Keepers' Diaries, October 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

October began much as the past few months have begun, with a visit from our ex-orphans friends. Kenia, Kihari, Arruba, Araba, Suswa, Mudanda, Ndoria, and Panda are fairly new to the wild, and have prudently decided to ride out the difficult dry season close to ‘home.’

This extended sojourn has led to some interesting new friendships. When Araba and Panda were dependent orphans, they were never particularly close with Ndotto, but now both are besotted with the younger bull. Every morning, they single him out for sparring matches. They enjoy quieter moments together, too: Throughout the month, we witnessed Ndotto and the big girls having breakfast at the trough together, bellies touching as they scooped up pellets.

On 4th October, we were treated to a surprise smattering of rain. It was only a drizzle, but the orphans were overjoyed — as were we! They paced up and down in their stockades, rumbling with delight, and then sprinted down the path to the feeding area. Murit, Ndotto, and Ngilai were in particularly celebratory moods, basting themselves with the damp, red soil. 

It was interesting to note that Kenia and co. disappeared for a full two days after the rain — no doubt enjoying the fresh green shoots that spring up so quickly in its wake!

Lemeki has emerged as our little director of the Voi herd. She likes to be first in line to lead the dependent orphans out in the morning. Tamiyoi always assists her in this duty, although she generously allows the younger girl to take charge. Lemeki’s faithful shadow, young Thamana, usually follows his ‘big sister.’

One day, little Losoito was the first to head out into the bush. Rather than soldiering on by herself with a Keeper — which Lemeki would have done, confident that the rest of the herd would follow — she paused to wait for the orphans to catch up. 

We’ve always known that Ngilai has a big crush on Tagwa, but this month, she set Murit’s heart aflutter, too! One day, he was really trying to woo her into playing with him. Tagwa reluctantly gave in, only for the cheeky bull to attempt to mount her. Enough was enough, and she quickly walked off to find another friend. Murit didn’t learn his lesson: Later in the month, he and Tagwa were having a fabulous time in the mud bath when he ruined things by trying to mount her again. We have never seen such a speedy exit from the mud bath!

The orphans never leave a friend behind. One afternoon, Ndotto remained in the mud bath as the rest of the orphans headed back into the bush. Once he realised he was missing, Lasayen returned to pick up his best friend, coaxing him out of the water with a sparring challenge. 

Despite being the eldest bulls in the Voi herd, Ndotto and Ngilai rarely engage in wrestling matches together. Ndotto prefers to spar with ex-orphans like Panda, Arruba, and Kihari, while Ngilai gravitates towards Lasayen, Murit, and Emoli. Of late, he has been giving sparring classes to Itinyi, one of the youngest bulls. One day, however, the mood struck and Ngilai and Ndotto had a wrestling match together.

We always spotlight Pika Pika as Voi’s resident water baby, but we have to give Godoma due credit, too. Many times this month, the girls were having so much fun swimming that they lost track of time. One memorable afternoon, they had a marvellous time chasing away some Egyptian geese who dared to drink from their wallow, sending them flying with a series of indignant trumpets. 

Mbegu is such a diligent mini matriarch. Everyone reveres her — particularly the ‘Voi kids’ (the young orphans rescued during the 2021-22 drought). In fact, they can get quite competitive over who gets to spend time with her. One day, Mbegu was standing belly to belly with Ashanti and Itinyi at the feeding trough. Dabida, Hildana, and Juni became very jealous and did their best to shove the young elephants away from Mbegu, although the matriarch was quick to stop them. Mbegu is particularly attentive towards Busara and Baraka, who are the youngest members of our Voi herd.

In fact, all the older girls are excellent nannies. They’ve played formative roles in bringing up the Voi kids, helping this young group of orphans thrive. In the mud bath, we have noticed that everyone assumes position: the older elephants are in the middle, while the Voi kids remain nearer the edge. Nannies Mbegu, Godoma, Tagwa, Sagala, Tamiyoi, and Pika Pika stay close to their young charges, protecting them from the rowdy antics of the older bulls.

Friendships are ever evolving among the Voi kids. Shy Kenderi has become close with outgoing Hildana. She is also good friends with Ashanti, who shares her gentle disposition. We often see the girls quietly trunk touching as they observe the others' hijinks. Meanwhile, Losoito and Epiya have been spending more time together. One morning, when Losoito accidentally knocked over Epiya with a shove. Upset about what she had inadvertently done, she immediately helped her friend back up. 

Unsurprisingly, Ndotto has emerged as a favourite mentor for this group. We often see him surrounded by a coterie of adoring young bulls. Itinyi, Kilulu, Hildana, and Baraka are particularly struck by his dust bathing techniques.

A poacher’s snare may have shortened her trunk, but Ashanti is not short on character. In fact, she has become quite a menace during milk feedings. One afternoon, she gulped down her bottle and promptly attempted to grab Dabida’s bottle. Her friend would not stand for this behaviour and instantly gave her a shove. 

On 18th October, we received a bit more rain – which led to some very unenthusiastic explorers! When Tamiyoi led the herd out to the browsing fields, several were reluctant to follow her. Ndotto and Lemeki even tried to nip back to the shelter of their stockade, amidst the falling rain. The Keepers whistled and everyone set out in a very slow, straggly line.

With the exception of a few absent days, the ex-orphans continued to be familiar faces around Voi this month. Typically, they would arrive in the morning to share supplemental food with the dependent herd, before venturing off in their own direction. One afternoon, however, to the Keepers’ surprise and delight, ex-orphan Suswa emerged from the bush to join her friends for a swim at the mud bath. 

On the ex-orphan front, we have some exciting news to share: We believe that Mudanda is pregnant! Her belly is getting suspiciously round, and throughout the month, she was moving very slowly. We wonder if her pregnancy is causing her to tire more easily. If that’s the case, Ndotto hasn’t received the memo. He is thrilled to have his old friend back in the mix and is constantly pestering her to play with him. Mudanda usually agrees to a quick sparring match, although we can’t help but notice that she keeps these games very brief. 

October 2023 day to day

01 Oct

At first light, the dependent orphans padded out of their stockades as their independent friends — Kenia, Kihari, Arruba, Araba, Suswa, Mudanda, Ndoria and Panda — ambled up the path to join them. The two groups gathered in the feeding area outside the stockades where they filled their tummies with pellets and lucerne. Pika Pika and her little friend Busara stood side by side at the feeding trough until ex-orphan Kihari nudged them out of her way. The two girls then wandered over to the lucerne area together – Pika Pika was taking her role of nanny most seriously, shielding Busara from the other orphans and trunk touching her regularly. Ndotto and Panda stayed back at the trough, bellies touching as they scooped up pellets, while Mbegu kept an eye on Dabida, Hildana, Kenderi and Ashanti while they ate lucerne. Breakfast over, some orphans stood quietly together as others played on the terraces. This morning, Itinyi chose to stand on his own at a distance from the herd.

As the sun rose in the sky, Lemeki set off to the browsing fields with Emoli, Thamana, Godoma and Tamiyoi following in her footsteps and the rest of the herd meandering along in their wake. The orphans spread out to browse all over Msinga Hill. Tagwa and Sagala stood with Juni sandwiched between them at the bottom of the hill. 

In the afternoon, the orphans walked down for their afternoon milk feed in groups of three or four before trundling on to the mud wallow. Ndotto and Lasayen slid into the water and rolled around on their bellies as Murit and friends stood on the edge, kicking up enormous splashes. Most of the herd had a dip and a dust bath today before heading out to browse on their way back to the stockades.

Emoli playing by the water hole

Ngilai mud bathing

Lemeki playing on the mud