January is always a very hot time of the year, but usually green vegetation is in abundance providing the October/November/December rains have been adequate. Sadly, however, this year, the rains fell far short of what is normally expected, so we have found ourselves gripped by drought conditions early in the year, although Tsavo has enjoyed a little more rain that many other parts of the country. Hence, once again, the search for forage has dominated the month, earlier than usual, and the orphans have taken to climbing Mazinga Hill at the back of the Stockades in their search for green browse. Mukwaju is the expert climber of the group, who normally leads the ascent, leaving Mweiga at the base with Sosian and Mweya in attendance, and on one occasion kept company also by Natumi and the others. Mweiga did manage to get halfway up the hill on one occasion, which, for her, was quite a feat. She enjoys the consideration and caring of all the group, but especially Sosian and Mweya, although on one occasion Solango, Sosian and Salama (all young bulls) sandwiched her between them to hasten her progress out to the browsing grounds.
Emily, accompanied by Tsavo, came to greet the other orphans at the Stockades in the evening of the 15th, and was treated to an exuberant welcome – all the youngsters trumpeting, whirling around and urinating joyfully. She was there again first thing in the morning to accompany the orphans out into the bush, but peeled off to head in the opposite direction a little later, taking Tsavo with her, who is now firmly attached. Emily returned to the Stockades again with Tsavo on the 18th in the evening, as the orphans were rushing for their ration of Copra, so on this occasion the greeting was briefer and on the 19th, she came alone, without Tsavo, leaving the Stockade an hour later. Since then Emily has been returning regularly, and on the 25th arrived to take a drink at the Stockade waterhole accompanied by two huge wild bulls, who waited at the far end until she had finished, and then moved in to push her ahead of them and take her away. Meanwhile, Tsavo is with Aitong and Sweet Sally, all of whom have been enjoying feeding in an area behind Mazinga Hill which has enjoyed more rainfall than the rest of the Park. They are in good condition.
We wonder why it is that Emily chooses to come alone, leaving the others in order to do so. Some of the Keepers believe that it is simply because she wants the Copra hand-out, others that she simply wants to check on her orphaned family, and yet others that she may be planning to take another member of the still dependent group into what is known as “Emily’s Group” comprised of herself, Aitong, Sweet Sally and now Tsavo. Yet others believe that it is simply because she wants a break from the attention of the bulls, and can get that at the Stockades due to the presence of the Keepers.
Since the search for food has dominated the orphans’ days, there has only been one prolonged interaction with a wild herd and that was on the 2nd, when Laikipia and Mwakaju initiated contact with two wild cows and 5 teenagers. Laikipia and Salama wasted no time in challenging a wild age-mate to a pushing match, forcing him to retreat to the protection of his group, a “victory” that so excited Salama that he rather unwisely challenged an almost grown daughter of the wild group, and found himself ignominiously flattened and bellowing for help! Following this embarrassing reversal of fortune, he and the other orphans decided to leave their wild friends. A large bull joined them briefly after the mudbath one day, but was intent on another appointment elsewhere, so didn’t stay long. Ilingwezi and Mukwaju followed him for a short distance, before returning to rejoin the others.
The orphans enjoyed feeding near the very large buffalo herd (some l,000 strong) during the morning of the 4th, and again met this herd unexpectedly when they emerged from a depression and found themselves in their midst. Burra panicked and fled, prompting all the others to do likewise, but they consolidated ranks a little later and led by Burra and Lolokwe, plucked up enough courage to charge a lone straggler, sending him on his way. This made them feel a lot better having spared them shame and loss of face! Two fighting lesser kudus, chasing one another on the slopes of Mazinga hill also caused confusion amongst the orphan ranks, but a warthog who would have liked to share their mudbath found himself roundly expelled. Nyiro pipped Mweya to the post by chasing off a large male baboon who was approaching the Stockades to scavenge one early morning.
Laikipia again dominates the Diary this month; a very forceful character who is a strict Time Keeper, pushing the orphans homeward bound to their Night Stockades at exactly the correct time each evening, leading them to the noon mudbath at the correct moment, and also usually taking the lead out into the bush each day. Whilst Natumi is the Matriarch, Laikipia is the Big Boy of the still dependent orphans and a dominant player within the group, his best friends being Salama, Lolokwe and Nyiro. Icholta, Edie and Loisaba are close, as are Mpala, Solango, Burra and Morani, although, according to the Keepers, Morani is harbouring a grudge against Burra, who is usually first at the noon day milk Bar. On the 28th Morani rushed ahead and waited in an ambush position for Burra, but was thwarted because Burra became aware of his intentions, and stopped short. Poor Salama came to grief when he tried to block all the others as they were rushing down the hill from the Stockades in the morning, and found himself knocked down and trampled in the stampele. Following this, and feeling very sheepish, he took himself to the very back of the column and joined Mweiga.
The Voi unit is a very happy little herd, full of fun and games, greeting each day with joy, and living it to the full. Despite the drought conditions, all remain in good condition. We have taken the precaution of setting aside a good supply of supplementary feed for them by way of Copra, dessicated Coconut and Bran, plus some Lucerne, should famine relief become necessary as the drought intensifies before the next rains in April/May.