Keepers' Diaries, September 2009

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Tassia and Taveta, the two Nursery elephants transferred to the Voi Rehabilitation Unit on the 13th August, 2009, have both settled in extremely well, and are very happy in their new home, especially as they are enjoying the undivided attention of both Lesanju (the main Matriarch) and Wasessa (her Deputy) both of whom seem to be happily sharing the responsibility of leadership. Tassia, especially, is the chosen main favourite of Wasessa. He is seldom far from her side, or she from his, and he is allowed the privilege of being able to suckle her ears endlessly, something which she obviously not only allows, but also enjoys, since she stands quietly with closed eyes as he does so.

Tassia and Taveta, the two Nursery elephants transferred to the Voi Rehabilitation Unit on the 13th August, 2009, have both settled in extremely well, and are very happy in their new home, especially as they are enjoying the undivided attention of both Lesanju (the main Matriarch) and Wasessa (her Deputy) both of whom seem to be happily sharing the responsibility of leadership. Tassia, especially, is the chosen main favourite of Wasessa. He is seldom far from her side, or she from his, and he is allowed the privilege of being able to suckle her ears endlessly, something which she obviously not only allows, but also enjoys, since she stands quietly with closed eyes as he does so.

The Voi orphans enjoyed fraternizing with a large wild herd on the 11th, whom they met on their way out to feed in the morning. Amongst the wild herd was ex orphan Big Boy Uaso, who paid particular attention to the two youngsters, Tassia and Taveta, and who seemed to be bringing all his wild elephant friends to the Stockade water trough for a drink. Amazingly, it was Tassia and Taveta who went in first to greet the wild strangers ahead of all the other orphans, and that includes Wasessa, who is usually the most out-going of them all when it comes to greeting wild strangers. However, once Tassia and Taveta had broken the ice, all the orphans mingled confidently and freely with their wild peers, Lempaute and Mzima fascinated by one of the young wild boys to whom they paid special attention. The orphans accompanied Uaso and his friends back to the Stockade water trough, where all enjoyed a lengthy drinking session. They hung around the Stockades for quite some time before all moving off to feed around, and up, Mazinga Hill until Tassia and Taveta suddenly realized that their Keepers were not amongst them, and decided to come down the hill to seek them out. Shimba was very preoccupied amongst the wild elephants, and remained with the wild herd for a long time, until he, too, suddenly realized his orphaned family had departed, and then he hurriedly followed suit, joining them en route to the noon mudbath, while Uaso and the wild herd headed northwards.

Two wild cows and their family came to drink at the Stockades on the 6th, but the orphans were already in for the night. However, they exchanged rumbled greetings with the wild visitors, who spent a long time around the Stockades, feeding on the Acacias. On the 13th a large wild cow and 2 calves also came to drink at the Stockade trough, but again missed the orphans who had just left to browse around Mazinga hill.

It was a sad occasion on the 8th when two wild elephant cows and 3 calves were killed on the railway line in collision with a train. Shockingly, it was not long before members of the community descended upon their bodies, hacking off chunks of meat and carrying it off triumphantly to feast on. Sadly, the community around Tsavo mainly of Bantu origin and agriculturally oriented, are not by and large ele-friendly, many of them bushmeat poachers and consumers eager to devour everything and anything on four legs – not a good reputation for a community that benefits a great deal from tourism based employment within the Park.

It was an exciting day on the 19th when the Keepers came across Emily’s unit just outside the Park at Ngutuni Ranch where a leak on the Mzima – Mombasa pipeline provides fresh water, and where there is more browse than in the Park itself, which has been turned to a dust-bowl by the illegal intrusion of hordes of starving cattle, some brought in from as far afield as Isiolo in the North, during this extreme drought period. The illegal intrusion of cattle, has cost the country dearly in terms of wildlife, because losses of all species have been substantial, exacerbated by the poaching of elephants for their ivory, and the bushmeat poaching. Whereas cattle can be replaced, once the wild animals have gone, they are gone for good, and the country will lose its tourism industry which is the mainstay of the country’s economy. Amazingly, the Politicians seem to remain in denial of this truth!

Emily’s group of ex orphans was in the midst of large numbers of wild elephants who are with them on Ngutuni Ranch. Both Emily’s calf, and that of orphan Edie were both looking well, albeit a little lean, no doubt because their mother’s lactating capacity has been compromised by the dryer than normal conditions. Another recce to monitor the ex orphans on the 21st revealed that Irima had an arrow in her rump, which was removed by our Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by Dr. Ndeereh. Luckily the arrow was not poisoned, so Irima’s life was not in danger. Whilst at Ngutuni, the Keepers learned that Natumi’s group was likely to be on the neighbouring Rukinga Ranch, so the Keepers asked to be informed next time they were spotted there so that they could go and catch up with them also, and ensure that they were all alright.

It is interesting to remember, that during the drought of l970, and previous drought periods in Tsavo, the elephants proved reluctant to pass the word to others about the presence of good food and water sources, since the survival of them and their immediate family was paramount. Yet, as soon as the rains broke, and waterholes inland filled, releasing the herds from scarce sources of permanent water, word spread like wild fire, and all the herds left their dry season range to congregate in large numbers where conditions were best.

On the l7th, the orphans had great fun chasing the troupe of baboons that habitually hangs around the Stockades, hoping to be able to feed on left-over Copra. The baboons always provide a good target, because they oblige by running away when chased by a trumpeting elephant. This always generates enormous excitement and is pleasurable for the elephants, who are normally nervous even of a dikdik!

Sadly, an orphaned elephant of about 5 – 6 years with a shattered back leg was reported sighted on one of the ranches bordering Tsavo. This youngster had to be euthenased on humanitarian grounds, since there was little hope of recovery, especially under such severe conditions, and it’s suffering was pitiful to behold. It has been extremely painful to have to witness so much suffering and tragedy this year, but at least it is good to know that our orphans are, so far, managing to cope admirably, led by their wild friends to a place where both food and water is more plentiful.

It was nice to see the three little orphaned kudus again on the 3rd, when they came to drink at the Stockade trough. Mkuki, Njia and Aruba are all fully independent of their Keepers now, and mingle freely with the resident wild kudu group who live around the Stockades. They enjoyed feeding alongside Makonge, the orphaned eland bull that the Keepers are busy rearing at the Voi Stockades.

September 2009 day to day

01 Sep

The orphans left their Night Stockade in a happy mood, filing behind Lesanju, and all swinging their trunks from side to side until they reached the Northern side of Mazinga Hill. At the noon mudbath, Shimba, who rarely goes into the water, jumped in and enjoyed a wonderful wallow with Lempaute, until Siria spoilt the game by sitting on Lempaute. Mzima, the usual star of the mudbath, decided to play on the banks until the others decided to emerge, and then he jumped in to enjoy himself without competition from the others. Later Siria joined Mzima in a dustbath before taking on Lesanju to test his strength. All then fed peacefully for the remainder of the day.

Lempaute and Shimba playing

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