Three weeks ago we told the story of a poached elephant and a little about the devastating rise in ivory trade. This week we tell you the fate of the mother’s missing orphan.
A couple of weeks had passed since we lost the trace of the orphan. There had been one small shower, not enough to nourish the land, but enough to completely wipe any baby elephant tracks in the area it was last seen.
Rising early Talis and I walked to the luga to redig a well. Around midday we walked to the point where it meets the Waso river and came across some morani. These Morani had come from further north and were walking to soko (markets) which were taking place the next day about half a day’s walk away. They told us a young baby had been spotted with a herd way north on the Waso. We knuckled down to walk through the intense heat of the afternoon.
2. moran digging a well
We knew that there were two possibilities for the calf; she could be with a herd or she could be alone. What was important was whether or not she was old enough to eat instead of suckle, because if she was too young to eat she would already be in serious trouble as the females in the herd would not be suckling her.
We made it to the hill in the area she was spotted around sundown and picked up the tracks, the hill was covered in them. There were so many we couldn’t figure out which direction she had headed. We had to assume she had come down for water after a long walk and then returned west, but searching the dry Waso we lost the tracks in the now black of night. After a couple of hours we admitted defeat for the evening and decided to begin again at dawn.
3. a manyatta near the waso
We climbed up the low hills on the other bank of the Waso where we had seen a light. We found the manyatta of an old man who welcomed us in straight away and gave us tea. We talked for a couple of hours and had milk. There was no space inside the houses but he gave us some goat skins to lie on outside amongst his cattle.
I underestimated how much higher our altitude was as the temperature drained from the land and lay shivering on the ground next to Talis, it couldn’t have been much more than a few degrees celsius.
4. tracking the baby
The cows moved around us providing precious little body heat to warm with and plentiful smells. A couple of hours before dawn I noticed a large heffer had positioned herself over me and I looked up as a steaming hot gush of bovine urine hit me dead in the face.
My first reaction was total gratitude at this amazing gift of warmth, however this soon turned to horror as the wind chilled and I was left colder than before. I stood and paced, searching the horizon for signs of dawn, until finally first light came and we immediately rose and headed for the Waso.
We picked up the calf’s tracks on the other side of the Waso and headed west. Four hours later it was the full heat of day and we had found a small scuff mark under a bush in the dirt, the baby’s resting place from the night before. We now knew she had slept cold and alone and were more worried for her than ever.
We had come across one of the Trust’s wildlife monitors, a tough elder who was tracking together with Talis. We knew we couldn’t be more than an hour behind her. Elephant only walk up to a certain pace, and malnourished calves slower than that. When a moran’s cattle is stolen he will easily pace through a couple of nights to track his enemies and recapture his wealth, so we had the advantage.
6. moran moving through the bush
By midday we knew our baby had joined up with a herd and had picked up pace. This was good because she was safer with them, however as far as we knew she may not have eaten in days. We came across a road and the truck was waiting there with a driver and the best tracker we knew, and we took off into the bush after the herd.
7. on the road
Hours later near a beautiful large rock called Tali we had split up into small groups to comb through a large area of dense undergrowth. We had found the herd and the morani were planning our next move. We decided to go in after them and see if we could positively identify the baby and gauge her health.
We followed them cautiously for hours. It was low scrub and the herd was moving fast. It was a very dangerous situation to be in; we were positive the herd was the baby’s original because of how defensive they were acting, they knew they were being tracked by people and were assuming that we were poachers.
At dusk we stood in very slippery mud in thick, low thorn bushes. We were very close but had no visual of the herd. A low rumble rippled through the thorns that could have been no more than ten metres away.
We moved immediately out of what had become a deathtrap into a clearing and our tracker went up an acacia and spotted the herd and our baby in the near dark. We posted two morani to stay with them overnight and returned to our manyatta to rest.
9. moran up an acacia
The next day our baby was confirmed to be in good health and just old enough to defend herself, she could be left alone. This was a massive success for us, the only outcome for an orphan that is better than the orphanage.
The sophistication with which her herd defended her, and the complexity of migration patterns that our trackers knew so well in order to maintain our chase, will always amaze me. To see the Samburu losing their balance with the Elephant is very difficult, but to see this orphan continuing her life in the bush is so rewarding.
NEXT WEEK: SINGING WELLS
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1-9: S. Kenyon.
10: M. Coyle