As everywhere else on earth, Christmastime had also come to the watering hole, not that any of the animals knew this. However, Elephant always felt as if things were a little different this time of the year. The Prickly Pear Boys were quiet, the Pride hadn’t been seen in days and even Brick and Brack seemed to be getting along. There was a general feeling of good will around the watering hole and even if he didn’t understand what had brought it all about, Elephant was glad for a respite from the usual problem solving.
It was the longest day of the year and it was incredibly hot. The whole croc-squad was passed out on a sand bank, so most of the animals stood in the cool water while drinking. Elephant was playing with Brenda’s kids, spraying the little meerkats with water from his trunk, making them squeal and giggle with delight, while Otto and his boys put on a superb display of synchronised swimming to entertain those who were still conscious.
Perry the field mouse came hopping through the grass. Elephant sighed. Of course peace like this could never last. ‘Hi, Perry. What’s up?’ he said.
‘Elephant, come quick. It’s the Prickly Pear Boys.’
‘What did they do this time?’ The Prickly Pear Boys was the local troop of baboons. They were a general nuisance on the savannah and Elephant had had to deal with them on more than one occasion. In fact, after the beating they had received when they had tried to take over the watering hole a few weeks earlier Pink-Butt, their leader, had sworn to get Elephant back one day soon.
‘No, you’ve got it wrong. They’re in big trouble. You’ve got to see it for yourself.’
The Boys regularly got themselves into some kind of trouble, but as long as they were not disturbing the peace around his watering hole, Elephant couldn’t care less what they got up to. However, Perry did not get excited about nothing. If he felt Elephant needed to know about it, then it was worth checking out. ‘Where to, Perry?’ he said.
‘The river, and hurry!’ replied the field mouse, hopping onto Elephant’s trunk. Elephant speeded up to a lumbering trot. As they neared the river, Elephant thought he could hear the sound of rushing water. That was strange. When he had come that way just the previous day the river bed was still bone dry. Then he recalled the dark thunderheads he had seen building over the distant mountains that morning. If it rained enough up there it sometimes caused flash floods down here in the valley.
His fears were confirmed as the river came into view. It was in full flood and the entire troop was trapped on a small island in the middle. ‘They were foraging when the water came down,’ said Perry. ‘The sentinel was sleeping and by the time they noticed what was going on it was too late. We’ve got to do something, Elephant.’
Elephant took in the scene. Pink-Butt was stalking around the little island, looking for an escape. The baby baboons clung to their mothers, their eyes wide with fear. Pink-Butt glanced in their direction but did not even make a rude gesture at them. Some of the younger baboons were showing signs of panicking. ‘We should have brought Otto along,’ said Elephant.
‘Here, boss,’ said a voice by his left knee.
‘Otto!’ said Elephant. ‘Stop doing that. One of these days I’m going to step on you.’
‘Sure thing, boss,’ said the otter, grinning. ‘What do you need?’
‘Help. Go fetch Brick and Brack, and the croc-squad, and anyone else who’s still at the watering hole. And tell Brenda and the kids to bring as many vines as they can find.’
‘Right away, boss.’
‘And hurry,’ said Elephant. ‘We don’t have a lot of time.’
Elephant silently watched the baboons; Perry perched on the tip of his trunk. ‘I take it you’re not planning to wade across,’ said Perry.
‘Thought about it, but the water flows too deep and too fast here. Have you noticed that it’s still rising?’
‘I have. The island is already half the size it was when I went to find you. How long do you think we have?’
‘At this rate,’ said Elephant, ‘the island will be completely submerged by sundown.’
‘So, what’s the plan, big guy?’
‘Actually, Pink-Butt gave me the idea.’
‘Remember when they tried to take over the watering hole?’
‘Yes?’ Perry looked confused for only a moment. Then the realisation hit him and he almost fell off Elephant’s trunk laughing. ‘Ooh, that’s gonna be good. How’re you going to get the croc-squad to agree? They still haven’t forgiven the troop for turning them into a raft.’
