Keepers' Diaries, September 2023

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Voi Reintegration Unit

As we reach the peak of the dry season here in Tsavo, many ex-orphans have extended their continued residence back ‘home.’ Kenia, Kihari, Arruba, Araba, Suswa, Mudanda, Ndoria, and Panda were mainstays around the stockades this month, showing up most mornings for supplemental feedings and hangouts with the dependent herd. We are happy to support them through this difficult time, particularly as they are quite new to independent life. 

Ndotto has a morning tradition of sparring with ex-orphan Panda. It’s as if they have a standing date each morning. One day, Ndotto — who is a friend to everyone — invited Kihari to a match. Panda was filled with jealousy and refused to let Ndotto move away from her. In the end, the three elephants sparred together. Everyone loves Ndotto!

Lasayen and Murit never had much interest in rowdy games, preferring instead to observe from the sidelines. However, that seems to be changing. Gentle Murit has started challenging Ngilai to a sparring match most mornings. When Ngilai is otherwise engaged, he plays with Emoli, Ndotto, or Lasayen.

Little Losoito, who was rescued in April, is all settled in. One morning, we saw her enjoying a dust bath with Murit, Ngilai, and Itinyi. She trusts these boys and knows that they will not be too rambunctious with her. In fact, Murit even paused to give Losoito a trunk hug before challenging Lasayen to one of his now-customary sparring matches. 

Mbegu is such a good matriarch. When it is time to head out in the morning, she checks on all the orphans and then brings up the end of the line, so she can keep an eye on everyone. Many of the elephants like to browse on Msinga Hill, but Mbegu remains at the bottom, fussing over the youngest members of the herd and responding to requests. 

Even though Mbegu has her hands full with all the ‘Voi kids,’ she always has time for her original friends. Ndotto is one such pal — they were rescued within three months of each other and have been friends for nearly a decade. We often see the two quietly trunk hugging, perhaps reminiscing about their shared childhood. 

Tamiyoi, Tagwa, Sagala, and Godoma are Mbegu’s deputies. All five girls are very serious and very capable nannies. Occasionally, however, they revert to immature ways. One day, Godoma and Mbegu were squabbling over a special splashing spot on the edge of the wallow. Everything came to a standstill when Baraka toddled in to join them. As soon as the younger elephant arrived, they stopped bickering, clearly wanting to only exhibit model behaviour. 

The 10th of September brought about an unexpected rescue. When the water bowser went to fill the orphans’ trough and wallow beneath the baobab tree, the driver found a baby zebra trapped in the trough. The Keepers came to the rescue, lifting the little zebra out of the trough and reuniting her with her family, who were waiting nearby. 

Three days later, we had the most glorious surprise from the heavens: rain! Galvanised by the raindrops, the orphans were in full celebration mode. Ex-orphan Kihari challenged Murit to a joyous sparring session, while Panda and Ndotto had their own match. Ashanti, Thamana, Juni, and Sagala massaged themselves against the wet rocks, whole ex-orphan Mudanda and Lemeki reclined atop a muddy pile of earth. 

Ngilai is an expert multitasker. He wants to do everything, be everywhere, and play with everyone. One morning, unable to make up his mind about what he should eat, he wandered around with a heap of lucerne balanced atop his head for safekeeping. In the end, he browsed on both range cubes and lucerne before heading back to replenish his head store. 

Hildana is the morning rabble rouser. By now, he knows that everyone always gets their fair share of milk, but that doesn’t stop him from being competitive. As soon as he wakes up, he pushes at his stockade gate and rumbles to be let out first. This causes a chorus of chaos, as the other ‘Voi kids’ start rumbling, too. The Keepers do not condone such naughty behaviour and often make Hildana wait for his milk, in an effort to improve his manners.

Pika Pika is becoming a good little nanny, but she is still a princess at heart. She loves swimming and is always the last to leave the mud bath. One afternoon, she sneakily opened the tap at the bottom of the drinking trough, draining the water into the mud wallow. When a Keeper told her off with a pointed finger and a stern word, she threw a toddler tantrum and trotted off into the bush, ears spread wide in indignation.

Emoli has boundless energy, and truth be told, the others have trouble keeping pace with him! His favourite playmate is Thamana, who he has taken on as a sort of protege. However, the younger bull can’t always match Emoli’s energy levels. Several times this month, we saw Thamana pretending he couldn’t see Emoli and slinking off in the opposite direction, so he could enjoy some peace and quiet.

Ashanti, our brave girl with the short trunk, is adapting well. She has figured out how to scoop up pellets and browse effectively, despite her half-trunk. Sometimes, she even uses it as an excuse to be greedy! The Keepers have to be on their toes during milk feedings, as cheeky Ashanti will do her best to pinch an extra bottle. 

Traditionally, Lemeki has preferred the company of her Keepers to her fellow orphans, but that is changing. She has started embracing her elephant side and is really becoming one of the gang. When Lemeki is not hanging out with her best friend, Thamana, she can be found with Tamiyoi, Tagwa, Sagala, who spoil her as big sisters are wont to do. Ndotto remains her favourite ‘big brother,’ but this month, we also saw Lemeki spending more time with Ngilail. It is sweet to see how Ngilai and Ndotto temper their strength to spar gently with the younger girl.

The month ended with the thrilling arrival of proper rains. As the orphans were hanging out on the terraces, it started to drizzle.When the drops turned into a downpour, the orphans exploded into a frenzy of excitement. Some chased each other in joyous darts and dashes, while others rolled around in the wet earth, rumbling and waving their trunks. Little Kenderi was particularly excited, standing in a trio of entwined trunks with Ashanti and Dabida. As drought victims, rain must have special significance for them.Muddy and elated, the herd then headed out into the newly drenched park. 

September 2023 day to day

01 Sep

As the sky lightened, the Keepers opened the gates of the stockades and the orphans pottered down the path to the feeding area. Pika Pika and her adopted baby Busara walked side by side from the range cubes trough towards the pile of lucerne on the bottom terrace. On her way, Pika Pika paused to scratch her backside on some large rocks as Busara greeted Mbegu with a rumble and a trunk hug. The mini matriarch was standing close to Dabida, Kilulu and Ashanti. Nearby, gentle Ndotto and newbie Losoito continued scooping up pellets from the feeding trough. 

Ex-orphans Kenia, Kihari, Arruba, Araba, Suswa, Mudanda, Ndoria and Panda arrived at the stockades later than normal this morning. They found that the dairy cubes and lucerne were almost finished and that Lemeki and Thamana had started making their way out to the browsing fields. As the rest of the herd meandered after them, their independent friends remained behind outside the stockades. Kenia, Araba, Mudanda and Panda stood staring at the pellet store until the Keepers filled up the trough for the visitors.

In the afternoon, the orphans ambled down Msinga Hill for another milk feed and a visit to the baobab tree mud wallow. They spread out around the pool to play. Losoito enjoyed an energetic dust bath, hosing herself all over with soothing soil, as Thamana trunk touched Juni who was lying down. Soon, Thamana wandered away to play with best friend Emoli. Pika Pika challenged Ngilai to a wrestling match under the baobab and the two friends also enjoyed a dust bath, digging into the ground with their tusks. As the sun sank in the sky, the herd headed out for a final browse on their way back to the stockades.

Pika Pika

Pika Pika and Busara

Panda and Kihari