Intermittent heavy rainstorms dominated the beginning of the month, but by month end the country was beginning to dry out again, the vegetation taking on Tsavo autumn tones of yellowing. The orphans have enjoyed another wonderful month with food, water and mudwallows plentiful right up to the end of January, fore-shortening the coming dry season. They have also had their share of excitement as well.
As usual, the resident wild dogs have provided the usual adrenalin rush. Sunyei, leading the group, bumped into the usual four dogs on the 28th December, when Yatta, Kinna, Mulika, Nasalot and Napasha joined forces and moved forward to see the intruders, trumpeting, charging and breaking down bushes in a show of intimidation and strength. Again on the lst January, Sunyei, Tomboi and Wendi bumped into the same four wild dogs again, and this time it was they who managed to pluck up sufficient courage to mount a charge, backed up by the older elephants. This incident was soon, followed by another scare caused by two sprinting lesser kudus which sent the youngsters scampering back bellowing to their Keepers for protection, whilst the older group sorted out the problem once again marked as usual by bush-bashing.
The most nerve-wracking incident, however, took place on the 4th along the banks of the seasonal Kalovoto River, which following a heavy downpour was in flood at the time. A lion roared some kilometers away, but then another answered very close by, which “sent shivers up the spines of both men and elephants, putting both to instant panicked flight. On this occasion it was everyone for himself. Elephants tore through the bushes in different directions, but all heading for the safety of the Stockades, and the humans followed suit. The orphans arrived first, thankfully all present and correct, and the Keepers came in much later, panting and with shredded rain-coats which had been torn by the thorn thickets during the retreat! During the retreat poor Lualeni slipped and fell, injuring a leg, which had to be massaged by the Keepers that night, since she was left with a limp. She was also treated to a general outpouring of compassion from all the other elephants, and had the close companionship of her best Nursery friends, Naserian and Kora who paid her special attention until the leg was better. Understandably, it was some time before the orphans plucked up enough courage to re-visit the Kalavoto river, and when they did, on the 20th, a Dikdik who emerged from the thickets startled them all over again, obviously reminding them of the lion incident, since they remained distressed for at least half an hour, rushing around, trumpeting, bashing down bushes and the youngsters clinging to their Keepers! By the 25th the little seasonal river held stagnant pools only, in which the orphans enjoyed a wallow, and on this occasion, they also enjoyed a peaceful interlude.
Orok, is the smallest of the group, and the pampered darling of Nasalot, but this month both Sunyei and Wendi have been trying to entice him their way, without much success. Both are ex Nursery Matriarchs, and amongst the older elephants, Junior Leaders of the younger set. Either one or the other usually leads the group to the feeding area in the mornings and when the orphans decide to split up into separate browsing groups, Sunyei and Wendi are always leaders of the younger elephants, whilst Yatta normally escorts the older set. On the 29th December, while most of the elephants were enjoying the mudbath, Orok bellowed from a nearby bush, which prompted an immediate exodus from the mudbath, led by Nasalot, as all rushed to investigate the cause of his distress. This turned out to be only a couple of baboons, but all the orphans clustered around to calm and comfort him, caressing him with their trunks, demonstrating their support and concern so convincingly that yet again this has been remarked on by the Keepers, who are always amazed by any out-pouring of elephant compassion and caring.
Orok suffered another scare a few days after the lion incident, this time the culprit being merely a mother warthog and her piglets which he would have chased during his time in the Nursery. However, no doubt the lion incident was still fresh in his mind, so he fled bellowing from the thickets, closely followed by Nasalot and the others.
On the 8th, Sunyei was up to her usual pranks again – falsely alarming all the others by pretending that something dangerous was lurking nearby. On this occasion, Wendi, who is also a mischievous member of the group, was a co-partner, and whilst it generated the intended feedback for a short time, the other elephants soon realized that these two were simply up to their old tricks again and that it was merely another Sunyei hoax!
As usual the boys have been busy with their usual tests of strength and pushing games, never missing a chance to try and mount on the little girls, who very wisely take refuge against one of the big females. Kora, especially, has been challenging the older boys, like Madiba, of whom he is very fond, but so far has yet to win. However, he is so persistent that the Keepers are confident that one day he will be a “champion”! (Mercifully, the month has past with no mention of his jaw wound giving any further trouble.) Challa has been learning pushing skills from Selengai, which is an unusual development, and one that was interrupted by Tomboi.
In the Diary, old friendships endure. Lualeni enjoys special attention from Naserian and Wendi, her two beloved ex Nursery Matriarchs; Ndomot and Buchuma are close being previous Nursery pushing pals, as are Tomboi and Taita with Napasha trying his luck against the bigger elephants, especially the Matriarch, Yatta, who can count on the backing of Kinna, Mulika and Nasalot if push comes to shove! Sunyei and Wendi are very often leaders who take the orphans to the feeding grounds each morning, although Yatta, Nasalot and either Mulika or Kinna step forward when the decision is to move to a different location. Challa and Sidai are well integrated within the group now, Sidai teaming up with Wendi, Sunyei and the other younger females, but also close still to Orok and, along with him, benefiting from Nasalot’s protection.
No visits from any wild elephants this month, although on one occasion Yatta and her group tried to follow fresh tracks in the late evening, but since it was too late to persist, they soon gave up the search to return to the Night Stockades.