Even when watching wild elephant herds, we have always been amazed at how tolerant and gentle the Bulls are with the young – for instance at the dry watercourse of the Tiva sand river in Northern Tsavo East National Park where the elephants dig in the sand to expose sand filtered sub surface water to drink, and where competition during the dry season is fierce. Then it is the Bulls who will often keep the cows at bay to allow the babies to drink first, towering over even tiny calves, and gently helping them to drink. Another example is when a Bull elephant who had come along, waded into the Mudanda waterhole to rescue a drowning calf, the mother of the calf not having noticed that her baby was out of its depth. Now it is our Ex Orphaned Bulls, all hand-reared from early infancy in the Nairobi Nursery who have again demonstrated the caring of bull elephants towards the young.
On the 14th January 2011, l0 year old Mweya (a Ugandan elephant who is part of Emily’s now “wild” Ex OrphanedGroup) turned up alone to escort the 12 Keeper Dependent Youngsters currently based at the Voi Stockades out to browse (much to the disapproval of Lesanju, who doesn’t like sharing her group with others). Having reached their destination, at the foot of Mazinga Hill, Mweya and the Juniors were joined by 12 year old Lolokwe, who had obviously peeled off from Emily’s main group in order to spend time with the young. Being in the presence of a Big Boy is an enormous privilege, particularly for younger males who are always in awe of those older, and very prone to “hero-worshipping”. For Mzima, Siria, Shimba, Taveta and Tassia the presence of his Ex Orphaned Big Boy was an enormous thrill, all hesitantly venturing as close as possible to him.
On the 25th, Lolokwe came to join them again out in the bush, this time bringing 10 year old Burra and 12 year old Laikipia with him, Laikipia now especially impressive, always having been big for his age, and a lot bigger than his two l0 year old friends. The Junior boys of Lesanju’s group were over the moon – not so the girls, however, who were careful to keep their distance for fear of being mounted! It was a hot day, and Siria was proud to be able to share some shade with the three Big Boys.
The next day Emily’s entire group visited the Voi Stockades, when l0 year old Mpala treated Siria to a wrestling match, which Siria so enjoyed that he was tempted to move off with the Ex Orphaned Group, and leave the Junior fold. There was nothing he Keepers could do to dissuade him, but his noon milk feed awaiting him at the Stockades brought him back home!
On the 27th Big Boy Laikipia turned up at the Stockades alone to escort the Youngsters out into the bush to browse, and remained in their midst for the next three hours before peeling off to rejoin his main Ex Orphaned Group, who were obviously still somewhere in the area. The next day (28th) he was back again, this time with Burra again in tow. The two Big Boys spent that entire morning amongst the Junior herd, Mzima, Shimba, and Siria joining forces to challenge Laikipia to a Pushing Match, and Laikipia being gentle and tolerant towards them all, no doubt tutoring them in the Pushing Skills that are important in Bull society. Leaving Burra out in the bush, Laikipia then took the trouble to escort the Junior herd back at noon for their milk feed and a mudbath at the Stockades after which he left them to rejoin his older friends.
It is heartwarming to observe such gentleness and tolerance from such powerful Elephant males, who, having been orphans themselves, fully understand and empathize with younger elephants separated from them by several generations, but still regarded as part of the Orphaned Family. The Big Boys bring the Youngsters, particularly the young bulls, a great deal of joy and happiness.