Keepers' Diaries, September 2020

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Voi Reintegration Unit

At three years old, Emoli and little Pika Pika are the youngest and the smallest currently at our Voi Reintegration Unit. They are also the two most likely to start demanding their milk bottles first thing in the morning, and are the first to the milk feeding area, finishing their bottles in a matter of seconds! Emoli’s diminutive size doesn’t hold him back from being one of the most playful at the Voi stockades either and he will happily take on the likes of Godoma, Tagwa, Lasayen and Ngilai for wrestling matches. The older orphans are always careful when they play however and never use all their strength against the little ones.

Ngilai in particular has a soft spot for the little bull, but since the arrival of Kenia’s herd back into the fold of the dependent babies, he seems to have visibly adjusted how he plays with Emoli, concerned how Kenia and Ndii might react should they think he is being too rough. Emoli endured such a wretched start to life, having been found half-starved and in a state of complete collapse during the terrible drought Kenya experienced in 2017. Our ground teams arrived at the scene to find a young calf under a year old lying unresponsive but for a tiny whiff of breath coming from his trunk, and a light pulse. They set about trying to stabilize him, keeping his body covered from the unforgiving sun while IV drips were administered into his collapsing vein. His blood pressure was non-existent, making even locating a vein challenging. Having been stabilised and brought back to our Nursery, we started the routine care to get this little calf back up to full strength, and this took significant time. After days of collapsing and having to be assisted to stand, lacking the strength to do even this simple task unaided, he started to show signs of hope… and it was the same appetite he shows today that essentially saved his life. We have so enjoyed watching his wonderful character emerge from beneath skin and bones… and today he is certainly one of the most playful babies in the Voi herd.

His age mate Pika Pika undoubtedly enjoys the status of most cosseted baby in the herd, with a number of females jostling for her affection. Since Kenia’s herd has re-joined the dependent babies, poor Arruba has lost Pika Pika to Kenia who has a great fondness for young babies and has taken Pika Pika under her wing once again. The older females always have their eye on her though, and one day when Mudanda was being a bit of a bully towards her, pushing her away from the Lucerne pellets, Ndii quickly came in to protect Pika Pika by pushing Mudanda away. Tahri, once the baby of the herd, enjoys spending time with Kenia and Ndii and will often walk and stay in their company whilst browsing. Mashariki in Kenia’s herd likes to explore new browsing areas, and sometimes separates from the rest of the group to search further afield for greener vegetation to feed on.     

Tagwa is showing so much improvement this month, playing with others in the herd and really getting stuck into all the activities, even enjoying pushing games with some of the younger orphans. Her favourite buddies are still Tamiyoi and Sagala and she is often spotted in their company. Tamiyoi and Tagwa like to lead the herd out in the morning, eager to start their browsing day, and Tagwa has been thoroughly enjoying the mounds of loose soil provided for the orphans to play on and covering their bodies with an added protective layer. 

The orphans still spend their day browsing out around the Msinga Hill as an eclectic bunch, with the two buffaloes Cheza and Ivia and two baby zebras Diria and Nzuki following the elephants for their daily ambles. It is funny for us to watch their interactions, as quite suddenly one of the elephants, namely Godoma or Rorogoi, will suddenly take offence to the presence of one of these other babies and try to chase them away. This happens particularly at mud bath time, and it is not unusual to see Godoma intent on preventing the buffaloes from joining them in the mud bath at the same time. Godoma’s tactic involves charging at Ivia or Cheza from the edge of the mud bath, and then lying at the water’s edge to play, thus ensuring quick intervention for any attempt made by the buffaloes to enter the water again! Towards the end of the month we were happy to see Tawi, the ex-orphan male eland who has not been seen for the last three months, arrive at the stockade compound one morning for a visit. He is looking wonderfully healthy. Ivia, the orphan male buffalo, was extremely excited to see Tawi and wanted to engage him in a sparring session. The Keepers had to intervene as Tawi has long sharp horns which can cause serious injury to any of the other orphans and he can at times be unpredictable; even in a play fight could unintentionally injure whoever he is playing with.  

The mud bath has also served as the meeting point for some wonderful interactions with wild elephants this month. Our Voi ex-orphans continue to browse in other parts of the Park and the wider conservation area of Tsavo and we have not seen them for some time now, but with the dry season in full swing in Tsavo many wild elephants pass by the water trough kept topped up near the mud bath by our water bowser. The orphans enjoyed frolicking around in the mud bath water on very hot days, with Suswa often being the last to leave. 

Mbegu still very much spends most of her time in the company of the orphans that came with her from Nairobi Nursery. Our tiny little Mbegu (meaning seed in Kiswahili) is now a mighty six year old, and a big girl! She spends most of her time with Godoma, Murit, Ndotto, Emoli, Lasayen and Ngilai too, and has all the makings of becoming a formidable matriarch, and lucky for her, her built-in herd have never strayed from her guiding influence.  

September 2020 day to day

01 Sep

Godoma was the first to come rushing out of the stockades this morning making her way to the milk feeding area, with Pika Pika, Emoli and Tamiyoi arriving a few seconds later. The orphans hung around the compound feeding on Lucerne pellets while Ngilai and Emoli kept busy playing a sparring game. Mudanda was being a bit of a bully towards Pika Pika while they were feeding on the pellets but Ndii quickly came in to protect Pika Pika by pushing Mudanda away.

Sagala, Tagwa and Tamiyoi led the way out to browse today navigating their way through the rocky side of Msinga hill. On the way Suswa, Ishaq-B, Kenia and Araba stopped to browse on some leafy acacia branches that they came across. The morning browsing session continued at the foot of the hill close to the baobab tree feeding area. The milk-dependent orphans arrived for the noon milk feed a few minutes after the milk truck arrived. Suswa lead the weaned group down to the water trough after the youngsters had finished their milk bottles.  

Rorogoi headed straight into the mud wallow and made her way to the deepest part of the water hole where she was joined by Suswa. The two enjoyed playing in the water, splashing and rolling around showcasing the wallowing skills until the rest of the orphans joined them. A wild bull visited the water hole and spent some time interacting with the orphans before they left for the afternoons browsing activities.  

Emoli sitting in the water at mudbath

Ishaq-B browsing

Rorogoi in the water