprint down the path and finish their milk bottles in record time.

On 24th November, we welcomed a beloved friend back into the fold: 24-year-old Laikipia! We hadn’t seen the ex-orphan since March, so his return was a happy surprise. Laikipia’s presence often portends the arrival of other ex-orphans, as he remains touchingly connected to Mweya and Edie. We waited eagerly, wondering if our suspicions would be correct. 

Meanwhile, we also noticed that the ‘Voi kids’ have become much more confident. While they used to cling to their nannies when the ex-orphans were on the scene, they are now relaxed and gregarious around the wild-living visitors. However, not everyone welcomes this newfound comfort: Witnessing everyone hanging out together one day, Mbegu about-turned and huffed away, behaving like a jealous auntie!

Towards the end of the month, the Keepers spotted a lone female in the distance. As she approached, they realised that it was ex-orphan Mudanda! She greeted her old friends and settled down to browse among the herd. Mudanda is heavily pregnant and probably found it taxing to keep up with Kenia and her other ex-orphans. Thus, she instead opted to spend the day with the dependent orphans. In the evening, Kenia’s herd arrived at the stockades to collect Mudanda, moving slowly to accommodate their pregnant friend.

On the last day of November, the Keepers awoke to a fabulous surprise: Ex-orphan Mweya; her daughter, Mwitu; Edie’s middle kid, Eden; ex-orphan Ndii, and a wild bull were waiting outside the stockades. The Keepers had not seen Mweya and co. since March — and Ndii for over two years! We were deeply saddened to see that the end of Ndii’s trunk had been severed. This wasn’t a fresh injury, but could have been inflicted by a poacher’s snare or — less likely — through natural causes, like a crocodile attack.  

Many rumbles could be heard as greetings were exchanged between the ex-orphans and the dependent herd. Some of the Voi kids joined in, while others watched from the safety of Mbegu’s side. This time of year always brings many happy arrivals, and we suspect that Edie and the others will follow in the coming days. It is a very festive season here in Voi.  

November 2023 day to day

01 Nov

On a wonderful sunny morning, the dependent orphans emerged from their night stockades to drink milk and eat range cubes and lucerne, mingling with visiting ex-orphans Kenia, Kihari, Arruba, Araba, Suswa, Mudanda, Ndoria and Panda. Little Losoito browsed on lucerne and then ambled over to the feeding trough with ex-orphan Mudanda following close behind. On her way, Mudanda paused to massage her rump against the rocks along the fence line as Losoito settled down at the trough with Kenderi, Ashanti and Lemeki. Not far away, ex-orphans Suswa, Kihari and Arruba were playing and bonding with many of their younger friends on the terraces. On the lowest terrace, Godoma was standing tall next to Hildana who kept trunk touching the older female affectionately. When Kihari wandered up to them, Godoma laid her trunk along his back in a welcoming gesture.

As the sun rose in the sky, the orphans set out to browse in the surrounding bush, padding out quietly in a straggly line. They spread out on the slopes of Msinga Hill, searching for green shoots and leaves as they wandered towards the baobab tree water hole. The ex-orphans set out in a different direction, wandering far beyond the hill.

Kihari left, Godoma centre, and Hildana right

Losoito striking a pose

Mudanda enjoying a scratch