‘Let’s cross that tree trunk when we get there. Look, Otto’s back with the reinforcements.’ Otto and his entire family were making their way toward them, along with five buffalo and four enormous crocodiles. Brenda and her brood followed, trailing a bunch of vines.
Brick guffawed when he saw the baboons. ‘Look. The monkeys are going to get all wet.’
Brack joined in. ‘Bout time they have a bath. They stink so bad I can smell them all the way over here.’ The croc-squad was also grinning, but as crocodiles have no lips that did not necessarily mean they were amused.
‘All right, everyone listen up,’ said Elephant. ‘The troop is in deep trouble. I have an idea how we can help them, but it’s going to need all of us to-‘
‘Why should we help them?’ a voice rumbled from near the ground. It was Snapper, the ancient bull crocodile who was leader of the croc-squad. ‘All they ever do is cause trouble.’
Elephant had been expecting some resistance. ‘I know, Snapper, and normally I’d agree with you, but if we don’t do something, they’re all going to drown. As big a pain as they are, I’m sure none of us want to see them dead?’ This was met with grumbled assent from the gathered animals, but at least now he had them on his side. ‘Okay, everyone come with me. We’re going to build a raft.’
Elephant led them upstream until he spotted some trees that looked suitable. After making sure there was no one living in them, he pushed them over with his forehead, causing the young meerkats to look at him with wonder in their little eyes. The buffaloes helped him push the trunks together while the otters and meerkats threaded the vines in between the logs, lashing them together. Next Elephant and the buffaloes launched the raft. The current immediately grabbed it, but the croc-squad was ready and, aided by the otters, steered it towards the island.
‘This going to work, big guy?’ said Perry.
‘It has to,’ said Elephant as they ran downstream, keeping pace with the salvage team. ‘Look how small the island is already. We won’t have time for a second try.’
When they reached the spot across from the island they saw that Pink-Butt and his lieutenants, having realised what Elephant was planning, had been organising the troop. They were standing neatly in line, the young ones and mothers with babies in front. The crocs slowed down the raft as it approached the island and it gently came to rest right where the baboons were waiting. Otto quickly got them seated, kids in the middle with the big males on the outside.
‘Come,’ said Elephant to the buffaloes, ‘let’s get ahead of them.’ They ran downstream and waited for the rescue craft. As it drew nearer, Brick and Brack waded into the water, Elephant behind them, so they could hold it while the baboons got off. The crocs again slowed it down as they approached, but before they could stop it completely, a branch snagged on the bottom of the riverbed and the raft swung around, violently slamming into the side before coming to rest against the waiting buffaloes.
The impact threw several baboons onto the bank, but one of the younger ones was too close to the edge and not holding on properly and flew into the raging torrent. Elephant saw everything happening as if in slow motion. The young baboon disappeared under the water and Pink-Butt dived in after him. They both surfaced seconds later, the young one clinging to Pink-Butt’s neck. They were being swept away. Elephant lunged as they were passing him, reaching out with his trunk and grabbed Pink-Butt by his tail. The big baboon’s cry of pain disappeared as he submerged again and Elephant swung him back towards the bank where the two baboons managed to scramble to safety.
Meanwhile the rest of the troop had disembarked, some of them even climbing over Brick and Brack’s backs. When everyone had reached the safety of dry land, the crocodiles released the raft. The current took it and it broke apart moments later. Elephant gave each of the buffaloes a little shove onto the bank and followed himself. He turned back to the river just in time to see the island disappear completely under the rising water.
After taking a little time to dry off and to steady their shaking legs, the baboons slunk off to find a resting place for the night. Just before they disappeared from view, Pink-Butt turned around and nodded his thanks to the rescue team. It was approaching sunset and everyone started out for home. Elephant and Perry remained by the water’s edge and watched the stars come out. ‘That sure was exciting, big guy,’ the little field mouse said finally.
‘Sure was, Perry, sure was.’ They stood in silence a while longer, and then Elephant said, ‘We did a good thing, Perry. I just hope everyone remembers what happened today.’ The field mouse and the Elephant watched the sky as a particularly bright star rose in the East.