Keepers' Diaries, October 2005

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Voi Reintegration Unit

It has been an exciting month for the Voi Orphans, with Emily seeking them out, often on her own, on an almost daily basis, and spending time with them in the mornings and at the mudbath before leaving to join up with Aitong and Sweet Sally and returning with them to the Stockades for their dry season supplement of Copra and Bran. Aitong and Sally have also spent time with the still dependent orphans, but not on such a regular basis as Emily. The supplementation of Copra and Bran has definitely resulted in an improvement in the condition of Emily, and especially Aitong, who has a naturally somewhat gaunt appearance. Sally has held condition well as have all the other orphans during what has been an extremely challenging dry season in Tsavo. Whilst the main Tsavo rains should normally begin round about the middle of October, by the end of the month they were yet to arrive. Only one small drizzle has fallen to date.

It has been an exciting month for the Voi Orphans, with Emily seeking them out, often on her own, on an almost daily basis, and spending time with them in the mornings and at the mudbath before leaving to join up with Aitong and Sweet Sally and returning with them to the Stockades for their dry season supplement of Copra and Bran. Aitong and Sally have also spent time with the still dependent orphans, but not on such a regular basis as Emily. The supplementation of Copra and Bran has definitely resulted in an improvement in the condition of Emily, and especially Aitong, who has a naturally somewhat gaunt appearance. Sally has held condition well as have all the other orphans during what has been an extremely challenging dry season in Tsavo. Whilst the main Tsavo rains should normally begin round about the middle of October, by the end of the month they were yet to arrive. Only one small drizzle has fallen to date.

Whenever Emily arrives to take charge of the orphans, Natumi automatically steps down as Matriarch in deference to Emily’s presence. This month the Voi orphans have had their fair share of exciting encounters with other species - the usual buffalo confrontations, when Laikipia and Salama usually head the charge to drive them off, backed up by the others at a safe distance! Encounters with eland and zebra who come to drink at the Orphans’ mudbath as well as wallowing warthogs are described in the Diary. On the 3rd, Mweya charged a zebra and got kicked on the trunk by her adversary, forcing her to make a hasty and noisy retreat! Often the elephants encounter antelopes such as impala and waterbucks, and are usually more tolerant of them.

This month the orphans have also spent a lot of time with wild elephant friends, when Laikipia and Salama especially enjoy engaging wild age-mates in pushing matches, often separating a sparring partner from his family in order to engage him without their interference. However, on two occasions a teenage daughter from the wild herd has moved in to retrieve their wild contestant. Natumi has spent quality time close to a tuskless wild cow she has befriended.

A very thrilling event was a fleeting visit from 18 year old DIKA, (the ex Nursery orphan who grieved for his family for 4 long months and who is now fully integrated as a totally wild member of Tsavo’s wild elephant population, and as one of our rehabilitated Big Bulls, a success story). Dika, who is now a magnificent specimen with sizeable tusks, has been absent for many months, and on this occasion was obviously bent on travelling to another destination, for he paused only briefly when he happened upon the orphans resting under the shade of a tree after their mudbath. Towering over them, at first the orphans found Dika’s awesome presence a little daunting, but he was at pains to reassure them, touching each and every one gently with his trunk, before proceeding on his journey. Mukwaju and Morani were tempted to go along too, but having followed him for a while, thought better of it and turned back to rejoin their peers. A visit from one of our BIG BOYS is always a very exciting event, and yet again another reminder that “elephants never forget”!

The rescue of little “Ndololo” was another unusual event this month. This tiny male calf, aged about l month, was spotted with an adult cow by the side of the road in a state of collapse. Every time he fell, the cow tried to lift him, but by the time the Rescue party arrived, the cow was actually in the process of burying the baby, covering him gently with leaves and dust, having given up all hope, because he was in a near dead condition. He was obviously extremely dehydrated, which made them question whether the cow with him was, in fact, his mother, or simply another member of the family attempting to help a starvation victim deprived of mother’s milk. Astonishingly, she stood by calmly, and at very close quarters whilst the Keepers loaded the calf into the back of the pick-up, seemingly understanding completely that the people that were taking the baby meant no harm, and that this was a last chance to save his precious life. In fact, she was so calm, that the Keepers wondered whether she was an ex orphan, but we have since been unable to identify her from the photographs. Possibly she was a member of a unit familiar with the orphans, and recognized the humans concerned as “ele-friendly”, testimony yet again to the communication ability of elephants.

On another occasion (16th) a completely wild teenage bull turned up unexpectedly and accompanied the orphans and their Keepers right back to the Stockades in the evening, walking amongst the group as though he belonged. Once the orphans had entered their Night Quarters, he hung around outside for sometime before moving off, at no time displaying any signs of aggression towards the Keepers, which, in an elephant population that has suffered so much at the hands of humans, is amazing. Obviously, the orphans’ trust and love for their human family has been imparted to this wild stranger in a mysterious manner.

Sosian and Mweya remain weakling Mweiga’s faithful support base, and best friends. They are never far from this delicate and very fragile member of their orphaned family, reassuring her gently by the tender touch of their trunks. Both are remarkable in their compassion and care of Mweiga. Furthermore, anyone who doubts the fact that elephants can reason should read the account in the Diary of how Mweya’s trunk could not reach to scratch an itch far back under her belly, so she selected a long stick, and holding it between her forelegs, manoeuvred it back and forth with her trunk to scratch the offending itch which was inaccessible in any other way!

Despite the very challenging and exceedingly dessicated dry season conditions within the feeding range of the Voi orphans, all have coped very well, but have had to resort to spending a lot of time climbing up and down the steep slopes of Mazinga Hill to find enough browse to satisfy their needs. Nevertheless, they remain a very happy and contented little family, delighted by the frequent attentions of Emily, and always delighted also to be in the company of Aitong and Sweet Sally. On one occasion Sally decided to go with them rather than Aitong, but changed her mind, and brought Aitong back at the double with a cry.

October 2005 day to day

01 Oct

It was a very hot morning. Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally were feeding high up on Mazinga Hill, and having left the Stockades in the morning, the orphans spread out far and wide, concentrating on feeding, with few baby games. Burra approached a group of waterbuck peacefully, prompting the ewes to ran away, but the ram remained, and Burra and he fed peacefully near to one another. After a wonderful mudbath, Mukwaju remained behind and was joined by a herd of 7 eland, who came to drink, keeping a close eye on Mukwaju. They were soon joined by 6 zebra, all drinking at the far end of the mudbath. Icholta then came to join Mukwaju, and both having wallowed extensively, they left to join the other orphans feeding nearby. Then a large herd of waterbuck and 3 warthogs came to drink and enjoy the mud. At 3.30 p.m. our orphans were joined by 3 wild elephant cows, 2 teenage bulls and a young calf. Laikipia and Salama scrambled, eager to engage a wild teenage boy in a pushing game. Laikipia won and managed to separate his wild friend in order to have him all to himself. Meanwhile, Natumi enjoyed feeding close to a tuskless cow. The wild group left after 20 minutes, leaving Laikipia’s wild playmate behind, who followed them after 5 minutes.

Mukwaju is joined by Icholta for a bath

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