Voi Reintegration Unit
At Voi we felt blessed as the rains broke early this year. Before that, the dry season seemed to have accelerated and everything felt like it was drying out that much faster, perhaps as we did not receive as much rain as we would have liked during the April and May rains, so when the short rains broke this October the land and all life seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. The orphans relished drinking from the puddles that collected on rocks and depressions, and their all-time favourite game became sliding down the trenches on the side of Msinga Hill, formed as rain cascades down the side eroding little dugouts.
The cool, wet earth is not only fun to slide down but provides a luscious pasty mud to throw over their bodies when they’re feeling hot, for in-between the rain storms the sun can shine down with a newfound ferocity amidst a clean pristine atmosphere. Green shoots started to sprout from the ground and from every branch too as new leaves pushed through – always a favourite with the orphans who are on the constant look out for these nutritious budding shoots.
Mbirikani returned a few days into the month after being gone for nearly a week. She came to the stockades to join the other dependent orphans, and was quickly welcomed by Ndoria, whom returned last month from her lengthy stay with Mbirikani out in the Park, to stay within the fold of the Voi orphans and the Keepers, finding the dry season too much to cope with on her own.
On the 13th our new arrival Pika Pika left the taming stockade to join the Voi orphan herd out and about. Mbegu, Lentili, Ishaq-B, Kihari and Ndii stuck close to her which initially spooked her and she ran away from them, but it didn’t take her long to settle down and understand the routine. Emoli seemed to immediately notice that he was no longer the youngest baby in the herd, with Pika Pika usurping that position, and he kept picking on Pika Pika out of jealousy. After only a matter of days it was very clear that Mbegu’s little team had taken Pika Pika under their wing, and she joined this group of Nursery babies, who are all still milk-dependent and who all came from the Nairobi Nursery together last year. Mbegu in particular appears to have taken on the role of her adopted mother and escorts her everywhere; with her dedicated side-kick Godoma not far from her side as well. Often around the rambunctious milk feeding times Kenia and Ndii can be seen keeping close watch of their adopted babies Araba and Tahri, while Godoma and Mbegu stay with their adopted babies Emoli and Pika Pika.
Within that milk-dependent herd, Tahri and Godoma usually try to be the first to the milk feed, but Ngilai is certainly still the greediest and often walks around demanding another bottle of milk. He is usually always in a good mood though and together with Lasayen was perhaps the most playful this month, slipping and sliding around in the glorious wet weather. Mbegu’s herd (Godoma, Ndotto, Ngilai, Lasayen, Murit and now Pika Pika, Emoli and Sagala too) was in fact very active this month – perhaps they were just excited by all the rain around, and being the babies of the herd they were very playful. Often they chose not to bathe in the main, larger water hole beside the Baobab tree, but one of the smaller puddles that formed in the bush from all the rainwater, which are warmer and also much more fun to play in. The only elephant who normally ends up playing on her own is Ndoria, as the others are usually worried about her tail-biting tendencies when she gets too over-excited.
Ishaq-B is still trying woo Mbegu and her herd so that she might be their leader and head-female role-model. She often can be spotted trying to browse with them but if they aren’t being very receptive towards her she will follow Kenia’s older herd instead. Sometimes the two herds split whilst browsing, as Kenia’s herd is no longer milk dependent, and at the noon milk feed only Tahri and Araba, the youngsters within Kenia’s herd, will come for the afternoon milk feed, with the rest of Kenia’s herd re-joining the others only when it is time to return to the stockades for the night.
With the arrival of the rains the wild elephant typically disperse, confident in the knowledge they will find food and water further afield. The orphans therefore only encountered wild herds a handful of times this month. One of those times Ndii and Rorogoi were leading the orphans out to browse for the day and soon noticed a wild herd browsing on the western side of Msinga Hill. Ndii started running to join the wild herd, closely followed by Rorogoi and the rest of the herd. The orphans were so excited to see their wild friends, but the other elephants were confused by their approach and ran off thinking that the orphans were being chased by something. One teenage wild elephant turned around and joined the orphans for a play-fight with Lentili, before leaving to re-join her wild herd.
At the beginning of the month, Tawi, the male orphan eland who was raised at the Voi stockades and who chose to remain there during the dry season, left the stockade compound and did not return as he felt secure there was enough food and water out in the Park for him now. He has made friends with a wild male eland and sometimes they visit the Voi stockade together to eat any leftover lucerne they might find there.