As the drought reaches its peak, we are seeing so much sadness unfold all around us. This weekend, that sadness hit close to home.
When ex-orphan Mweya unexpectedly showed up at the Voi stockades last month, we were equal parts delighted and astonished. She was accompanied by her firstborn, three-year-old Mwitu; her best friend’s seven-year-old daughter, Eden, who was acting as a nanny; and a surprise addition: a tiny baby boy, who we called Mojo.
Although they had undertaken a prodigious journey at the height of the drought, all four arrived in surprisingly good condition. Mweya clearly knew that she and her family needed time to recharge, because they proceeded to base themselves at Voi, taking short forays into the bush and then returning to fill up on supplemental lucerne and fresh water.
One day, however, Mweya and her family did not return after one of their jaunts. This was not entirely surprising. Ex-orphans come and go as they please, as free as any other wild elephant. At 21 years old, Mweya is an experienced mother and matriarch who knows how to navigate challenging conditions.
However, the drought challenges even the most capable elephants. On the morning of 5th November, Mweya, Mwitu, and Eden reappeared at the Voi stockades after an absence of more than a week. The Keepers’ hearts sank when they saw that baby Mojo was not with them. Tragically, his absence spoke for itself; a mother would never be without her infant, unless the very worst had happened.
And yet, we are left with a world of unknowns. Why did Mweya choose to take her family from Voi, where they had everything they needed? What happened to Mojo along the way? We will never know for certain, but given the field conditions, we can assume that Mojo is a victim of the drought. This is an extraordinarily difficult period to be an elephant, particularly one so young. Infant calves are fragile at the best of times, but a drought leaves them particularly vulnerable. It is always possible that Mojo fell victim to predators, but if that was the case, Mweya and the others would almost certainly have battle scars.
Without the closure we so wish we had, we are left to mourn yet another life cut short in this devastating time. The drought has taken too many babies away from their mothers. We are racing to save every life we can, but too often, fate intervenes before we are able to.
Elephants grieve their loved ones just as deeply as us, but then they turn the page to focus on the living. Mweya is certainly doing that, as she must; she has a young daughter to raise and a little nanny to look after. If Mojo had been born at any other time, he would probably still be by their side. We will always remember and cherish him as a little spark that lit up the short while we had with him.