Two very exciting events took place during the month, the return on the l8th of Edie and her small calf (born in early May) accompanied by ex orphans Mweya (the little Ugandan elephant) Mpala, (a young orphaned bull from Mpala Ranch in Laikipia), Irima (a Tsavo orphan) and Morani (also ex Laikipia). Edie’s calf was showing signs of weakness, so Dairy cubes and bran were hurriedly sent down to supplement the mother’s milk which was obviously suffering the affects of the prolonged yearlong drought. The ex orphans greeted the new Stockade residents very warmly, until Wasessa, who was obsessed by Edie’s little baby from the start, attempted to entice it away from its mother. Edie was not best pleased and pushed Wasessa aside. However, all the others were permitted to fondle the calf, laying their trunks lovingly along its back. Edie’s group accompanied the Voi orphans when they left to browse around Mazinga Hill, and later escorted them to the mudbath to wallow, where Mweya and Irima enjoyed fun with the youngsters, until Irima tried to mount onto Siria, which triggered a rapid exit! Meanwhile Edie, her calf, Mpala and Morani remained spectators. After the mudbath Edie’s group separated from the Keeper dependent orphans, but were back at the stockades ahead of the youngsters, enjoying the supplements that were there for them. Since then they have remained in the vicinity, returning regularly for a hand-out of supplements, and these have helped Edie’s little calf regain its strength.
On the 24th Emily and her calf named Eve (born last December) was spotted near the Voi Safari Lodge, Emily on her own and the calf in a very emaciated and weakened condition obviously because Emily did not have sufficient milk to nourish her baby by the end of the drought. Keeper Mishak, who has known Emily since she was Nursery reared from the age of just l month, went with some of the newer Voi Keepers to try and coax her and her calf back to the Stockades where, like Edie, she could benefit from supplements to boost lactation. She recognized Mishak immediately, and visitors at the Lodge were amazed to see the Keepers walk straight up to what they thought was an adult wild cow and her dying calf, and begin to escort them away! It took the Keepers 6 hours to get Emily and her very weak baby back to the Stockades, since the baby needed to rest for long periods on the way back. However, eventually they made it by nightfall, and Emily feasted on the supplements provided for her. She was delighted to meet up with Edie’s group again and get to know the new stockade inmates, reunions that were accompanied by joyous trumpeting and excited elephant rumbling.
Emily and her weakened calf did not leave the Stockades for the next two days, until the calf began to regain strength, when they were able to venture further afield to browse along with Edie’s group, and sometimes in amongst Lesanju’s group, returning regularly to enjoy the supplements that were always at hand for the two mothers. Both calves became stronger with each passing day, and now that the rains have arrived, will be among the lucky few that have made it through the drought. Hundreds of others just like them have obviously died because their mothers have not had sufficient milk for them during such a terribly dry period. As little Eve began to regain her strength, she gave the Keepers quite a run around to begin with, but soon understood that everyone at the Stockades was a friend trying to help and has calmed down. Later Emily was joined by other members of her group – all the little “Nannies” to baby Eve - namely Ilingwezi, Ndara, Sweet Sally and Loisaba plus the young bull named Laikipia.
The rains eventually broke in mid month in the form of the first heavy downpour accompanied by loud claps of thunder which terrified the new ex Nairobi orphans who probably had never experienced rain before! They all rushed to their Keepers for protection until Lesanju and Lempaute decided that the best place to be was back home at the Stockades and led the bedraggled group back home early. Rain has since transformed a baked and barren landscape into a garden of green, bringing on a flush of soft new growth which is so necessary for lactating new mothers. The orphans have all feasted on a daily basis since. Lesanju shares leadership of the Voi orphans with Wasessa, and sometimes Lempaute while Tassia is Wasessa’s chosen favourite who is never far from her side, comfort suckling on her ears, something she happily tolerates. Wasessa, was always something of a loner at the Nursery, one of the most difficult of the orphans to calm down, but she has turned into a very loving and affectionate elephant now that she is back in Tsavo, always caring of little Tassia and Taveta. Shimba has Mzima as his best friend, Mzima earning the tital of “playboy” whilst Lempaute is still known as “the naughty one”. On the 4th they browsed near a wild herd but paid no attention to them. However, when a huge wild bull approached them the next day on their way to the mudbath, all were greatly intimidated by such an imposing presence, and rushed back to their Keepers for protection! Tassia remained glued to the Keepers for the rest of the day!
The routine followed by the Voi resident orphans never varies much, except for a change of leader as the group heads off to browse around Mazinga hill or in the main Park on a daily basis. They emerge from their Night Stockade at daybreak to play around the compound, and enjoy a drink at the water trough, while the Keepers take their breakfast before they all head out to browse, Wasessa taking Tassia, Taveta and Siria actually to the top of Mazinga hill on one day. By 11 a.m. it is time to head to the noon milk and mudbath venue, where, weather permitting, they all have fun, especially now that the large red waterhole below the Headquarters is full of rainwater. Mudbath is followed by an afternoon browsing session until it is time to gradually make their way back to the stockades for the night.
On two occasions this month the keepers have gone to Rukinga ranch to try and make contact with Natumi’s group, who are reported to still be at the Ranch, but sadly both excursions have proved fruitless and Natumi’s group has remained elusive so far. With Natumi are the other female ex orphans, namely Icholta, Thoma, Seraa and Mvita and our young bulls, Lolokwe, Mukwaju, Salama, Nyiro, Tsavo, Solango and Sosian. These young bulls are now at an age when they would be seeking adult bull role models, so they may be elsewhere. It is, however, very interesting, and satisfying, to have been able to save the calves of Emily and Edie, and it humbles us that these two young first-time mothers chose to return to their human family when in need of help, illustrating yet again, the very human intelligence of an elephant “who never forgets!”
A worrying puzzle is the plight of Aitong, who has been not seen now for many moons, and whom we were sure was pregnant. Her calf should have been born about the same time as that of Emily. Did she, like Malaika, die in childbirth perhaps or has she chosen to leave the orphaned family and join a wild herd? However, Sweet Sally, who has always been her shadow is now back with Emily, which is what makes us think that perhaps Aitong could have has suffered some misfortune. She was last seen near the Voi Safari Lodge in mid 2008 and Sweet Sally was still with her then.
There have been 2 school visits to the Voi orphans’ noon milk and mudbath this month, when local school children have enjoyed meeting some friendly elephants and been lectured by Keeper Julius about the value of such a unique wild heritage. Such exposure for a basically un-ele-friendly community is extremely valuable and much needed PR exercise which in time will spread and bear fruit, as it has elsewhere in the country.