But for a light shower of rain on the 8th, the first half of November remained unusually dry when normally November should be a wet month, with lush vegetation at every turn. This year’s main rains were extremely late, only sporadic mid-month thunderstorms relieving what had been an unusually long, hot dry season for the Ithumba orphans. Up until the 19th there had only been 4 days (11th, 13th, 14th and 15th) that the Keeper dependent Juniors were not joined by the Ex Orphans accompanied by varying numbers of wild elephant friends, either at the Stockades in the mornings or at the noon mudbath and sometimes just by a Splinter Group from the main herd. For instance on the 9th Mulika and her calf, Mwende, came with Galana, Sunyei and Taita and that evening 12 Ex Orphans came to the Stockades. On the l0th 16 turned up, but after the Juniors had left in the morning, and on the 16th Lualeni came with her best friend Kora, Naserian, Rapsu and Ololoo, a recent graduate to the Senior Group. After the heavier rain storms that filled natural depressions, the Ex Orphans and the wild elephants moved further afield as from the 19th and remained absent for the rest of the month.
The main and dramatic event this month was the arrival on the 17th of the three Ex Nursery Orphans – Laragai, Narok and Big Boy, 3½ year old Bongo (who had been incarcerated in a Nursery Stockade for 6 weeks - the Nairobi Keepers being nervous to allow him out to join the others, due to his size and the fact that he had one long, sharp tusk!). That said, when the Elephant Mover drew up against the Ithumba Un-loading Bay, and the newcomers emerged, it was Bongo who was the calmest member of the trio! He walked out, took his milk calmly from a bottle held by a Keeper, while Laragai and Narok were extremely nervous of their new strange surroundings, and of all the elephant strangers that rushed up to surround and greet them.
As usual, using that mysterious elephant perception, the Ex Orphans anticipated the arrival of newcomers from Nairobi, and turned up to undertake a search of the compound before browsing close by. As soon as the truck drew in Nasalot led the Ex Orphans back to the compound, instantly singling out Big Boy Bongo for special attention in amongst the excited Keeper Dependent orphans who encircled the newcomers. Narok and Laragai were uneasy about being in the midst of so many strangers, but not so Bongo who seemed quite at home! Once the initial introductions were over, and the newcomers had taken milk and water, the Keepers ushered the entire herd out to browse close by, the Nairobi orphans clearly already feeling the heat of Tsavo, in need of drawing stomach water from their bellies in order to spray behind their ears and cool themselves down.
The next day the main Ex Orphan “Go-Between”, Lualeni turned up alone to join the Juniors at the Stockade compound, when Laragai and Narok latched onto her. She escorted the Junior herd out to the field to browse, but then slipped away, leaving Laragai and Narok unsettled, rumbling and attempting to run off after her. The Keepers had a hard time to round them up and return then to the main group before. Sities led the Juniors to the noon mudbath venue. There Laragai and Narok again ran off, followed by Sities, Mutara, Turkwel, Kainuk and Kilabasi who caught up with the two and were with them when the Keepers turned up to herd them back.
The next morning (l9th) Lualeni again came to join the Juniors at the Stockades, and again slipped away having escorted them out to browse. Again Narok and Laragai ran off, trailed by Sities, Turkwel, Kainuk, Mutara and Kilabasi, and the Keepers following the spoor of the escapees until a shower of rain obliterated their tracks. That evening the Keepers returned to the Stockades just before dark, empty handed, not having found the missing elephants.
For the next two days, aerial surveillance was mobilized from the Trust’s Kaluku Field Headquarters, in order to try and locate the missing orphans, but despite hours of flying over the area, they had not sighted them. Very fortunately, however, light rain showers made water available, otherwise by then they would have been in dire straights, since they were clearly lost. Everyone hoped that they had managed to meet up with Lualeni and the Ex Orphans, but when the Keepers happened upon the Ex Orphan herd during their search, the missing seven were not amongst them, which left us all extremely anxious.
Then, just as heavy thunderstorms were breaking all around the aircraft on the 21st (the third day that the seven orphans had been missing) a little huddle of 7 baby elephants was spotted near the Northern boundary fence line, some 14 kilometers from the Stockades. The Keepers on the ground were given the coordinates, and hurried to search that area, calling the orphans by name as they came close. Soon an answering rumble lifted their spirits, and out of the bushes seven young elephants appeared, racing to embrace their Keepers, immensely happy and relieved to have been found at last. By the rain was coming down in torrents, and floundering through heavy black cotton mud, the Keepers led the elephants back to the Stockades, some losing the soles of their shoes in the process! Chastened by such a terrifying experience, the missing elephants were thereafter extremely needy of their Keepers, clinging to them and not wishing them out of sight, not one of them ever wanting to be separated from them ever again! Further heavy rain fell over the next three days (23rd, 24th, 25th) when Narok and Laragai still stuck to the Keepers as they sheltered under trees, while Big Boy Bongo was having the time of his life – a happier elephant could not be found!
Narok settled sooner than Laragai after being lost, and it was interesting that it was none other than Laragai who led the group to their milk and mudbath venue on the 26th, and Laragai and Narok who led the entire Keeper Dependent herd out to brose on the 27th.
Clearly by then they had learnt the ropes!
Throughout the month, Kilaguni and the orphans who had been weaned off milk, had been very reluctant to return with the other Juniors in the late evenings and it took a lot to persuade them to do so. Last month they had been exposed to “wild “days out with Lualeni, who diligently returned them to the Stockades in the evenings last month until they were comfortable returning on their own. Ololoo ended up making his transition to the Senior group permanent. This month Kilaguni and his weaned colleagues (all of whom are now 4 or 5 years old) have been tempted to do likewise and we expect them to upgrade themselves very soon. Meanwhile Big Boy Bongo has no such aspirations! He is more than happy where he is, enjoying milk and supplements, and becoming accustomed to a new and fulfilling life of friendly human dependency and protection, demonstrating humbling elephant forgiveness after humans had given him a very hard time at the foothills of Mt. Kenya amidst human cultivation after killing his elephant mother and leaving him a lonely child orphan. He has earned a very special place in the affections of us all.