Keepers' Diaries, April 2021

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Our Umani herd is growing up. Little Enkesha really wants to speed up this process, so she can join Zongoloni and her band of naughty boys out in the forest. She is still milk-dependent and far too young to join them full-time, but that doesn’t stop her from pushing the boundaries. The Keepers and matriarch Sonje always keep a close eye on her, in case she is tempted to wander too far with them.

Whenever she is escorted back to the dependent herd, Enkesha always looks a little crestfallen, but that is where gentle Shukuru steps in. She placates the little one with sweet rumbles, and before you know it, Enkesha is back to her vibrant self. Shukuru also allows her to lead the way home, knowing these privileges are just the tonic Enkesha needs to feel better. Whenever Zongoloni isn’t around, Enkesha earmarks Mwashoti as her special playmate. The two get up to all sorts of mischief: If not chasing butterflies, birds, or baboons, they content themselves with charging through the undergrowth together.

Mwashoti is another little one who is maturing by the day. He has taken on the role of ‘protector’ of the dependent herd. During one of the nightclubbers’ visits, he stomped up to Faraja with his ears flared, as if to block him from the rest of the Umani herd. Luckily for him, Faraja is very good-natured and took the younger boy’s bravado in stride, simply side-stepping Mwashoti in order to join the other orphans.

While Faraja and Ziwa are very polite bulls, the same cannot be said of Jasiri and Ngasha — especially Ngasha! Faraja and Ziwa usually receive a warm welcome from the dependent herd, but everyone is quite dismayed when Ngasha turns up. He is fixated on trying to mount the older girls, especially Murera. This is a bold choice on his part, as Murera has looked after Ngasha since his Nursery days and knows exactly how to put him in his place. However, his persistence is still an irritation she would rather do without, especially when she is so devoted to looking after Luggard. 

While we have to give Ngasha points for persistence, he is still a young and inexperienced bull, so his pursuits of Murera are wholly unsuccessful. In fact, he often gets so carried away with chasing her that he trips and falls over in the process! When Mwashoti sees him on the ground, he clambers all over him — perhaps as a game, perhaps to prevent him from bothering Murera further! One day, Mwashoti enlisted Enkesha’s support. Trumpeting loudly, they climbed on the bull’s back until he conceded defeat and went off to browse by himself. Of course, the Keepers are always poised to step in, but the elephants usually work it out amongst themselves. Ngasha never risks acting up if Ziwa and Faraja are around, as he knows they will not hesitate to reprimand him.

All this cavorting might be the reason Ngasha hurt his leg this month. He turned up at the stockades with a prominent limp, so we sent in the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit to check on him. They found nothing physically wrong, which suggests that he was just suffering from a light sprain. Within a few days, it had cleared up and he was back to his usual antics. We saw Ngasha browsing on his own a few times this month, which meant that Zongoloni must have banished him for misbehaving. 

We increasingly marvel at Zongoloni’s leadership capabilities. She is the sole female among the “nightclubbers” — the Keepers’ nickname for the semi-independent orphans — but she is their undisputed matriarch. One day, she and the boys turned up with a young, wild bull in tow. Upon seeing the dependent orphans and their Keepers, he started shaking his head and trumpeting, as if readying himself to charge at them. Zongoloni knew exactly what to do and placed herself as a barrier between him and her Umani family. The bull was full of bluster, but Zongoloni stood firm and he eventually retreated. 

Zongoloni and her herd often link up with the dependent orphans during the day. Alamaya, who has been part of the nightclubbers for some time now, takes this as an opportunity to show off a bit. He likes to lead the dependent orphans to the best browsing areas, eager to prove just how well he knows the Kibwezi Forest. He is still young, as we are reminded: While leading the herd one day, Alamaya got distracted by a bushbuck and abandoned his post to go chase it. That’s where Zongoloni stepped in, reminding him with a loud trumpet that it was his duty to lead the herd.

