Field Notes

January - April 2010

Rains were plentiful in most areas with high temperatures and little wind. Voi River had surface water for 4-5 days until the next storm. Bauhinia (shrub) and Ipomoea (vine) were blooming creating a white blanket over many areas. All of the waterholes and pans were full to overflowing. In April it was windy and the temperature began to drop, a sign of the beginning of the dry season. Large flocks of Eurasian Rollers were in the northwest. More than 100 Open-billed Storks were on the bank of Aruba lake. When a bull elephant 25 years old approached the water he appeared intimidated by the large number - he took a quick drink and then left. Two cheetahs were recorded at Kanderi running across the glade. Only a few Carmine Bee-eaters were in the bull area this year. A lone Topi was with Gazelle and Hartebeest in the bull area.


Most of the bulls in the bull area were in small bull groups or with families. In March Rudolf returned to the bull area. He was much larger then when I saw him a year ago. He was in an aggregation of 46, several families and bulls of all ages. As he moved among the elephants, all of the bulls (Dusk, Aries, Amadeus and Mathias) moved out of his way.

In February Darwin, Sirius, Eldora’s family and five young bulls were together. Then in mid April, Darwin (photo-left) was in musth, guarding a female, in a family of 18 with Thorn, Mathias and Quasar. Darwin was not aggressive toward the other bulls. Thorn stayed especially close to him, following his every move. These four bulls are often together in bull groups. Seven days later Darwin was alone still in musth, traveling toward a family of 14 with a 40 year old musth bull and a 20 year old bull. As he moved toward this group, the musth bull moved away from the female he was guarding toward him. Darwin approached the musth bull; ear out, head up and stood very tall. Both of them slowly moved forward, head-on. Darwin thrust forward with his head and single tusk, but the other bull did not back up, he pushed forward. While this was going on, the 20 year old bull mated with the now unguarded female. Everyone was rumbling and trumpeting and then Darwin turned away from the bull and ran. As the trumpeting continued Darwin ran faster across the glade. The musth bull ran back toward the 20 year old bull, who took off in the other direction. Once both Darwin and the younger bull were gone, the musth bull and family went back to feeding and all was quiet.


During the rains most of the families were in aggregations of 30 or more individuals. Almost all of the families had three to four young males with them; newly independent males (10-15 years old) not yet ready to be on their own.

Athena's family spent many days at the base of the hills feeding on shrubs and vines. One calf in the family was tossing a long strand of a vine in the air and the vine got caught on the upper fold of her ear. She left it dangling over her ear to her cheek, stood for a minute, shook her head and then continued feeding, with the vine draped over her head. Eldora’s family and Tessa’s family were together often near the hills, sometimes half way to the top.

In mid February, Holda’s family and Hazel’s family were together with Amadeus, who was in musth, in a grassland area. Amadeus did not appear to be guarding a specific female. Four days later Holda’s family was alone. In March the family was in an aggregation of families (Syna, Mara, Tiberia, Eldora and Aleta) at a waterhole; some of them were swimming and splashing or resting in the shade of nearby tress.

May - October 2010

May was cool with a few light showers all month and by June it was windy and dry. In most areas the vegetation remained green until July. Although there were a few showers throughout the dry season it remained cool until mid-October when the temperature started to rise. In October many groups of lions were in the bull area as were several warthog families with 4-8 piglets.


In May most bulls were alone or with families. Then in June they started gathering in groups of nine to 25 bulls. They continued to gather in these large groups through October. In late May, Rudolf was with a group of 24 bulls including Lunar and Sandstone. However, they appeared threatened and suddenly they all ran away into thick bush, preventing identification of the other bulls.

In August, Ivanhoe was in the Aruba area, his dry season area, with four large bulls. Also in August Darwin was in groups of two-three bulls. Then in September he was in larger groups of six to 14 bulls. In October he was at a waterhole (photo) with 14 bulls: Dusk, Sirius, Sandstone, Ripley, Livingstone, Amadeus, Thorn and Pisces. Dusk was trumpeting underwater while sparring with Pisces as the other bulls watched or rested nearby. Livingstone was alone in early August and then in September and October he was often with three to 14 bulls; Dusk, Pisces, Sandstone, Sunray, Sirius, Darwin and Thorn. His musth cycle is typically during the dry season but this year I did not see him in musth.


Many families moved to Voi Riverine and grassland area during the early part of the dry season. One aggregation had 112 elephants with several families (Chrystal, Athena, C. T. Paprika, Novia) and a musth bull and six young males following him. Then in September many families shifted from the riverine area to the northwest hills and aggregated in large groups, including Athena, Holda, Hazel and Nola. In October Evergreen’s family (with her one-month old female calf) was with Thorn, a bull 25 years old, feeding in an open grassland habitat.

In October One Tusker’s family and Cypris’s family were together with three bulls, 20-25 years old, near the Voi River. Cypris had a male newborn just a few hours old. She had dried blood on the inside of her hind legs and the newborn was unsteady as he tilted one way then the other way trying to stay upright. He was curious and moved among the other elephants. When he approached the three bulls, who stayed close together, they either slowly side-stepped away or walked away from him. But, when he approached one of the older females she kicked him with enough force to toss him into the air and when he hit the ground and bellowed Cypris rushed toward him and put her trunk over his back and pulled him next to her. He stayed close to Cypris for a short time then off he went toward two calves that were resting under a tree. Cypris followed him to the tree where they rested in the shade.

In May and June Eldora's family and Tessa’s family were frequently together in the western region. In June, Tessa appeared pregnant and then in late-August Tessa’s family was alone. In late September the two families were together again and Tessa had a male newborn (2-3 weeks old).

November – December 2010

The rains began in mid November and although it rained in December they were patchy. By the end of December most of Tsavo was green and many plants were blooming, but the majority of the waterholes in the bull area remained dry or had small pools. Barn Swallows and Eurasian Rollers arrived in November. Many Steppe Eagles, Pallid and Montagu's Harriers and a large flock of Abdim's Storks arrived in December. Two prides of lions were in the bull area in December, one pride had three small cubs.


In November bulls associated in groups of two to 11 bulls and many of them were feeding on Bauhinia flowers. In December the bull groups were smaller and many bulls were with families. Ivanhoe was in an aggregation of 68 near Voi River. Darwin was with Thorn, Dart and Abydos on many occasions. He was with ten large bulls (Saturn, Mathias, Sirius, Lunar and Sunray) in an open glade when a storm moved toward them. As a group, with Darwin in the lead, they moved toward the rain. In November Livingstone was often with three to ten other bulls (Sirius, Dusk and Abydos) or with families but in December he was often alone feeding on herbs and grasses.


In November and December many families aggregated in the north-western hill region, while others aggregated in the Voi Riverine region with several large bulls. Agatha’s family, which I had not seen for three years, was in one of the aggregations near Voi River. Eldora’s family and Tessa’s family (with her calf born in September), were frequently together in the bull area. But, in December Tessa’s family and Eldora's family were not together on two separate occasions.