This month’s Diary is very interesting, since it is the first full month that Emily, Aitong and Sweet Sally have not been with the other orphans in the Stockades at night. Although they either present themselves first thing in the mornings to escort the younger orphans out into the bush to feed, they have on several occasions spent a day or two away, when Natumi and Icholta have been competitors for the role of Matriarch. Being slightly older than Icholta, but only by a few months, Natumi will probably emerge as Leader, particularly as it would appear that Icholta needed back-up from Nyiro on one occasion. Quite obviously, Natumi enjoys her elevated status, and is recorded as even trying to discourage contact with Emily who appeared with a wild bull friend of her age one day, which left Natumi jealous. At first Natumi tried to steer the younger orphans away from Emily and her escort, and then remained distant until the bull departed and only then did she come to greet Emily.
Several entries record Emily’s association with a wild bull “of her age” – probably the same one on each occasion, who is probably a longstanding friend and whom Laikipia enjoyed meeting on the 2nd and who has been a visitor again on several other occasions.
Sweet Sally, who is Aitong’s little shadow, is also recorded as “showing off” to the others, striking a superior pose, with one back leg crossed against the other, and condescending to extend only her trunk in greeting, when under normal circumstances there would be exuberance! Her possessiveness of Aitong is illustrated on the occasion when Mweiga, (who is missing the company of Aitong at night), wanted too much of Aitong’s attention and Sally became jealous. Aitong’s sensitivity to this is demonstrated by the fact that after that she went out of her way to devote an equal amount of attention to each of the two youngsters, touching each frequently with her trunk.
Without the older females as peacemakers, there has been a good deal of competition amongst the young bulls, i.e. Salama and Nyiro, Mpala taking on Burra, (and emerging the victor, but only because Burra got his foot snagged in some grass); Tsavo and Sosian and Burra and Morani involved in what would appear to be quite a serious battle, which the Keepers were unable to break up, the two contestants simply escaping to continue the battle further afield. It took the sudden appearance of Emily to sort it out! On another occasion, upon hearing bellows from the orphans, Emily came tearing down the hill to see what was going on, illustrating the fact that she is still very much involved. Natumi has intervened on several occasions to sort out bull arguments and will obviously be playing a more active role in the future, as will Icholta and the other older females, since it is the females who are the peace-keepers.
Encounters with wild herds took place on the 5th when the orphans met up with 4 wild cows and a 3 week old calf, whom Ndara would have liked to touch, but was thwarted by the mother who pulled the baby beneath her. Emily empathised with Ndara’s disappointment, and came to comfort her. On the 9th the orphans watched a herd of 60 passing by, but being already late and on their way home, they did not fraternise on this occasion. Catherine’s group came to drink at the Stockades on the 13th, bringing with them a very aggressive cow, who gave the Keepers a hard time and Emily’s wild boyfriend joined the orphans again on the 12th, when both Laikipia and Salama enjoyed playing with him. Contact was made with a herd of seven wild elephants on the 22nd, when again Salama enjoyed a tussle with a wild age-mate, whom he knocked down, and then rather unwisely engaged another 2 wild contestants, and himself got trounced, “rolling around like bottle” which prompted the intervention of the wild Matriarch! On the 15th, the orphans joined a wild group of 13, with whom they spent nearly all day, when Laikipia remained behind with the wild elephants, but caught up with the other orphans later at the mudbath.
Encounters with other species include a run-around with two bushbuck, who caused mayhem by running in between the elephants’ legs, ending in a collision between Mweya and Seraa. The chasing off of six impala rams needed a gang effort from Mweya, Thoma, Morani and Seraa whilst Emily saw off two giraffes and some zebra, who ran towards Burra and Solango, unnerving them! A large dog baboon objected to his youngsters being chased by the elephants, and retaliated, scaring the entire group, and on another occasion en entire troop of baboons came tearing down the hill yelling, and ran right through the elephants’ legs before taking to the trees, probably in a bid to escape a predator. Mpala got a bad scare and bellowed loudly when a dung beetle he was investigating latched onto his trunk, bringing Emily along in a hurry to see what the problem was.
The month ended on a victorious note when Emily and Aitong managed to chase off 2 lions who were resting under a tree at the base of Mazinga Hill. Sweet Sally, who would actually have been scared stiff, put on a good show of assumed courage once the danger was well past, as did all the other orphans who joined in the jubilation, trumpeting their joy over this victory.
There has been quite good rain around Voi bringing on the green festive season for our elephants, to relieve what has been a very tough, long drought. The green season is a time of great joy when both food and water are plentiful and there is more time for playing and socialising, coming together, meeting up with friends and extended family members, and when the Big Boys join the cow herds and return home, bringing with them new friends. There is no doubt that Emily and especially Aitong (with Sweet Sally in tow) will be making the best of it, and that Natumi and Icholta will happily take over the Matriarchal mantle in their absence, although Emily and Aitong will always be the Senior Matriarchs and Mentors of their orphaned family – a bond that we expect to last for life, life for an elephant being the same as that for a human - three score years and ten.