Daphne paid a visit to the Voi Orphans on the 16th April, and spent a magic morning in her old stamping ground. Entering the Park through the Manyani Entrance, it was a leisurely drive through the Park, where an atmosphere of wellbeing prevailed over pastures washed with rain. Flowers were everywhere, attended by brightly coloured butterflies, and every shrub and tree was in full leaf, each adorned with a subtle different shade of green, displaying all the greens in Nature’s bountiful palette. Fresh Elephant visiting cards were at every roadside puddle, where Pachyderm Passers-by had paused to splash and enjoy a sip of fresh rainwater.
We timed our arrival at the mudbath out in the bush just right, for the orphans had yet to arrive. Instead a crusty old buffalo bull, with one broken horn, was enjoying himself, and was clearly reluctant to leave. Thinking that he might pose a threat to the orphans, we drove the car close, and urged him to depart, but he didn’t go far, hiding behind a bush ominously, daring us to follow on foot! As we waited for the elephants to appear, Joseph Sauni, who heads the Voi Orphans’ Project gave us all the news. Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally were having a wonderful time with their wild friends, now that the elephant herds had returned to the Voi River Valley. Often they spent as long as a full week away from the younger elephants, confident that they were in good hands, but still returned regularly to keep in touch with them and their Keepers. Any member of the group who was keen to join them, was at liberty to do so. Salama had spent time with them as had Tsavo, who had also had an outing with Emily’s wild friend, the cow known as Naomi, who is a frequent visitor to the orphans. With her also as a more or less permanent fixture these days is Mpenzi, the “Nannie” to Lissa’s two offspring, Lara and Lali, and we learnt that Uaso was also frequently with this wild group.
It was particularly interesting to learn that little Tsavo had also been treated to an outing with Naomi and her group, having happily gone off with them after the noon mudbath. He spent an entire afternoon, night and morning as a wild elephant, but was deligently delivered back by Naomi and her family to rejoin the others at the mudbath of the following day. For Mpenzi, the attraction within Naomi’s group is a tiny baby that is much smaller than Lissa’s two brats, who are prone to “giving the Keepers a hard time” whenever they visit, and may also have proved a handful to Mpenzi! Lissa and her children frequently join Naomi’s family as well, as does Emily and her two satellites, Aitong and Sweet Sally.
Suddenly, conversation was interrupted by a high pitched trumpet and we caught sight of Laikipia and Salama in full chase after the old buffalo, who obviously viewed them much more of a threat than the puny humans who had disturbed his bath because he took to his heels. He was chased for a long time, for it was a good half hour before the two young bulls returned to join the others. We were delighted to find Mweya so well behaved, and remarked on this. “She is a Big Girl now” said Joseph with a smile, and to she is, as are all the others. Yet again, it was difficult for Daphne to identify who was who amongst the group of 23, since all were of a uniform size now, despite the age differences. Burra with his broken ear stood out, of course, as did Laikipia and Sosian, both of whom have pieces missing off one ear. Otherwise, it is virtually impossible to say that this elephant is four years old, and that one six or seven! Today, Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally were not present, which was a sadness for us visitors, but we knew that they were where they ought to be – amongst their wild peers, enjoying the green season and a quality of life.
It is always very nostalgic visiting the orphans once they have passed through the Nursery and are in the process of reintegration, recalling each and every one as they were when they came in, traumatised, grief-stricken, all psychologically damaged, and many physically wounded as well. It is a joyful experience to see them all healed, happy and joyful, enjoying the close companionship of their many other orphan elephant friends, who will be lifelong companions as well as the love and gentle caring of their human Keepers, who control them so proficiently simply through kindness and because they are so loved by all the elephants.