A devastating tragedy for us all was the death of Shimba on the 20th, whose health had been deteriorating ever since he was attacked by lions in April as he was making his way back home alone after a night away. (The orphans were in amongst a wild herd when a loud thunderclap panicked the entire herd, and all the orphans fled along with their wild friends). Orphaned when 6 weeks old, Shimba was 7 years old when he died, on the cusp of joining the wild elephant community of Tsavo. He was a much loved and gentle character who was a great favourite of everyone and who has been sadly missed by all his orphaned elephant friends as well as his human family. The three youngest members of the Voi Unit, Mbirikani, Panda and Mudanda who were his constant companions during the time he was an invalid, especially missed him and have had difficulty coming to terms with the fact that he ha actually gone. For several days they returned to search the compound for him.
With natural browse so limited during Tsavo’s harsh dry seasons, finding sufficient to fill their bellies is always a challenge for the Voi Unit orphans, and has left them inclined to be “pushy” around their morning supplement Lucerne and Dairy Cubes. At such times Shimba and the three youngest members were usually isolated from the pushy Seniors, taking their rations behind the compound electric Spring Gate. However, on the 12th Shimba decided to join the older “Pushy” group for one last time, and it is humbling to that unusually, he was given free reign with no competition from any of the older elephants. Instead, sensitive to his frailty, all gave him space, the Big Girls each coming to offer comfort and loving. Lesanju was first to lay a trunk gently across his back as he fed, followed by Sinya, Wasessa and then Mzima, who did the same, a touching example of Elephant Empathy.
Several light showers during the month brought on a green flush, as well as an influx of wild herds and other animals to the area around the Hill. Ex Orphan Lissa and her wild-born calves visited the Stockade water trough on the 2nd, and again later on in the month while a friendly wild Bull came to drink during the evening of the 3rd, when the Girls were wary of being too close for fear of being mounted! He was back again the next morning and was greeted warmly by the boys (Mzima, Tassia, Taveta, Dabassa, Rombo and Layoni), and the girls were encouraged to approach a little closer. When Sinya led them out to browse, the wild Bull joined Layoni as he ran past to catch up with his peers and thereafter browsed in amongst all the orphan herd for a while. He reappeared again the next morning, which leaves us wondering whether perhaps he could have been one of the Ex Orphan Big Boys (who would be in their twenties) and who have been absent for many moons.
A wild herd came to drink at the Stockades at 4 p.m. on the 7th, as did another who had been browsing just behind the Malaika House on the 9th, On the 16th the Orphans were happy to meet up with a friendly wild herd obviously well known to them, judging by the exuberant reunion, and the fact that the orphan boys played happily with wild age mates while the girls enjoyed “Nannying” smaller wild babies within the herd, something that is often not tolerated by wild strangers. The next day a tuskless wild cow with two calves whom the orphans bumped into up the Hill was not so friendly, threatening a charge, so that the Keepers had to hide behind the elephants hoping that numbers might deter the wild cow. She left once her smallest calf had finished suckling. The orphans enjoyed meeting up with the friendly wild herd again on the 22nd, this time at the Big Waterhole which since some rain had become the latest mudbath venue. All had fun in the mud and shared a joint dustbath later.
The Voi Keepers were called upon during the evening of 23rd to rescue the orphaned Elephant (Oltaiyoni) at Ziwani in Tsavo West. She was driven to the Voi Stockades where she spent the night next door to Mbirikani and Mudanda and flown to the Nairobi Nursery the following day.
Voi Orphan boys spend a great deal of time sparring with one another in tests of strength – a preoccupation of juvenile male elephants. Being tuskless, Kivuko favours feeding slightly apart from the others who are armed with short stubby tusks and whereas she and Dabassa have never been overly fond of one another, it came as a surprise for the Keepers to find her browsing next to Dabassa this month, perhaps having made amends! An encounter with two warring male Klipspringers chasing one another on the hill triggered a panicked elephant descent with all the elephants rushing down to their Keepers for protection, even though Klipspringers are roughly the same size as a dikdik! Two old buffaloes occupying their mudbath also proved a deterrent on another day, until human voices persuaded them to leave! Elephants, despite their size, are naturally extremely fearful animals!
It has been a challenging month for our Voi Unit orphans and their Keepers, the limiting factor being able to find sufficient browse in the area utilized by the Keeper Dependent Orphans. End of the year rains are the main rains for the low country, and already they are very late. We dread another extremely harsh hot dry season should they fall very short or fail altogether. Climate change along with human encroachment and poaching for ivory are all serious threats to Africa’s iconic elephants.
Others:- A young orphaned bull Eland (given the name “Jango”)came into the care of the Voi Keepers this month, joining Lualeni, the orphaned zebra whom the Voi Keepers are successfully hand-rearing. The two enjoy playing together, and Lualeni the zebra often browses with the Stockade Invalid group i.e. Mbirikani, whose cable-snared foot is still healing, Panda who is now a picture of health, and little Mudanda, the youngest of the Voi orphans, small enough to be a Nairobi Nursery candidate, but reared in Voi since space in the Nursery was limited.