There is an indescribable feeling of joy when the first rains break. It’s almost an instant transformation; what had been an arid palette, all peaches and greys, suddenly bursts into a verdant paradise, pulsating with life. The parched earth becomes saturated and the air becomes perfumed with that earthy smell of rain. Dormant seeds burst into life, colourful creepers blanket the trees, and bullfrogs bob in the overfilling waterholes.
In most places around the world, four seasons dominate the calendar. Here in Tsavo, we chart time by the rains. A lush beginning to the year segues into a short dry spell in February and March, followed by a rainy season in April and May. This marks the beginning of another dry spell, which reaches its peak in September and into October, before the rains close out the year on another lush note.
The dry seasons are difficult in Tsavo and all life centres around water sources. This is a time when matriarchs really show their mettle. Elephants must travel vast distances for food, which becomes increasingly scarce, but they’re also anchored by water so the herds depend on the knowledge of their leader to strike this balance, traveling far and wide for ample browse while also being reined in by reliable drinking sources.
This year, the rains arrived early in Tsavo — which bodes well for the months ahead. We always marvel at how quickly these storms materialise. Blue skies are replaced by dramatic cloud formations, the air becomes pregnant, as the heavy clouds roll across the horizon. And just as quickly as they arrived, they’re gone. The skies turn crystal clear, the sun shines bright, and the glossy ground is the only hint of the storm that just passed.
No one celebrates the rain more than elephants. If the dry months are focused solely on survival, the wet seasons are all about play. Now, there’s a potential mud bath around each corner and every budding shoot is a tasty morsel. Elephants frequent rivers and other known water sources during the dry seasons, so during these rainy times, they’re eager to change up the scenery and explore new terrain. Every day is an adventure, filled with discovery and frivolous fun.
The seasons also serve up a bounty of lessons for the orphaned elephants in our care. Dry spells bring their wild counterparts to our stockades and the surrounding area, because they know we provide topped up water sources where they can quench their thirst. These visiting friends are very generous with their knowledge, teaching the orphans how to navigate Tsavo’s seasons. Across our three Reintegration Units, we have several elephants who are flirting with a wild life. They will make the full transition to independence during rainy months like these, as so many have before them. Until our next contingent is ready to take that step, we can all marvel at these early rains and celebrate them as the elephants do.