Keepers' Diaries, September 2005

Voi Reintegration Unit

The Southern end of Tsavo National Park where the Voi Unit is based has been very dry indeed, and without the same quantity of browse as is readily available in the north, our older orphans, particularly Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally are beginning to show signs of a dramatic loss in condition. This is also noticeable in many of the wild elephants, some of whom are also beginning to look very thin. Emily soon learnt that the supplementation of barley, bran and Coconut copra cake available for her at the stockade whenever she happened to call was a welcome relief so she has taken to returning on a daily basis to have her fill. However, for some reason (obviously social) Aitong, along with Sweet Sally, chose to stay away for the first three weeks of this month in the company of ex orphan Mpenzi, now successfully integrated into the wild community and a Nannie to Lissa’s two wild born calves. We wonder whether this could be because Aitong is heavily pregnant and her time close? Perhaps, and time will tell. When she and Sally finally did return, Aitong was looking emaciated but fortunately she, too, soon got the message that drought rations were available and has recently been returning on a regular basis. Since then her condition has improved dramatically. Strangely enough Sweet Sally did not appear to have been affected by the dry season to the same extent, but Aitong has always had a round-shouldered and angular appearance, even at the best of times and being on the lean side accentuates this characteristic.

01 September 2005

This morning started with baby games, where Burra and Moran took the stage. The early morning head butting sessions were a strength testing competition. On seeing that he was cornered, and slowly being pushed backwards towards an outstanding rock by the stronger Burra, Moran made a quick gesture of submission by bowing his head and flapping his ears. He immediately placed his trunk on Burra’s mouth which made Burra stop the fight victorious. Burra swung his trunk loosely side to side celebrating his victory as he joined the others who were already leaving the stockade. The orphans went to the Eastern side of Msinga Hill to feed, where Natumi was seen leading all movements throughout the day. After their milk feed at noon they had a wonderful mudbath. They returned to the stockades through the Eastern spring gate. The lower stockade groups (Natumi and Icholta groups) went to drink water at the main stockade waterhole before proceeding into their respective stables for their evening supplements of Copra cake and the grewia branches.

02 September 2005

Emily came to the stockade at 10 am to have a drink, but she came without Sweet Sally and Aitong. She was given her share of Copra cake and went off towards the airstrip. She never did meet up with the babies on this particular day, as they were further North on the Northern side of Msinga Hill. Mweiga could not keep up with their blistering pace, so went about browsing slowly at her own pace. Both Mweya and Sosian ensured that they stayed back to browse close to her. After the midday mudbath Nyiro charged and chased off a squirrel who was feeding on a birds eggs at 11.57am. The squirrel was feeding on the eggs while the bird watched helplessly. Once Nyiro saved the day the bird immediately went to assess the damage done, and fortunately found four of the six eggs still intact, which she immediately perched back on to protect. Nyiro did not charge the bird, obviously completely aware of the situation.

03 September 2005

There were light showers in the morning, but nothing that could turn the parched dry land lush again, but enough to clean the vegetation and settle the dust. The orphans as a result engaged in serious feeding as everything was softened by the rain drops. There wasn’t time for play in the morning, as they just concentrated on feeding. Later in the afternoon the pushing matches between Mpala and Solango this time began. This match fast changed into a fascinating game of lying and rolling in the still damp soil. The two of them played in a completely coordinated fashion which attracted the attention of Moran, Thoma and Mweya who stood close admiring their skills. Their game came to an end when Mweya promptly stepped on them and then lay on them.

04 September 2005

As usual the orphans were happy to be out in the morning, and the rushed off feeding on the foot of Msinga hill towards the Northern side. They never went up the hill in the morning but Mweiga who was feeding on the lower reaches of the hill took Sosian with her and slowly sneaked off toward the mudbath so as to be first for her bottle of milk. On realizing that Mweiga was missing all the other small babies went rushing to investigate and ensure she was all right. Burra and Ilingwezi went straight into the waterhole to take a bath although the water was very cold this morning. As they splashed around the spray of the water made all the others retreat, they felt it was too cold for their liking on this particular day. These two relished having the mudbath to themselves and had fun sliding games on the steep inclines of the waterhole. They later went to join the others who had just got on with feeding.