As the sun starts to dip in the sky, the Umani herd makes their way back to the stockades. This is the nightclubbers’ cue to gather around Zongoloni, as if to discuss their plans for the night. Often, Zongoloni leads her boys towards the Kithasyo airstrip in Chyulu Hills National Park, where herds of elephants tend to gather. The Keepers wonder how far the nightclubbers travel during their nocturnal expeditions. Sometimes, under cover of darkness, they bring wild friends to the stockade area to enjoy a drink at the water trough.

Shukuru continues to enjoy a peaceful life, but she is quietly coming into her own. The Keepers are very proud of her, as she is becoming an expert at picking up scents. The time she has been spending with Lima Lima, who is our original “scout,” has definitely helped her fine-tune this skill. When she lifts her trunk into the air to catch a scent, the Keepers know that either the nightclubbers are about to join them, or there are wild animals ahead. This knowledge is very useful for the Keepers, who always have to be aware of marauding buffalo and other creatures they might encounter in the forest. Quanza and Shukuru also remain close friends, and they spend long stretches of time browsing in each other’s company.

On the morning of the 20th, we were alarmed to find that Luggard had an upset stomach. The other orphans must have also sensed it, as the older girls made a beeline for his gate and caressed him with their trunks. The Keepers gave Luggard some medication and time to rest, but a few minutes later, he was on his feet and eager to begin his day. At the mud bath, the Keepers were very pleased to see him splashing mud on his chest, which was a good indication that he was feeling better. All the same, they kept a close eye on him and carried extra medicine, just in case. Fortunately, Luggard has a very attentive group of girls looking after his welfare: Murera, Sonje, Lima Lima, and Quanza have developed a rota to ensure someone is always by his side.

Murera is quite standoffish towards wild visitors, probably because she worries they will bother little Luggard. Lima Lima, on the other hand, is much more outgoing. One exception will forever stick in the Keepers’ minds: Just as everyone was getting up one day, a handsome bull arrived at the stockades. He stood quietly outside the gates, watching the morning activities unfold, until he saw Murera emerge from her bedroom. He cautiously approached our big girl, inviting her on a walk into the forest. Much to our surprise, she accepted, leaving Luggard with his other capable nannies Lima Lima and Quanza. This was a positive step for Murera, who is eleven years old and the eldest member of our Umani herd. The Keepers feel certain that her suitor will be returning again soon.

We had a little rain at Umani this month, and it came out of nowhere. What began as a sunny morning transformed into a thunderstorm by afternoon, catching the Keepers wholly unprepared. As they rushed back to fetch some umbrellas, Murera and Lima Lima insisted on accompanying Luggard to his stockade, so that he could stay dry and warm. Like the rest of Tsavo, we hope for more rain before the long dry season sets in, but we are in good stead thanks to the bountiful nature of the Kibwezi Forest and the perennial Umani Springs. 

April 2021 day to day

01 Apr

The orphans’ day started off very peacefully with Shukuru taking her time to exit her stockade. Lima Lima seemed very relaxed as well. These two girls teamed up for their activities, which surprised the Keepers because usually by this time Lima Lima would be with Luggard.

As the orphans were walking out to browse Lima Lima took the lead and Shukuru remained behind with Luggard, walking slowly. Luggard let out a low rumble, which caught Lima Lima’s attention. Elephants are known to communicate using a very low frequency, known as "infrasound", which can travel several kilometers, and the Keepers think this is how Lima Lima must have heard Luggard, even though she was such a long distance away. Lima Lima ran to where Luggard was, thinking perhaps something was wrong, but then she saw the young boy was with Shukuru, who was doing a great job of keeping him company. Maybe Luggard just felt like calling Lima Lima for some attention.

The naughty night-clubber boys arrived later in the day, having spent time out with other wild elephants. Alamaya arrived and walked right up to Enkesha and the Keepers knew he was up to no good; before he could do anything though the Keepers chased Alamaya away and ushered Enkesha closer to them so that he couldn’t bother her again.  

Quanza walking to join her friends

Mwashoti splashing in the waterhole

Alamaya after being chased away by the Keepers