Keepers' Diaries, October 2020

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Although we received a few rain showers towards the end of the month it was more light drizzle and we still await the more heavy rains which will hopefully arrive in November. Meanwhile however it has started to rain more excessively in other parts of Tsavo and the wild elephant herds with their wise and experienced matriarchs have felt more confident in their water sources, and have begun to move away from the Msinga Hill area where the orphans browse, to explore further afield. There were still plenty of interactions between our orphans and wild herds this month however, with the favourite obviously being those herds with wild calves for the orphans to play with! Sometimes they find a sparring partner and enjoy the company of a new friend for a short while, and other times their sole mission is to greet the very tiny babies in the group. Mbegu, Godoma Tamiyoi and Sagala will take up strategic positions to greet any wild babies, but they are not always successful in their mission as some families can be very protective of the very young. 

On the 7th our SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit needed help from the Voi Keepers to assist them in rescuing a young wild elephant calf that had become stuck in a drying mud hole at Aruba Ashnil Safari Lodge. The calf’s family was understandably quite upset and aggressive with the arrival of so many humans, but the team managed to expertly move them away temporarily so that they could then safely rescue the calf, and mercifully reunite it with its mother and family who were overjoyed to have the baby safely back with them – thanks to the quick reactions of numerous team members we managed to avoid one more orphaned baby elephant. 

We have not seen Emily’s ex-orphan herd for the entire year given that they remain on the Tsavo West side, but Edie and Mweya returned to share their newborns with us back in January, before slowly meandering off back into the Park accompanied by some of our older Voi orphans who were very willing nannies to their new babies and evidently itching to join them in the wild. The fact we have not seen Emily and the rest of her herd is undoubtedly due to the wonderful rains experienced in the Sagala and Kasigau areas where they like to browse, which have remained green and thick with grewia this entire time. One never knows however when our ex-orphan herds might decide to pay us a visit however, and we look forward to hopefully seeing Emily and the others soon.

Kenia’s herd, who had become much more independent until their friend Nelion was attacked by lions and subsequently succumbed to his injuries, have returned to the stockades every night without even the slightest encouragement from the Keepers. Kenia, Mudanda, Ndii, Mashariki, Ndoria, Tundani, Ishaq-B and Araba have happily returned to the fold and spend the day browsing with the milk-dependent orphans and returning with them to the stockades at night of their own accord.  At 13 years old now Kenia is certainly the leader when the orphans are altogether, with Arruba relinquishing her adopted baby Pika Pika to the care and attention of older Kenia and Ndii, who enjoy looking after her and Tahri too. Kenia, Ndii, Mashariki, Ndoria, Iraq-B and Araba are all females old enough to breed now means we are in for a baby boom in two years’ time, given that they have spent six months living a wild life in amidst the wild herds.  

One notable and rather surprising friendship we observed this month was that between Ngilai and the orphan buffalo Ivia! One would never have expected this budding friendship from our gruff and playful Ngilai, who is apparently delighted that Ivia is such a willing recipient of his affection, patiently standing and allowing Ngilai to wrap his trunk around his neck and hold him close. Ngilai will actively seek out the buffaloes who like to have a nap in the shade of the tree next to the Keepers having their lunch after the noon milk feed, and will return from the waterhole to the same tree in order to find Ivia for a cuddle or to play with him. It is typically Rorogoi and Godoma who, for some reason, take the most offence to having Ivia and Cheza the buffaloes around, apparently invading their space, and they will chase after them for no apparent reason. One day it was surprisingly Tundani who came to the buffaloes rescue however, when one teenage wild elephant bull tried to chase Ivia away from the water trough. Tundani prevented the wild bull from getting to Ivia and when Cheza came to join Ivia, they felt brave enough to go and have a drink together with the wild group of elephants. An interesting relationship is emerging between the buffalo and our orphaned elephants.

Emoli will turn four years old next month, and it’s apparent that some of the older females in the Voi dependent herd are making attempts to temper Emoli’s confident and boisterous spirit, perhaps worried that this might land him in trouble one day! We often witness this worrisome behaviour – one afternoon this month Emoli was still busy playing in the waterhole when his friends left to resume their browsing activities. The young boy naughtily tried to prevent a much older teenage wild bull from approaching the water trough for a drink but was unsuccessful in doing as the bull was obviously much bigger than him, so eventually he thought better of it and decided to run off to join his friends before the older bull could reprimand him too severely. Consequently, one morning we witnessed Mbegu, Godoma and Sagala all collectively trapping and keeping Emoli behind them with their big bodies, perhaps tired of the way he pushes his way to the front and his aggressive habit of having to be the first one down to the milk feeding area every morning. Sagala always seems to have her eye on him and whenever he is doing something unacceptable she appears out of nowhere to correct his behaviour. Emoli has become known for enjoying climbing on Godoma every chance he can get for some reason, especially when she might be on the ground mud bathing for example, but he is often pushed away by some of the others, or Ngilai might come over to engage him in a pushing game to distract him so that he leaves poor Godoma alone. It is these important lessons and mitigations that keep an elephant family in check, and it is wonderful to see our orphans performing them so efficiently – as elephants live in family groups a delinquent family member is not tolerated and soon straightened out. 

One family member of the Voi herd who has changed her ways but the Voi herd still needs a little more convincing is Ndoria. She used to be a notorious tail-biter and was forever terrorising her age mates within the Voi herd to the extent they used to avoid her in group gatherings, or whenever Ndoria might happen to be walking behind them they would peel off and head for the hills. With the arrival of Tagwa and Tamiyoi she settled down and hasn’t misbehaved for some time, but numerous times this month we witnessed Ndoria entering the waterhole to join the rest of the herd there, and scores of her old friends would exit at the same time with lingering memories of her tail biting antics.  

Younger orphans like Mbegu, Tagwa and the others are too young to remember Ndoria’s naughty habits so are happy to spend time in her company, and we are not seeing any evidence of that behaviour now. Mbegu and Tagwa are forming a better relationship with Mbegu being kinder and more inclusive of Tagwa now; to begin with Mbegu was surprisingly dismissive of Tagwa, perhaps recognising Tagwa leadership qualities! We are so pleased with Tagwa’s progress since she made the second move back to Voi, and it took her some time to truly settle in. Having been a bit lethargic and unhappy before, she now happily runs for her milk bottles and enjoys the company of Tamiyoi and Sagala the most – the Keepers refer to them as the Three Musketeers as they are always together with a very close bond indeed. 

October 2020 day to day

01 Oct

The morning began with the orphans playing around the stockade compound following the milk and supplement feeding. Mudanda and Mashariki enjoyed scratching against one of the rocks in the stockade compound while Tahri lay on the red earth piles while Kenia and Ndii, her adopted mothers, kept watch over her to make sure she wasn’t bothered. Emoli became engaged in a strength testing competition with Pika Pika while Ngilai had a fun time picking up a dry piece of wood and tossing it into the air. His game caught Embu’s attention and she came to watch him.

At noon the orphans had a lovely time playing at the waterhole. Godoma lay in the water and Emoli ran in to join her and engage her in a sparring session. Ndotto then tried to engage Emoli in a game, but Emoli wasn’t interested, and used Rorogoi to get away from Ndotto and exit the water. Godoma stayed in the mud bath longer than the rest and welcomed a visiting wild herd for a wallow before joining the rest of the orphan herd for the afternoon browsing session.  

Emoli and Pika Pika wrestling each other

Ngilai playing with a dry stick

Godoma in the water with Emoli wrestling her