05 September 2005

On leaving the stockade in the morning, the orphans went up Msinga hill at the back of Malaika House. They went feeding slowly towards the Eastern side. Mweiga tried her level best to keep up with the others on the hill and did a fine job of doing so. Soon it was time to take a mudbath and they all came charging down to drink, frolic and have their milk. At the water hole a group of seven Zebra were drinking as we approached, they gave way, but the orphans resisted charging them on this particular day. Lolokwe and Ilingwezi teamed up to soil bath and engaged each other in the pushing games. The rest of the day was for feeding. They returned to the stockade through the Msinga hill corridor. Emily came to the stockade alone at 3 pm. She drunk water and took her share of the Copra cake and left towards the Western side at 4.20 pm

06 September 2005

When coming out of their stable in the morning, Ndara, Loisaba, Idie and Tsavo charged and surrounded a baboon that was sitting on a fallen acacia tree just outside their stables. This baboon landed in total confusion when it realize that it didn’t have an escape route. The baboon bucked in distress which made the rest of the troop come to try and rescue him. The bucking and screaming of the rest of the troop around the orphans caused them to abort the game and the baboon was a wreck by the time he joined his friends. The orphans fed today on the lower side of Msinga, towards the middle waterhole where they later all took a wonderful midday mudbath. No wild elephants were seen on this day.

07 September 2005

On Msinga hill where the orphans were feeding Seraa managed to get her fore leg entangled in a plant that grows like an extended rope, and covers the ground completely. At first she got scared of what she was dragging behind her, but she later calmed down relaxed and tackled the situation calmly and logically. She lowered her head, and knelt down to investigate closer. When she realized it was an edible plant she grabbed it with her trunk and slowly ate it off her foot! She obviously liked it as she returned to where the plant grew and then ate the rest of it.

08 September 2005

Emily joined the babies on this day at about 10.20am. She went with them for a noon mudbath which they loved. At the bath, Loisaba moved sided by side scratching her buttocks while Laikipia and Idie sat on their buttocks in the mud tossing up their trunks in happiness. After the mudbath Mweiga went feeding next to Emily as if telling her to please take me with you when you leave. Emily separated herself slowly from the babies and without them really noticing slipped off towards the stockade at 3 pm. She was given her pile of the Copra cake and wondered off toward the Western side of Msinga Hill.

09 September 2005

Solango went and grabbed a branch from Salama’s mouth. Salama ignored him and plucked another branch, but again Solango grabbed it from his mouth. Salama got steadily irritated by this and abandoned feeding and began pushing Solango about. Solango tried to leave the pushing game to begin to feed, but this time Salama made sure he never had the opportunity, following him and constantly pushing him. Eventually the Keepers intervened and they both began to feed again. Laikipia went investigating the occupants of a birds nest at about 3.40pm. He lifted up his trunk touching and exploring the nest. The bird flew away. He placed his trunk deep in the nest gently touching the eggs, but the smoothness of the eggs frightened him, so he ran away with a trumpet. He then stood calmly trying to imagine what it was he had actually touched. He wasn’t brave enough to investigate a second time.

10 September 2005

It was hot in the morning and the sun was rising fast. The orphans were scattered all over the feeding grounds, each trying to grasp something to eat as it is really becoming very dry. We went for an early mudbath today because of the heat. Natumi and Laikipia mud wallowed wonderfully interlocking their trunks as if congratulating each other as the best swimmers of the day. They all went feeding on the Northern side of Msinga hill for the rest of the day.

