On hot days the orphans could not wait to plunge into the mud bath beside the big baobab tree, and on cloudy days they chose not to visit the mud bath at all, and the milk bottles were brought to them wherever they happened to be browsing.
When the first rains began to fall, the elephants rejoiced enjoying the delicious wet grass, rolling in the erosion trenches formed by the rain, and showering themselves with the cool, wet soil. It was great fun for the Keepers to watch them. All the wild elephants that had been present at the mud bath over the last few months dispersed, spreading far and wide confident that all the natural waterholes are full and that the vegetation would soon recover with the onset of rain.
Up until that point, the interactions between the orphans and wild elephants had been so interesting to watch. Sometimes the orphans would arrive at the mud bath, and most of the water would already be gone, devoured by thirsty herds of wild elephants and buffalo too. The favourite part of encountering these wild herds was when they had a tiny baby in their midst, when orphans like Mbegu, Naipoki, Mashariki and Mudanda would try and steal the calves in order to play with them. It was also fun for the bulls like Nelion and Tundani to play with some of the teenage elephants too. Not all of the orphans were so interested in these meetings; one day when Kenia approached a wild elephant herd to welcome them to join the orphans, little Araba started yelling loudly in protest, which meant Kenia turned away and walked back to comfort little Araba instead.
Tahri and Araba are still the cosseted babies, with Ndii still fawning over Tahri and Kenia and Kihari over Araba. Ndii still gets very upset when any of the other females like Panda try to interact with ‘her’ baby girl, and blocks them from playing together. Panda is persistent however, and if Ndii ever becomes engrossed in any other activity, Panda is quick to swoop in and sneak Tahri away to browse or play.
Mbegu still likes to keep her little herd of six from the Nursery together, but Ndii has developed a soft spot for Ndotto as well. Mbegu’s herd are a little more cautious of their wild encounters, that is except for Ndotto who is such a friendly and courageous little boy, and is more than happy to stand next to a wild bull no one else would consider getting close to. Ngilai and his best friend Murit still play pushing games with each other all day long, and Godoma has been practicing her leading skills recently. She still needs a little more practice however, as one day she walked too fast and left everyone else behind; she found herself out alone at the front and got a fright from a troop of baboons, and had to run back to the others as fast as she could.
Ndoria, who is no longer milk-dependent and does not have a bottle any longer joined a wild elephant herd one day and went with them into the water hole for a drink. After finishing their milk, Mbegu, Ngilai and Lasayen were surprised to find Ndoria playing host, welcoming them to join the wild elephant herd. The rest of the stockade dependent orphans arrived after a few minutes and joined the wild group too. One teenage wild calf jumped into the water trough and started stirring the water with his trunk while the orphans were trying to have a drink. Naipoki engaged the calf head on in a bid to force her out of the trough with Tundani coming to assist. It was however Panda who succeeded in getting the calf out of the water by engaging her in pushing games. After an hour of being in one another’s company, the orphan herd separated from the wild herd and walked back out to browse.
Mbirikani, who returned to the orphan herd in February after about a year away, still visits the orphans and browses with them during the day. She easily flits between socializing with wild elephant herds and returning to the orphan group when she feels like it, and one day maybe she will form a herd with some of the older females at the Voi Unit like Panda, who she enjoys spending time with; only time will tell.