Voi is a spectacularly open part of Tsavo, vast plains scattered with Melia Volkensaii trees stretch as far as the eye can see. Up until last month, these plains were a telltale shade of beige: The rains of April and May were rather lackluster, leaving huge swathes of the park dry for much of the year. This had begun to create challenging conditions for wildlife, and many elephants left the boundaries of Tsavo for the large ranches abutting the park in search of adequate food and browse. So, when the rains broke early this year, in October, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Now, Voi and all of Tsavo is an expanse of emerald. The weary atmosphere of the past months has been replaced by one of exuberance. Indeed, life springs from every bush, branch and puddle. Lion cubs lollop behind their mothers, practicing their hunting skills but more interested in playing with each other. Zebra, waterbuck, impala, and other plains creatures graze on all the fresh browse. Tall giraffe pluck leaves from the highest branches, while tiny dik-dik snack on low-lying shoots. The elephants are perhaps the most visibly celebratory, splashing in all the newly created mud baths and feasting to their hearts’ content. Even our orphans, who were sated through the dry season with plenty of cut greens and supplements, have a new spring in their step. Before, their days were focused; they had to concentrate on seeking out the best browse. Now, it’s all about fun.
As it always does, the rain has resculpted the landscape, creating all sorts of delightful puddles, depressions, and dugouts. Orphans Nelion, Mudanda, and Embu introduced a game of sliding down the muddy trenches formed on the side of Msinga Hill, and it quickly became the herd’s favorite pastime. The waterhole beneath the baobab tree is always a hot spot, and the orphans now dive in with reinforced vigor. Sometimes, small groups are having so much fun swimming that they remain behind while the others go back out to browse. It seems every time the Keepers turn around, they are met with the sight of orphans slipping, sliding, and splashing en masse.
Another orphan who is clearly enjoying Tsavo life right now is Tawi, an eland who we rescued and helped reintegrate back into the wild. While he is no longer dependent on our care, he does still visit from time to time. We were delighted when he stopped by recently with a wild friend, looking very impressive with his long horns. Ndii and Tahri were less welcoming towards these visitors, and charged forward to block the pair from sampling the lucerne that had been laid out. Even though browse is now plentiful in Tsavo, this special treat will always be coveted by the elephants! The greatest celebrations were saved for 17th November, when two more wild-living orphans arrived at our stockades after nearly a year’s absence. When we last saw elephants Edie and Mweya, they were heavily pregnant. This time, they arrived with two tiny calves trotting at their heels. Eco, a lovely little boy, is Edie’s third; Mwitu, a beautiful girl, is Mweya’s first. Despite the fact that both babies were born at the height of the dry season, they are the picture of health. This is a testament to Edie and Mweya’s adept parenting skills, which is all the more impressive when you remember that both these new mums never grew up alongside their own families.
We feel very privileged that Edie and Mweya have chosen to remain close in the weeks following their arrival — and the orphans clearly share that sentiment. No one is more excited than Mbegu, who shadows Eco and Mwitu’s every move, eager to offer her assistance whenever the opportunity should arrive. While she is perhaps the most bold, all the others are equally enchanted by these tiny cherubs in their midst. Edie and Mweya are very patient with their babies’ many admirers, even giving the orphans the opportunity to interact directly with them. This is a generous gesture, and an important one; all these wild interactions help the girls in our Voi herd learn the skills they need to be good mothers themselves one day. Looking out across Voi’s emerald expanse down towards the flooding Voi river, one can’t help but smile. The rain this season has been so abundant literally saturating the land and everywhere you look, goodness prevails. Whether it’s the orphans blissfully playing in the tall grasses, or babies Mwitu and Eco napping underneath their mums’ bellies without a care in the world, or even just the healthy landscape bursting with life, it all says the same message: All here is right in the world.