11 September 2005

Today it was fairly cold, and only a few orphans took a mudbath. After taking a cold mudbath at 11 am Makwaju placed his head under Lolokwe’s ear in an effort to find some warmth. Lolokwe made it wquite plain that he was not best pleased with this arrangement when he wondered off leaving Makwaju. Makwaju then came slowly out of the bath to join the others in the soil dusting game. Idie refused to go into the water but looked for a muddy place and sat on her rear legs while sliding on the walls of the water hole. Naomi’s group came to the waterhole at 11.40am, when the orphans had just left the bath. She went straight to the water buckets to check for the clean fresh water but unfortunately for her the orphans had already finished it all. She then went drinking the muddy water and took a mudbath with her whole herd. The orphans never really joined in as they were now moving towards Msinga hill to feed.

12 September 2005

The day started with games of hide and seek among the orphans at the stockade in the early morning. All the orphans looked very active and happy. They went feeding close to each other slowly utilizing any good browse that was in their path. The orphans on this day joined Naomi’s group who were already at the mudbath at 10 am. They went drinking and had a wonderful mudbath altogether. Solango went greeting a large proud teenager female in Naomi’s group where they intertwined their trunks together. The female went forward resting her head on Solango’s back. Being just a small elephant, Solango had to really do his best to support the tusks, trunk and neck of this massive wild elephant. He then fled in despair as he eventually could hold the weight no more. Laikipia took on Naomi’s boy in a test of strengths. A little later while still have a very good time at the water hole, another wild elephant group consisting of five big cows and four calves approached to drink. Naomi at this stage moved off giving this group a chance to come drink and cool down. Natumi was the first to welcome the second group, but then turned back in fear as one cow looked threatening with her one big tusk. Laikipia at this stage left Naomi’s boy and concentrated on sparring with another young boy from the second group. When the second group left Laikipia was very tempted to leave with them.

13 September 2005

It was a beautifully clear morning and the orphans anticipated a nice day of feeding ahead. Wild herds were seen down at the Voi River side and the orphans led by Natumi and Icholta went feeding on the Northern side of Msinga hill. They were no wild visitors at the water hole when they came down at noon. After taking a bottle of milk all the orphans went into the water as it was already hot and had a wonderful and an extensive mud bath. They took a little rest under an acacia tree before proceeding with their normal feeding. Lissa came to drink water at the stockade that night. She was with her younger calf Lali, but Lara, Uaso and Mpenzi were not there. She stayed at the stockade for twenty minutes before leaving towards the Eastern side of Msinga hill.

14 September 2005

Emily came alone today to drink and take her share of the Copra cake at 2 pm. She was looking a little fatter after several days of feeding on the increased quantities of Copra. Aitong and Sally were no where to be seen and have not been sighted for a while. Emily left towards the Western side half an hour later.

15 September 2005

Aitong and Sweet Sally both of whom had been absent for close on ten days were seen drinking on the pipeline area in the company of Mpenzi at noon. This water hole is on the foot of Msinga hill on the Western side. Mpenzi who seems to have adopted Aitong and Sweet Sally split from Lissa’s group. Emily who seems to be coming and going is a part time member of this group as she seems to want to come to the Stockade for Copra cake in this very very dry season, and still has many special friends amidst the younger orphans. Mpenzi, Aitong and Sweet Sally went about feeding towards the Voi Safari Lodge after having their fill of water. Emily also joined the babies in the morning and went with them for the noon mud bath. She went past the stockade at 4 pm before wandering off in the direction of where Aitong and Sweet Sally had been seen.

16 September 2005

Emily joined the babies on their way to the mud wall at 11 am. When they almost reached the mud wall Emily was left behind feeding, and she came to join them two minutes later. The orphans got scared first when she came behind them while drinking the water. They all ran lifting up their trunks to locate the intruder but settled down to drinking on realizing it was Emily rejoining them. Emily left the babies to the stockade immediately after drinking water. She was given her share of the Copra cake and left towards the Western side of Msinga hill. She never came back to the stockade again.

