Umani Springs Reintegration Unit
Zongoloni has decided to stay with the three bulls Ziwa, Ngasha and Faraja and spends her nights out with them in the forest. It is as if she feels they need some direction and a decisive decision maker in their midst, and she has become Murera’s proxy overseer of their midnight antics. Sometimes the babies return in the afternoon to have their milk bottles with the others, but usually they have their milk and then high-tail it back out to the forest to spend the night out fraternising with wild friends.
We and the Keepers are so delighted that our first group of orphans from Umani seem to be exploring their independence, and it is not the oldest orphans at Umani, the matriarchs Murera and Sonje, who stay at the stockades with their herd and to be close to the babies Alamaya and Mwashoti, but the three oldest bulls and Zongoloni, minus Jasiri of course who just does not seem ready to join them out in the wild. He tried to experiment one night again this month, but the Keepers awoke to him yelling outside begging to be let back into the compound, not wishing to spend a moment longer out there in the wild. Jasiri remains dependent with the other Umani babies and the Keepers for the time-being.
Zongoloni seems to be a very competent matriarch to the three other bulls and they seem to listen and follow her, and we have watched her disciplining them more than once for bad behaviour. We are sure with her guidance these orphans are going to have an easy transition back to the wild, and we are thrilled that Zongoloni has shown such expert leadership skills.
With all the water around, after the abundance of rain this month and last, there are not nearly as many wild elephants in the forest as there were during the dry season, but our four partially-dependent orphans still find wild friends during the night and we are always happy to welcome them to the Umani herd should they cross paths during the day. The most exciting sighting this month was probably ‘Osama’, Sonje’s favourite bull, in the company of four other wild bulls we had not seen before. All the orphans interacted with them nicely, and they did not seem to mind the company of the Keepers very much either, which allowed for a friendly and lengthy interaction. Sonje was visibly excited to have her 'boyfriend' back in the area.
It continued to rain heavily this month but this didn’t seem to deter the orphans from wanting to swim almost every day. Their water hole now resembles something of a lake, and they can literally swim and dive around in the pool for hours on end. Alamaya loves to take the opportunity to climb on his friends while in the water. It is quite funny to watch the little crocodiles and terrapins rushing out of the water as fast as they can as soon as they see the baby elephants coming, knowing how enthusiastic their swimming sessions can be and not wanting to get squashed or trodden on in the process! Little muddy puddles can be found everywhere as well, which the orphans love digging up and rolling around in. Only Shukuru doesn’t partake in the hectic swimming competitions, preferring to do her own bathing off to the side so as not to get bogged down in too much activity.
Shukuru is certainly our most polite and well behaved elephant at Umani, and this month we were surprised to see her showing off her leadership skills as well, enjoying leading the herd to where she thinks they ought to go and browse, and Sonje is happy to support her decisions and follows her as well. We witnessed a budding relationship between Shukuru and Quanza as well which was lovely to see; one day they chose not to leave each other’s side, and when a troop of noisy baboons were bothering Shukuru it was Quanza who first reacted to chase them away.
Shukuru is the best behaved, followed perhaps by Mwashoti, although he can have his off days. Mwashoti never behaves around the lucerne pellet feeding area, and doesn’t like to share with anyone, even his beloved Murera. When he is misbehaving, the Keepers normally think it is because Alamaya and Ziwa have been picking on him, which causes him to act out. Usually it is Sonje who tells him to behave himself and get in-line, or else she pushes him away from the herd for a ‘time out’ to teach him a lesson.
Sometimes when the rain catches the Keepers off-guard they have to rush back for their raincoats and umbrellas. Lima Lima to this day still retains the habit of wanting to put her head under the Keepers' umbrellas as well; as soon as she sees a Keeper walking with one she tries to sidle up to them and stick her head under for cover too, but of course she has outgrown this habit slightly now and doesn’t really fit!