Antics at the noon mudbath and the search for browse dominate this month’s Voi Keepers’ Diary. Most of the wild elephant herds have left the area utilized by our current 15 Keeper Dependent orphans who are based at night at the Voi Rehabilitation Unit’s Stockades. Browsing takes place mainly around nearby Mazinga hill, with the orphans often splitting into three separate groups. Shimba, who is the Climber of the herd leads his bull peers up the hill, while the girls prefer to remain at the foot, all watching over the wellbeing of the smallest member of the group, two year old baby “Panda”, who is cosetted and loved by all the Big Girls, but especially by Wasessa, and the Matriarch, Lesanju, who enjoy priority in terms of “possession” of the baby. However, Ndii, Kenia, Sinya and Lempaute are all also eager to be Carers, and seize every opportunity to be so when the two biggest girls are otherwise occupied in the mudbath. Panda, who was orphaned old enough to bypass the Nursery is thriving, regaining strength and putting on weight. She is contented and happy within her newfound elephant “family”.
The only wild contact recorded this month took place half way up Mazinga Hill when the wild Matriarch rumbled a warning at the orphans’ approach. This brought Lesanju, who was at the back, to the forefront of her group. The wild Matriarch rumbled another warning, to which Lesanju responded by escorting her group back down the hill. There they met a huge wild bull who left the girls of the group so daunted that they clustered around their Keepers, but Taveta and Tassia went to greet the Bull, who, according to the Keepers, was very “polite”, even allowing the two youngsters the privilege of touching him with their trunks as they admired his enormous frame. They were tempted to accompany him when he decided to move off, but a low rumble from him had the desired affect of turning them back.
Rombo is apparently the Champion Wallower at the orphans’ noon mudbath, whose attempt to better the display of Taveta on the 4th ended in an amusing way. Taveta decided to sit in the mud, reaching his trunk as high as possible. Rombo then tried to stand on his head with his bottom as high as possible, but instead fell over backwards with all four legs in the air. His bellow so scared Taveta that he made a frantic exit, which in turn startled the rest of the bystanders! The Keepers had to then move in to restore order!
Tassia, often backed up by his friend, Taveta, has taken on the task of dispelling unwanted intruders during the orphans’ travels, often warthogs who are at the mudbath when the orphans arrive at noon. On the 9th he was outwitted by a herd of impala close to the Stockades, who merely leapt playfully around him, driving him demented until Lesanju took charge and sent them off! However, Tassia managed to disperse a mixed herd of zebra and eland who were at the mudbath when the orphans arrived at noon, even before taking a drink himself. Wisely it was the zebras he focused on, chasing them until they were well removed, after which he returned, trumpeting triumphantly and bush-bashing to announce his success!
The Voi Keepers have had a busy time this month carting water with the tractor and trailer to fill the drinking bins and the artificial bush mudbath. What few wild elephants there are in the vicinity have learnt that the tractor brings water, and hide until it departs, before hurrying in to empty the drinking barrels and enjoy the mudbath! Aside from providing for the orphans in their care, the Voi Unit Keepers have also been embroiled in several Elephant Rescues, the first of which was on the 6th when they were called to rescue an orphaned calf in the Kilabasi area, (a hotspot of poaching). This baby, whose mother had been a victim of poisoned arrow poaching, also had an arrow lodged deep behind her shoulder blade, and was already very weak by the time the rescuers arrived. (The ranches abutting Tsavo are a real threat, populated by a mixture of very un-ele-friendly tribes including an influx of very proficient gun-toting Somalis who kill both elephants and KWS Rangers indiscriminately) The arrowed calf was easily rescued and driven to the Voi Stockades, where the Vet attached to the Trust’s Mobile Veterinary Unit removed the arrow and dressed the wounds. Sadly she died soon afterwards, un-named, since the arrow poison had already taken affect. The second rescue of the month, on the l8th had to be aborted when it was discovered that the orphan was, in fact, a 6 – 7 year old and too big to capture. However, the keepers were again called out to the same area two days later on the 20th when they successfully rescued a 2 – 3 year old orphan who had been in the company of two other older lone calves earlier, graphically illustrating the scale of the slaughter taking place on the ranches peripheral to Tsavo. This calf, subsequently named “Miasenyi” was subjected to a chaotic rescue, since dozens of community tribesmen insisted on taking part, so there was a great deal of noise and confusion which terrified the baby who was already fearful of all humans, even further. Understandably, she was too wild for the Keepers to even begin to calm once back at the new Stockade Taming Pen, bent only on revenge for what humans had inflicted on her kind. The other elephants did their best to calm her, and by the next day Lesanju had managed to do so, but she remained extremely wary of the Keepers. The Orphans spent as long as they could at the Stockades each day in an attempt to reassure and calm this newcomer, before having to leave to focus on their own survival during this severe drought period when food is short everywhere in Tsavo. Tragically, little Miasenyi died a week later on the 28th having made up her mind that life was simply not worth living, and, in view of what she had witnessed in her short life, who can blame her!
The last rescue came at month end on the 30th – this time of the calf subsequently named “Ngasha” who had wandered into Maungu township and again was subjected to additional terror by being surrounded by noisy crowds before being captured and airlifted to the Nairobi Nursery where he has settled well.