Keepers' Diaries, October 2004

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Voi Reintegration Unit

The beginning of the month brought deep sadness at the Voi Unit when the most recently rescued orphan named Sagalla suddenly succumbed to pneumonia and died very suddenly on the 5th, literally in the Keepers’ arms as they tried to support her. This was unexpected, since the usual long-acting antibiotic had been administered upon rescue, and she had settled well in the company of Mweiga, and had been taking milk avidly. A starvation victim like “Galana”, whom we successfully retrieved from a state of total collapse, we had every hope for Sagalla’s full recovery, but pneumonia in an elephant is a killer, and this was not to be. With hindsight, she should probably have had a longer antibiotic course, followed by homeopathic lung strengthening pillules, but then if the pneumonia was too advanced by the time she was brought in, there would have been nothing we could do to save her.

The beginning of the month brought deep sadness at the Voi Unit when the most recently rescued orphan named Sagalla suddenly succumbed to pneumonia and died very suddenly on the 5th, literally in the Keepers’ arms as they tried to support her. This was unexpected, since the usual long-acting antibiotic had been administered upon rescue, and she had settled well in the company of Mweiga, and had been taking milk avidly. A starvation victim like “Galana”, whom we successfully retrieved from a state of total collapse, we had every hope for Sagalla’s full recovery, but pneumonia in an elephant is a killer, and this was not to be. With hindsight, she should probably have had a longer antibiotic course, followed by homeopathic lung strengthening pillules, but then if the pneumonia was too advanced by the time she was brought in, there would have been nothing we could do to save her.

Mid-October is when the main rains should break in Tsavo, but so far only light showers and one heavy rainstorm that fell on the 18th have brought relief and generated a sprinkling of green. The long, hot, dry seasons of Tsavo are always a challenge for all elephants, who are essentially fragile being dependent on such large quantities and a great variety of different food plants, passing 6% protein in their droppings. The orphans have again coped admirably, and all remain in good shape. We are particularly pleased that Mweiga seems a lot better and much physically stronger.

Yet again, the very strong bond that exists between Sweet Sally and Aitong is highlighted in this month’s Diary. The two opted to spend a night out together on the 15th, when they probably joined Lissa’s group who were seen feeding on Mazinga Hill just behind the Night Stockades, returning at daylight to join the other orphans. By felling the supporting posts of the Shelter in her Stockade on three occasions, Emily sent a strong message that she, too, would rather be out than within during the nights so both she and Aitong were kept outside the Stockade on the night of the 28th. However, the absence of Aitong so upset Sweet Sally, that the Keepers decided to return her during the night. The following night Sweet Sally was allowed to join Aitong who was kept outside with Emily, and this worked well. Sally was visibly overjoyed by the new arrangement, parading happily before those inside swinging her head and trunk sideways in an expression of joy and demonstrating her deep love for Aitong by standing with her head pressed tightly up against that of the older elephant. Witnessing this deep love, one can understand better the depth of grief when an orphan loses its natural elephant family.

On the third night out, we decided to leave Loisaba out as company for Emily, but Loisaba was having none of it, refusing to join the other three when they left to forage. The Keepers allowed her back in with the others, but Natumi was obviously “wounded” that she had not been chosen for such an accolade!. Natumi, Loisaba, Tsavo and Ndara are the youngsters closest to Emily’s heart, and on the morning of the 31st it surprised the Keepers that Natumi quite obviously needed the special attention of Emily, refusing to come out to greet her as she stood by the door to welcome her group and escort them out in the morning. Only when Emily actually went inside to fetch Natumi especially, did she oblige!

A touching incident of apology involved Mweiga and Morani on the 2nd, when Morani found the weight of Mweiga on top of him in the mudbath too much and yelled for assistance. Mweiga immediately got out and comforted him by touching his mouth with her trunk (a sign of love and friendship) escorting him back in to enjoy a romp together. Caring is repeatedly illustrated when one of the orphans gets left behind, bellows, and others immediately come to retrieve the straggler, providing a happy “swinging”escort back into the fold. Then shame is demonstrated by the occasion when Natumi held Ndara’s head under water, forcing the Keepers to jump in. Knowing that what she had done was wrong, Natumi then took herself apart from the others to feed alone for a long time, something out of character and indicative of the fact that elephants have a conscience!

Lissa and her family have again been in the area. They visited the Stockades on the 6th for water, and then spent time visiting each Night Stockade to greet the inmates before leaving. On the 2nd, the orphans joined the wild herd led by Matriarch Naomi, who is a great wild friend of Emily. She and Emily stood with heads pressed close for a long quiet time in a display of affection, possibly (as the Keepers surmise) discussing their respective families and the dry season. Meanwhile Seraa, Laikipia, Mweya and Salama enjoyed playing with their wild age-mates. Another wild encounter took place on the 25th when Aitong, Sally and Thoma paid great attention to a small wild baby and Emily, Natumi, Edie and Ilingwezi enjoyed tussling with wild friends of their size and age.

As usual the young bulls enjoy the company of each other. Nyiro and Tsavo are very competitive, and Burra, Mpala, Solango and little Morani share a strong friendship. The older bulls, Salama, Laikipia and Lolokwe seem to have been playing a more protective role in this month’s Diary, disciplining those younger who overstep the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Lolokwe, however, found himself in trouble when he “gate-crashed” a soil bath being shared by Solango and Salama, who had painstakingly loosened the earth with their tusks and trunks. Both immediately sat on him to pin him firmly to the ground until his bellows brought Aitong to the rescue! Hide and Seek is another favourite pastime better played by two, for it usually ends abruptly when a third party enters the scene. In this Diary the two taking part are Tsavo and Nyiro, and the third part is Mweya, who collides head on with Nyiro whilst trying to hide from Tsavo behind a huge boulder, Nyiro obviously doing the same!

Encounters with other species include chasing a squirrel that ran between Mweiga’s legs, scaring her witless, successfully chasing off lesser kudus and a herd of impala, the chasers returning“swingingly” when triumphant. Emily, backed up by all the orphans, managed to despatch two old buffalo bulls who were in their path, whilst Irima and Thoma, had a display of independence wrecked when a hare bounced out of the bush upon which they were feeding apart from all the others. Mweiga, Burra, Solango and Morani “lined up like soldiers” to execute a concerted onslaught against baboons drinking at the mudbath, but all the orphans pretended to ignore two elands who were resting under shade nearby, until the elands began to move away, and then courage was found to charge them! An exciting interlude happened on the 25th when the orphans came across a lioness feeding on a buffalo calf, and managed to send it loping off. However, having lost sight of their quarry, they had second thoughts and decided to abandon the chase.

October 2004 day to day

01 Oct

After exiting the Stockade in the morning, Aitong climbed Mazinga Hill, leaving the other orphans taking water outside their Night Stockade. However, when Sweet Sally began to scream because Aitong was absent, she came racing down the hill to comfort Sally, and proceeded on with all the orphans

The Voi Orphans

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