Umani was blessed with good rains, and this beautiful ground water forest is teaming with even more life than usual from dragonflies and butterflies, to buffalo and bushbuck and many family herds of elephants with their new born babies. This is such a beautiful home for our orphans, and was a Unit set up first with injured Murera and Sonje in mind. These two have come such a long way since their arrival at the Kibwezi stockades in June 2014. With their compromised legs due to Murera’s broken hip and the bullet lodged in Sonje’s knee, they were the pioneer arrivals at the new facility all those years ago, and are faring so well. They have got a firm grip on their herd of orphans, very much in charge despite being more compromised than some of their herd. Now at 8 and 6 years old respectively they are excellent leaders and matriarchs for the other younger orphans at Umani, as they together bravely take those first steps towards living a wild life without the guidance or example of much older Ex Orphans, they find themselves the pioneers, and thanks to their constant interaction with the wild herds and the tender care and comfort of their Keepers our Umani babies are thriving.
The Kibwezi Forest is nestled within the foothills of the Chyulu Hills National Park and is where the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has secured a concession of this 18,000 acre ground water forest from the Kenya Forest Service, having entered into a public-private partnership to preserve and protect this unique ecosystem. In the seven years since its inception tangible success is evident, revealing that wildlife numbers have soared, illegal activity has been heavily reduced whilst poaching has been virtually eradicated. Due to the plentiful food, the area is filled with a healthy variety of wildlife. The fourth unfenced boundary around the forest remains open onto the Chyulu Hills National Park and Tsavo West beyond, which allows the elephants to migrate according to the best source of water and vegetation throughout the year. After these rains, the forest was inundated with wild elephants who became very vocal, trumpeting, we think celebrating new wild born baby births, throughout the nights.
Our orphans continue to come into contact and socialize with these wild herds on an almost daily basis. The wild elephants remain wary of humans and are cautious of approaching the orphans sometimes due to the presence of their Keepers, but there are many successful interactions, with some bulls extremely bold these days. Lima Lima especially likes it when there are little babies in the wild herds to meet and play with, and often likes to keep them all to herself by denying any of the other girls a chance to play with them as well. Their mothers are incredibly tolerant of this behavior and appear happy to grant her ‘baby’ time.
Sonje and Murera remain cautious when taking part in activities mindful that they do not risk hurting their bad legs. Sonje is so fond of her little herd though that she will risk going down on the ground to invite them all to come and clamber and roll on her. The babies Mwashoti and Alamaya usually take up the invitation, but so does 6 year old Jasiri who is one of the more boisterous big boys in the herd. Sonje cannot take his weight, so Murera is always close by to mediate the game!
The orphans know Jasiri’s other naughty trait this month was to try and bite his friends tails. Even his friend Faraja found it difficult to get away from him when he was in the mood, but he was no match for little girl Zongoloni who turned to face Jasiri whenever she felt he was in the tail-biting mood. She is a girl not afraid to stand up for herself! The orphans know that when the matriarchs are doling out discipline, no one else can get involved. One day Murera was disciplining Jasiri and Ziwa responded to his cries, but finding it was Murera there was nothing he could do!
Quanza has had a fun month enjoying the sumptuous greens that abound, from wild lilies to ferns and palms, there is no shortage of food at Umani during this green season. With so many dragonflies, butterflies, and the birds that follow chasing games have dominated every day, as our baby herd charge through the thick grass stirring up all life around them, including dislodging unsuspecting baby crocs from waterholes due to their overzealous mud bathing antics!
The relationship between the orphans and their carers, the Keepers, is loving and intimate, despite being inter-species! Lima Lima is always on hand to protect her human family and will alert the keepers to any danger such as the presence of buffalo, and also to anything she feels amiss like a carcass left by a leopard near their favorite dust bathing spot. In return the Keepers offer them love and guidance, and on Christmas Day a surprise was presented to their babies in the form of their favorite treat - acacia seed pods- lovingly collected and stored for over three months for that special day; even the shy girl Quanza had a smile on her face that day!