17 September 2005

The day started with baby games at the stockade in the morning. They all laid down rolling and climbing on each others stomachs. Burra became a liability to Solango and he used all the possible tricks to make sure he held Solango while climbing on his stomach. Solango tried to climb up but Burra mischievously with his buttocks sat on Solango’s head so the Keepers had to eventually come to his rescue. Solango retaliated but Burra sensibly fled in the direction of the others who had left the stockade and were heading to the grazing fields. Today was cold and as a result none of the orphans felt like a mud bath, but instead played in the soil around the mud bath.

18 September 2005

In the morning the orphans concentrated on feeding on Masinga hill. They all maneuvered around the rocks in search of the tall grass and the remaining browse. Mweya and Sosian went up the hill only half way, keeping pace with Mweiga, ensuring she had company. The herd then came charging down the hill, dust, stones, crashing bushes which scared the three babies feeding half way down the hill causing them to dash off. The keepers ran to comfort them and give them the assurance they needed. Natumi came down and consolidated the orphans too, and then they proceeded to the waterhole. After the noon mud bath, although not many participated due to poor weather, the orphans began the usual pushing matches. Solango took on Moran, while Burra took on Laikipia.

19 September 2005

The orphans went feeding slowly above the Malaika House when they came out of their stable in the morning. Being lead by Mweya and Mweiga, the orphans changed their bearing slowly toward the foot of Masinga hill. On reaching Masinga hill it was already noon and Icholta took the lead to go down to the water hole. At the water hole, Ilingwezi and Lolokwe had a pushing game. This came to an end when Lolokwe engaged all his energies and pushed back Ilingwezi towards the cold water that she had no desire to go in. She jumped out of the way and went charging off making seductive gestures of putting her head down to welcome Lolokwe to continue with the game, but he ignored that. Nyiro mischievously lay in the pile of soil to attract babies to climb all over him. Moran and Solango and Mweya were greatly attracted to him and they stood there exploring while placing their trunks on Nyiro’s mouth. Nyiro lept up when he saw Salama approaching him for a little ride on his stomach.

20 September 2005

It was a cold morning again and the orphans went feeding on the Eastern side of Masinga hill. There was no baby games in the morning, but they fed in a compact group close to the Keepers. They fed on tall grass and browse and soon Thoma and Irima too the lead for the noon mud bath. It was a little warm at noon and Idie, Mkwaju and Slama enjoyed their mud wall games running in and out of the water while laying and rolling in the mud. Seraa and Solango took to the pushing games. The orphans then went feeding again up the hill. Emily came to the water hole at 12.24 am looking for them. Emily missed them as they were high on the hill by that stage. She went alone to the stockade where she drunk water and fed on some Copra cake. She left the stockade after about twenty minutes heading towards the western side of Masinga hill.

21 September 2005

Aitong and Sweet Sally came to the stockades at 6.40 pm. They met Emily who was already there and had taken her share of the Copra cake and was resting. Emily went up to them both fast in order to greet them which made Sweet Sally scream loudly. This made all the orphans at the stockade to respond with screams. They calmed down when they realized it just Aitong and Sweet Sally who were coming in. They were given their share of Copra cake which they enjoyed and left the stockade at 9.20pm towards the Western side of Masinga hill.

22 September 2005

Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally came to the stockade at 10am to drink water. They were also given their share of the Copra cake and went off to feed on the Southern side of Masinga hill above the Malaika house. They came down again to drink and have another Copra cake fill at 5.10pm and wondered off towards the Northern side at 6pm.

23 September 2005

The orphans went feeding on the lower side of the mud wall towards the Northern end of the hill. They came at the water hole to drink water and milk but none went mud bathing as it was too cold. Solango, Thoma and Moran went browsing together. Solango took advantage of Moran being close and placed his trunk on Moran’s head and took a rest closing his eyes. He was rudely woken up by Mpala who came behind him pushing his buttocks. Moran also joined Mpala in fighting Solango who then fled in despair. They fed well with few games in the afternoon session.

