This month’s Diary for the Voi group is extremely interesting, since a pattern is developing which is new ground, following the graduation to total freedom of Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally, who are no longer enclosed with the other orphans in the Night Stockades. This is, of course, a n elephant Matriarch hand-reared from early infancy has an extended elephant family still human dependent, with whom she keeps in close touch, as well as wild friends. What has surprised us most is that none of Emily’s favourite orphans have followed the example of Sweet Sally, who definitely made it known that she did not want to be separated from Aitong, and who is now very much part of “Emily’s now fully independent Group, comprised of herself, Aitong and Sweet Sally, who are often joined by the independent Big Boy Bulls, Edo and Dika, with whom she shared the Nairobi Nursery. Both have been Keeper independent for a long time, and now spend extended periods of time away from base, but remain still very much part of the extended family, spending time with the dependent orphans whenever they happen to be in the area. Edo is particularly caring and gentle with the still dependent babies, and in this month’s Diary has joined them on many occasions when Emily’s group has been away, sharing the mudbath with them and lying down so that they can romp on him, loosening red soil with his tusks so that they can dust themselves more easily, and taking on the role of Leader whenever with them, yet parting when the time comes, all the others understanding when he wants to leave them, and making no attempt to follow.
Dika, now an impressive 17 year old, large for his age, with thick tusks, l;ast put in an appearance in May 2004, but has been a regular visitor in this Diary, along with Edo and another wild bull friend, joining up with Emily’s group on the 3rd to share the mudbath with the babies. They were greeted with immense joy and jubilation, the babies running in and out of the water, trumpeting with excitement.
For the orphans it has been a particularly happy month, with regular contact with Emily’s group on the 4th when both Edo and Dika were also in tow, on the 8th when only Edo was with Emily’s group, again on the 10th at the noon mudbath. Dika appears again on the 16th, when he escorted the babies up Mazinga Hill to feed, but left them to go to the mudbath on their own. He appeared again at the Stockades on the 19th to take a drink, and helped himself to a barrel of water down at the mudbath, before the arrival of the others a day or two later.
The bonds that bind Emily’s group to the other orphans remain as strong as ever, illustrated when Salama finds himself left behind as the others left to go to the mudbath, leaving him isolated. He paniced and rushed around fearfully, bellowing, but suddenly Emily appeared from nowhere, running to gather him up, whilst Natumi came running from the opposite direction to collect him, and they all meet up in the middle! When Emily is with the group, she takes control as Matriarch, but when she decides to leave, Natumi automatically takes over. On one occasion Edie was tempted to go with her when she left the others, and on another Ndara (one of her favourites), was also torn, but both came running back to the others after a short while. Normally, when Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally decide to separate from the others, they merely peel off, and all the others remain behind, without question, understanding perfectly this new routine.
Natumi, as the next oldest female in the group is an automatic contender for the position of new Matriarch, but in this Diary Icholta is also making a bid. We read about Icholta taking the lead as the orphans leave the Stockade, quickening her pace whenever Natumi tries to overtake her, something that obviously left Natumi slightly irritated!
Emily, Aitong and Sally were at the Stockades to accompany the babies in the morning of the 12th, this time without Edo or Dika, and they met up with them again on the 14th, coming from behind, and startling Mweiga, who bellowed, and was immediately comforted by Emily. We read how Natumi comforted Mweiga when she was scared by the sound of a low flying helicopter. Emily and her group were then elsewhere for as long as 6 days without meeting up with the babies, but returned to be with them again on the 26th, as usual to a rapturous reunion.
Unhappily, an irresponsible Tourist Van encountered Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally crossing the main Aruba road near the Park Gate, and broke the limited distance at which an elephant feels comfortable with a stranger. Emily, was of course, present when the same thing happened to the orphans and a wild group as they were crossing the same road, which led to the expulsion of Imenti to Ithumba. She obviously remembers this, and gave the driver of the van a warning charge as she did during the Imenti interlude, forcing him to retreat rapidly and allow her and her little “family” to cross comfortably. We can’t help being anxious when a tour drivers act in such an irresponsible way, which jeopardises the elephants, through no fault of their own. After all, a wild elephant would react in exactly the same way, and probably push a charge home! One would expect Tour Drivers to understand that although elephants are extremely tolerant and gentle by nature, they can also prove dangerous when provoked. They should appreciate that the elephants have right of way in a National Park. If a tour driver is so ignorant that he is prepared to put his clients at risk, he deserves to get into trouble.
Yet again, the mischievousness of Mweya is evident. On a cold day when none of the elephants wanted to venture into the water, she sprayed water from her trunk at them, making them retreat rapidly, and then, fully expecting retaliation, “slyly” spends time on her own before plucking up enough courage to rejoin the group again! However, Mweya found herself in trouble when she almost trod on a Monitor Lizard hiding in long grass, which lashed her leg with its tail, making her retreat rapidly to the Keepers, “trembling” with fear! Laikipia, Natumi, Mvita, Loisaba and Mukwaju then joined forces to intimidate the lizard, but were careful not to approach too closely! Poor Burra also trembled for a long time when his friend Mpala dislodged a rock which tumbled down the hill and landed with a thump in the bushes upon which he was feeding! Thereafter, he, too, chose to remain in close proximity to the Keepers for many hours. However, Mweya and Lolokwe greatly enjoyed chasing an unfortunate little dikdik right from Mazinga Hill to the orphans’ waterhole below the Headquarters, and Icholta and Laikipia did the same to a kudu. However, encountering a group of 20 giraffe in their path on the 23rd, left all the orphans nonplussed and hesitant to see them off, until the giraffe removed themselves.
Laikipia is now the Big Boy of the Junior Orphan group, i.e. Natumi’s group. He is becoming very independent, and, like Edo, is a very gentle and friendly character. It is interesting that Natumi seeks his cooperation to approach a wild group consisting of a grown Matriarch and two calves on the 2nd, and together these two led the other orphans into the wild group, “rumbling softly” as they approached. They enjoyed several hours with this wild herd, playing with age-mates before separating to go to the noon mudbath. Other than visits from our two Big Boys, Edo and Dika, and, of course, Emily’s group, who have kept in close touch, the younger elephants have not had contact with other wild groups this month.
As usual the compassionate and helping side of elephants is illustrated when Emily helps lift Ndara from the mudbath using a foreleg, and Icholta and Loisaba combine their strength to help Lolokwe up.
But for the irresponsible behaviour of a Tour Driver, it has been a very happy month for all our Voi Group, with rain-filled pools still available for them out in the bush, and the green flush of food still in abundant supply. However, February and March are the hottest months of the year, and the onset of another dry season, relieved when, and if the next rains happen in April/May.