All the orphans, save weakling Mweiga, who has always been a fragile elephant, are now free spirits within the Voi Unit, entirely independent of their Keepers, and exploring new feeding grounds along the Voi River circuit and beyond, mingling at will with their wild friends, but keeping in touch as part of a large orphaned “family” just as would a human family under the same circumstances. The fact that our Voi Unit is now independent during the hours of darkness has relieved our work load considerably, for sourcing sufficient browse beyond the boundaries of the Park, has been no mean task during the arid dry seasons. Now, during the hours of darkness, as well as during the day, our Voi orphans, save Mweiga, forage for themselves and go wherever they wish. The younger set, which became known as “Thoma’s Unit”, once Natumi had left the Night Stockades, have now joined up with Natumi’s group and move around as a unit, though not always all together. Natumi was the orphans’ Matriarch once Emily had left the fold with her group and then Thoma took control of the youngsters who were still enclosed. Now that Thoma’s group are also free spirits, they are usually with Natumi’s gang, who also sometimes join up with Emily’s Unit, indicating that the orphans will always stay in touch as a loosely affiliated “family” once they are “wild”.
On occasions one or more will turn out for a drink at the Stockades, without the others; sometimes they all come together to fraternize with Mweiga, either at the stockades, or at the mudbath, or in the browsing area and sometimes they don’t turn up at all. However, what is extremely touching is that one or other of the free spirits return to do “Mweiga Duty” of their own free will, so weakling Mweiga is never ever without company and whichever elephant is on Mweiga Watch remains with her during the night enclosed in the Stockades. Mweiga is too fragile to be allowed out during the night, for predators are quick to notice a defect, and the Tsavo lions consort in large prides nowadays. This month Mweya undertook Mweiga duty until relieved by Morani who was with her for a couple of days until Burra slotted in on the day that Uaso also paid another visit to the Stockade, this time with Natumi’s group. Burra did a long stint with Mweiga until Mweya again returned on the 22nd to take over again. Mweya has always been very caring and compassionate towards Mweiga, as was Sosian, and it is surprising that Sosian has not been assigned a stint as yet! Probably his turn will come next month. The combined group of Natumi and Thoma orphans keep in very close touch with Mweiga and base, but Emily is becoming a less frequent visitor although she did turn up on a couple of occasions this month, once with Uaso in tow, and succeeded in taking the newly recruited orphan named “Msinga” from the Keepers’ care.
Since then Emily has been sighted again, but without Msinga being amongst the group, so presumably this 3 year old calf has found more congenial company out there. At three, with the rains imminent, she has a good chance of making it without milk.
It was at the end of the month, on the 28th that a baby of just l month old was rescued, having fallen down an open man-hole on the Mzima – Mombasa pipeline. The baby remained at the Voi Stockades for a while awaiting the arrival of the rescue plane to carry her to Nairobi. Upon being loaded to be taken to the airfield when the plane eventually arrived, she screamed, and this sound brought all the orphans down the hill in a flash to see what was remiss. Luckily, or unluckily, they missed meeting little “Dida” (as she has been called) who had just left as they arrived!
Lissa and her three wild-born calves have also visited the Stockades this month and spent time playing around the Stockade drinking trough. Accompanying them was a young wild teenaged female.
On the 16th only Loisaba and Mvita from Emily’s group came to drink at the Stockades, but the others were probably up Mazinga Hill, which, during the driest periods, is a favourite feeding spot for the orphans who manage to find the odd green leaf amongst the rocks. And on the l8th Aitong brought all the orphans down from the hill for a drink, leaving only Emily, Salama, Edie, Solango, Loisaba and Ndara up there. That day they all again came down to see Mweiga and Mweya, and left once the two had been put in for the night. On the 20th Edie, Mukwaju, Mpala, Mweya and Lolokwe came to the Stockades in the morning and then went and found Mweiga and Burra out in the bush. Later Natumi and all the others exept Laikipia, Salama and Emily’s lot arrived to meet up with them, all escorting Mweiga back to the Stockade in the evening.
It is fascinating to have known all these elephants from infancy and followed their lives on a daily basis until grown. They have taught us so much about their sophisticated personalities and very human compassion and caring, about phenomenal memories and about all the better traits of the human species and few of the bad.