24 September 2005

It was a warm morning with the sun coming up bright and hot. The orphans as a result went early to the mudbath, and Solango enjoyed himself tossing up his trunk while scratching his underside bell on the walls of the water hole. Makwaju lay in the water and placed his head resting on the raised walls while collecting small sticks and throwing them into the water. Loisaba got attracted to Makwaju’s games in the water but was scared to go into the cold water. Mpala lay on the pile of soil and enjoyed his lone and quiet moment there. He then got a wake up from Salama who dominated the soil pile taking soil in his trunk and tossing it skywards. The clouds of dust slowly drove the others away, leaving him victorious on his dust pile. He later joined the others charging and trumpeting.

25 September 2005

The orphans went straight off to the Northern side of the hill to feed. While going up the hill Mweiga got a good neck scratch from a rocky outcrop. She stayed there for some time really enjoying the scratch rock. Laikipia went to greet a Keeper who was close to them when feeding on the foot of Masinga hill. It was then a big scramble when Icholta and Salama also came to pass their greetings forced the Keeper to take a few steps backwards to ensure he wasn’t knocked off balance on the steep hills edge.

26 September 2005

Early in the morning the orphans came out of the stockade to start their daily feeding rounds. Ilingwezi enjoyed taking the lead to feed on Masinga Hill. After some hours of feeding up the hill the orphans came down for an early bath at 10.30 am as it was growing very hot. Later a wild group joined our orphans and the waterhole. Laikipia mischievously remained in the water to welcome them, while the other orphans stood aside assessing the scene. On realizing that the wild herd were very friendly, Icholta and Natumi moved fast to join them. The orphans took a wonderful bath with them and followed them as they wondered off towards the air strip after the bath. The orphans remained behind feeding when the wild group paced fast towards the Voi river.

27 September 2005

On the Northern side of Masinga Hill where the orphans were feeding in the morning, they lifted up their trunks to smell Naomi’s group which was going to drink water at 10am. They came down and followed them swiftly. Laikipia and Makwaju moved fast to secure their wild friends for a pushing match. The other orphans kept on following Naomi closely while tossing their trunks forwards to touch her. This was in a bid to woe her to leave her calf behind so that they can take it. They were not very successful as Naomi ignored them. Mpala and Laikipia freely mixed with calves in the group. Naomi stretched her trunk to welcome Burra for a bath, and Burra went forward securing a wild friend to play with. Laikipia then got very jealous over Burra’s game with his wild friend and came in to snatch him away from Burra. The orphans went with Naomi’s herd for a while , and then came back to join two wild buffalo bulls that came to drink.

28 September 2005

After the noon mud bath, Solango went reaching for leaves high up in the upper reaches of the branches. He went forward to join Seraa in plucking other branches from an acacia tree, but she was very reluctant to share with him anything from her tree.

29 September 2005

The usual feeding routine on Masinga hill in the morning. Mpala and Solango challenged each other in a pushing game at midday. This game came to an end when Mpala got defeated and in desperation went ahead biting Solango’s trunk. Their friendship ties got broken temporarily and a tough fight broke which eventually saw Mpala dashing off. A wild group joined the orphans for a drink and mudbath. There were three big cows in the group and two grown up daughters and a calf. One of the cows had huge tusks which scared the orphan’s alittle and they were reluctant to freely mix with them. The orphans stood aside to watch them taking a bath and escorted them for about a kilometer and turned back while feeding towards Masinga hill. They spent the afternoon session feeding on the slopes of the hill.

30 September 2005

In the morning, the weather was cold as we had light showers the previous night. The orphans enjoyed feeding on the soft grass that was softened at night. They went to the water hole to drink water and milk but never took a bath. Emily, Aitong and Sally came to the stockade to drink and have their share of the Copra cake at 2 pm. They then wondered off towards the Western side half an hour later.