Today, my blog is not about elephants. Well… it’s not just about elephants.
The day was young but the sun was already a fierce burning ball in the blue, blue sky above camp. Everyone had gathered for chai (tea, or more broadly, breakfast) outside the main hall and the local wildlife-our mascot squirrel, Benjamin and pals, as well as the extended family of mongoose and hornbills who eat from your hand-had been fed, to the entertainment of our latest guest, a lovely journalist called Melissa. Daud had, characteristically, fed more bread to the animals than anyone had eaten and was still showering the ground with crumbs as we left for LTM. He’s our very own Dr Doolittle. All in all, just the usual morning here at STE.
We headed across the river to Buffalo Springs, wondering when-and if-the bridge would be completed, hopefully before the rainy season which is set to start any day now. It is always quite amusing to watch people climbing down the rickety ladder at the Buffalo end of the collapsed bridge, carrying their equipment and hoping the rocks at the bottom don’t shift too much as the ladder creaks and wobbles menacingly. The braver amongst us simply walk along a narrow cement ridge that slopes to about two meters from the ground before jumping off to raise a cloud of dust. Anyway, we all made it across, clambered aboard the ranger truck and set off along the bumpy road, scanning the landscape for elephants. It was not long before we were rewarded with the first group, the Artists: Matisse (my favourite), Rodin, Flaubert, all surrounded by the younger members of their family. As always, it was wonderful to sit amongst them and watch as they frolicked in the muddy swamps. About a week ago, on a whim, I decided to take my notebook and a pencil into the field in order to start drawing the elephants and thus identifying them. I wish someone had told me to do this at the beginning of my stay! I can suddenly recognise elephants! So, to any future interns: if you want to learn the elephants: draw them
Midmorning and many elephants later, we stopped to watch the Ngaremara pride lollop lazily in the shade of a large acacia, the two lionesses yawning expansively to demonstrate their sleepiness during this siesta whilst the cubs played amongst themselves. As we sat watching them in the heat of the savannah, we decided that after finishing LTM we would go for a dive in the natural Buffalo Springs swimming pool. Little did we know that before that we were going to witness an incredible event.
It all began when Joseph, a young man with a great sense of humour, who was visiting as a representative of the Tsavo Trust-spotted a cheetah only 20m away. His crouch implied that he was poised to spring into action and we looked around, wondering what had caught his eye. Just as we spotted a baby waterbuck, the cat sprung into a run. It was all over within seconds as the cheetah sunk to his haunches, jaws firmly clamped around the baby bushbuck’s soft throat. But was it all over?
Behind the hunter and his immobile prey stood the mother, her head frantically raised as she looked around in a panic, seeking her missing babe. In the meantime, the cheetah had stood up and was dragging his victim towards a nearby tree. Bad mistake: when the mother spotted the cheetah, she immediately broke into an angry, snorting gallop and advanced upon the cat; who was still holding her child captive in his jaws. To our astonishment, she attacked the cat and chased him off in a headlong race; evidently set upon hounding him out of the park as we saw the incongruous pair disappear in a cloud of dust. It was a strange sight to witness such a reversal of the hunter and hunted relationship.
Left behind with the immobile baby, we all thought it a sad ending for the brave mother, who-if she was ever to return-was surely to find her child dead and the cheetah waiting to drag off his kill, if the hyeanas didn’t get it first. Instead, we saw the youngster move to get up; wobbly and a little unsteady, presumably still too terrified to think, as the mother appeared from the bush. He seemed not to recognise his anxious mother at first but then there was a sweet reunion before mother and baby disappeared into the distance.
And we found the cheetah looking very disgruntled indeed, cheated of his lunch; stalking off to hide in the shade and await a new, hopefully more successful, opportunity. Little miracles happen in elephant country.