Keepers' Diaries, April 2023

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Unsurprisingly, the month was dominated by Mwana. Murera’s newborn daughter — our Umani family’s first wild-born baby — has captured all our hearts. We are unabashedly biassed, but Mwana is an exceedingly clever young girl. Because she has observed her mother and the other Umani orphans eating lucerne pellets, she has decided to dip her toes into this delicacy, too. Never mind the fact that she is too young to eat solids; instead, she uses her trunk to play with the pellets, while the older elephants munch away.

Mwana is an elephant of two worlds. Because Murera’s injuries will affect her for the rest of her life, she prefers to remain close to home, leaning on her Keepers for the support and security that help her thrive. This is especially important now, as she is raising her daughter. Thus, Mwana gets the best of both — the freedom of a wild life, and the support of her extended human-elephant family. 

The mid-afternoon milk feed always creates a lot of excitement among our dependent orphans. Mwana has caught the bug, too! When she sees Kapei, Amali, Kiasa, Maktao, Kiombo, and Enkesha running towards the milk truck, she dashes alongside them. While they have their bottles, she happily nurses from Murera. Again, she gets the best of both worlds!  

Funnily enough, this month was coloured by several scary encounters with wild animals. While there are plenty of fearsome creatures in the Kibwezi Forest — leopards, buffalos, crocodiles, to name a few — each time, the source of the fright were, inexplicably, zebras! 

In the first encounter, two beautiful zebras were grazing by the orphans’ mud bath. It is unusual to get zebras around the Umani Springs, but they must have come from the Chyulu area, tempted by all the green grass to be found here. Amali, who is not used to seeing zebras, scampered back into the bushes, with Kapei hot on her heels. Mwashoti saw how upset they were and decided to intervene. The gentle bull fetched the youngsters and escorted them to the mud bath. Then, he and the other older orphans trumpeted at the zebras, scaring them away. 

Naughty Ngasha was back to his old tricks this month. One morning, the nightclubbers were standing outside the stockade gates, waiting for their dependent friends to join them. Ngasha was very impatient, urging the Keepers to bring out lucerne pellets. He pushed on the gate, trying to get them to hurry up, while Lima Lima, Faraja, and Alamaya waited politely. The fighting began when Jasiri arrived and witnessed Ngasha’s antics. Jasiri warned Ngasha to mind his manners, but the naughty bull did not listen. This angered Jasiri, who challenged him to a sparring match. When Faraja offered his support, Ngasha prudently decided to flee into the bush.

Murera may be a laid-back matriarch, but she knows how to keep everyone in line! One morning, Lima Lima and Zongoloni influenced the orphan herd to travel towards the Chyulu Hills. The trouble began when Zongoloni started walking at a rapid clip. Murera never feels stressed to keep pace, but Kiasa and Enkesha were a bit ahead with Mwana, and they duly sped up to follow Zongoloni. Murera got very angry at the younger girls, as she felt they were pushing her daughter to walk too fast. Murera forced everyone to slow down so that she and Mwana were not in such a rush. They stopped for Mwana to feed and rest, and after that reset, the whole herd continued walking at a slower pace.

We wonder if our extended Umani family won’t have another arrival in the not-too-distant future. Sonje has been spending more nights out in the forest with the nightclubbers. Sometimes, she does not even report back to the stockades in the morning and instead links up with the orphan herd later in the day. Today, Sonje missed the morning lucerne pellets, but she found the herd browsing in the forest. However, she is still very connected to her orphan family. When she returns after a wild foray, she immediately goes about checking on Kiombo, Kapei, and little Mwana. The Keepers are surprised that Sonje has become so independent so quickly, but happy to see this new development in her reintegration journey. 

Little Kapei is very jealous of all the attention Mwana receives and sometimes can’t resist getting his revenge. One morning, he rudely flared his ears in her face, trying to scare the little girl. His theatrics worked, sending Mwana hiding underneath Lima Lima. Unfortunately for Kapei, Mwana also trumpeted in fright, which caused all her nannies to rush to her rescue. They found Kapei, looking very guilty.

Kapei still gets plenty of attention, but we can understand his jealousy – everyone is smitten with Mwana. One afternoon, it started raining, so the Keepers tried to lead the orphans to a sheltered area. However, the orphans had their own plan. They shepherded Mwana beneath a tree and surrounded her, protecting her from the rain.

Even our boisterous boys have a soft spot for Mwana. It is sweet to see how Kiombo and Maktao shepherd Mwana into the mud bath, gently guiding her to the shallowest area. They’ve become excellent big brothers. 

Mwashoti is another gentle bull. He always impresses us with his emotional intelligence. Since he arrived at Umani, Mwashoti has shared a special bond with Murera. We could understand if he felt jealous about Mwana’s arrival, but he has never shown an inkling of insecurity. The sweet bull browses alongside Murera until he sees Mwana approaching, then moves off to give her space to feed her baby. 

One morning, little Amalli and Kapei amazed us with their bravery. A huge wild bull suddenly appeared out of the bushes and joined the herd. The babies must have been feeling very brave, or else they mistook him as part of the orphan herd, because they walked straight up to the enormous visitor. Kiasa and Enkesha were looking after Mwana — a role they take very seriously — and kept her at a safe distance from the wild elephant, while Amali and Kapei exchanged greetings with him.

April ended with more zebra drama. The orphan herd was peacefully browsing when some zebras came down the Kenzili Road. Quanza and Mwashoti saw them first and alerted the others. This caused a collective panic, and Amali, Kapei, Maktao, and Kiombo ran over to Sonje and Ngasha. They thought their elders would protect them, but Sonje and Ngasha also took off. They only stopped running when they reached the Keepers. 

However, the drama wasn’t over yet! The zebras caught sight of the Keepers and took off in a flurry of stripes. Poor Amali started running towards the stockades, desperate to put as much space as possible between her and the zebras. The Keepers tried to calm her, but she would not listen. Eventually, Mwashoti was able to fetch her and soothe her nerves. The orphan herd all moved to have a drink from the water trough, cleansing their palette after such a frightening encounter.

April 2023 day to day

01 Apr

It was raining this morning as the orphans were let out of their stockades. They had their milk bottles, then moved to the lucerne corner. The orphans stood grumpily eating their pellets. The lucerne pellets smell funny when they get wet, so the elephants were not happy about the rain. 

The Keepers put some pellets under the shelter of the stockades for Murera. Mwana was trying to copy her mum, using her trunk to play with the pellets. She is still too young to eat the pellets, but she enjoys playing with them.

Once the rain stopped Murera and Mwana joined the others outside the stockades. All her nannies were eagerly waiting for them, happy to take Mwana off Murera’s hands so Murera could have a break. Kiasa, Enkesha, and Quanza took Mwana with them into the bushes. Murera is now much more relaxed about her trusted nannies taking Mwana away for a small amount of time. Lima Lima and Sonje decided it was their turn to have Mwana, so they went over to get her from Kiasa and Enkesha. Mwana happily followed Sonje, but quickly decided she was hungry and went looking for her mother. 

Murera and Mwana in the open field

Kiasa and Enkesha, with little Mwana in the back

Quanza and Sonje watching over Mwana