Keepers Diaries, August 2018

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The Kibwezi Forest was filled with wild elephants this month, and our orphans socialized with their wild friends on an almost daily basis. The wild elephants are drawn to the different array of vegetation and permanent fresh water on offer in the forest at this time of year more than usual, thanks to the fresh water springs, and the cool conditions of the ground water forest, when other parts of the Tsavo Conservation Area are fast drying out and becoming increasingly hot.

One of these wild elephants, Sonje’s suitor, is always met apprehensively as he can be very unpredictable with his moods. Sometimes he was very gentle with all the orphans, and on these occasions he is a pleasure to be around, and other times he can be in a foul mood and it is during these times he can make everybody’s life difficult. Some other wild bulls were hanging around this month, particularly interested in Sonje and Murera as well, but Sonje’s suitor, moody Osama, named by our Keepers, was the one paying particular interest in Sonje. Because Zongoloni and Quanza are still tiny in comparison to these huge elephants they usually left the scene in a hurry, daunted by these wild bull encounters!

The orphans were not quite so welcoming of any of the other wild animals that tried to join them whilst they went about their daily routine. Whether it was bushbucks or buffaloes the orphans were intolerant of them whilst they were mud bathing or browsing. Alamaya and Ziwa were always quick to trumpet and chase away any animal that might try and join them. It was quite funny one day to see an array of bushbuck antelopes and baboons following behind the orphans in the hope they might find some delicious acacia seed pods left in their wake, but the orphans became increasingly agitated by their presence, and it wasn’t long before they got the trumpeting treatment and were sent scattering. Whenever the orphans do encounter any wild animals in the forest, even when it is wild elephants, they always seem to let Lima Lima go first and lead the way, as they intuitively trust her judgement the most in these sorts of situations in the absence of older orphans Sonje and Murera having the ability to lead from the front. As we have mentioned so many times before the Keepers readily follow Lima Lima’s lead, and if she indicates danger around, they will always listen to her. She is the most attentive and considerate of all the babies at Umani, and leaves nothing to chance.

Murera might be the oldest in the herd at nine years, but she has made it abundantly clear she wishes to remain very much a dependent part of it and is certainly not ready for any independent sojourns. One day she got left behind in the stockade compound as even her precious Mwashoti had followed the others out to browse. She was most upset by this and rumbled loudly in disapproval which brought the others running back from the forest to check she was okay; she is the oldest and as such holds a very privileged position within the herd, and when Murera speaks they all listen.

No matter how boisterous and bolshy the older boys become, they still hold their Murera with high regard and respect, and more so than any of the other girls. Jasiri, Faraja, Ngasha and Ziwa will stop any pushing game when they see Murera coming towards them with that look of discipline etched across her face, but when Lima Lima or Quanza try to do the same they take little notice! It is at the end of the day Murera and Sonje who keep order and ensure the young boys remain in line.

Shukuru only continues to improve in her new home and we are so delighted to see this marked improvement in an elephant that has been plagued with chronic problems for so long. She has now assumed the colour of the other Umani babies taking on the grey hue of the Umani clay and dust, and when she is running around with the others after a mud bath it is almost hard to tell her apart now she has put on so much condition. This is so pleasing because it has been many years. She still prefers to have her own private mud bathing sessions to keep away from the boisterous boys, and sometimes eats the lucerne pellet supplements by herself avoiding the other orphans who can become slightly over exuberant at feeding times. Sometimes she shows more interest in the pellets and any pods lying around and in these instances she is willing to forgo her milk. The milk has to be handled sensitively as on one occasion a fight broke out when the Keepers decided to give her spare bottle to Mwashoti because she was showing little interest in it, and she took great offence to that deciding she did want it after all! She is fickle as sometimes she loves her milk bottles, and one day even tried to grab an extra one that was lying on the ground, so the Keepers adapt to Shukuru’s moods, always happy to oblige.

Murera and Sonje often shun their share of milk bottles these days, especially at the noon feeding time. One day greedy Lima Lima and her accomplice Mwashoti grabbed the extra bottles and celebrated the fact they managed to have more milk than the rest! Of course the reality is Murera and Sonje are long past weaning time, but given their troubled start to life we have been indulgent and let them enjoy this as and when they have looked for it, happy in the fact that it keeps them close to home while they hone the knowledge and skills they require to live a more independent life one day.

Our little Alamaya and Mwashoti are four years old this year and are growing up so fast. Mwashoti remains a little cosseted baby, doted upon by Sonje and especially Murera, but Alamaya is quite a boisterous little chap, fat as a tick, and is both confident and brave, certainly living up to his namesake (‘alamaa’ meaning ‘brave’ in the Maa language). One day Zongoloni and Quanza found Alamaya brazenly approaching Faraja and pushing him from behind, quite oblivious of possible consequences, secure in the knowledge he can hold his own. He is used to playing pushing games with the females as they are more lenient with him being just a youngster. Unfortunately the older bulls are not so accommodating and he received a hard push back as a reminder of his place in the pecking order of things at Umani! When the time comes and he is feeling brotherly, Alamaya will also defend his age mate Mwashoti as well, like when Ziwa started pushing him around one day having seen Murera walk away. Mwashoti does not always want to play Alamaya’s pushing games, given his bad leg from the old snare injury that orphaned him, and runs away leaving Alamaya to size up any of the other orphans for entertainment, cautious when engaging the older boys of course!

August 2018 day to day

We were quite surprised to see such a large number of wild elephants with young calves visiting the waterhole and the stockades this morning. The wild herd was heard trumpeting and rustling bushes and Lima Lima who is always the most attentive orphan was the first to spot them. Whilst the herd was unsure of the Keepers, they soon realized that we would do them no harm and gave us space to leave the waterhole before they came down for a drink, allowing the young calves to have a drink first as they seemed to be very thirsty. When at the stockades Ziwa and Faraja spotted the herd having a drink nearby and sniffed the air, reaching their trunks towards the wild herd in order to properly catch their scent. Once the wild herd had finished drinking they made their way back to the bush with the young calves walking beneath their mothers’ bellies.

Ziwa standing in the shade

Faraja looking at the wild herd

Alamaya with ears spread wide

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