Keepers' Diaries, December 2020

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

There was a lot of hype and activity within the Kibwezi Forest this month and our orphans were in the thick of things. We had a few visiting wild elephants, and one night the orphans were treated to a cacophony of trumpeting. Whatever it was about was evidently very exciting, as the orphans barely finished their Lucerne pellets in the morning before rushing out to investigate where the wild elephants had been. What they found was evidence that a baby elephant had been born in the forest during the night, and the orphans spent some time mulling over the intriguing smells to be found where the wonderful event had occurred; what an important wild lesson for our hand-raised elephant orphans honing their wild instincts.

Of course the ‘night-clubbers’, the group of semi-dependent orphans namely Zongoloni, Jasiri, Ngasha, Faraja, Ziwa and now Alamaya too, visited frequently this month. Ngasha and Alamaya still tend to stick together, perhaps because Zongoloni occasionally sends them away for bad behaviour. One morning Zongoloni returned to the compound with an injury to her hind end caused we think by the tusk from another elephant. As it was becoming quite infected our SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Vet Unit was called upon immediately to treat Zongoloni’s wound, and she was put to sleep and the injury inspected, cleaned and treated; thanks to their quick actions she has made a quick and full recovery. 

While the Keepers, and certainly Enkesha, were always happy to see Zongoloni, it seems Jasiri was starting to pick up some rather roguish behaviour from the wild elephant bulls he has been fraternising with. We know this is the case as he, Ziwa and Faraja have little scratches on their skin from where tusks have scraped against them in various pushing and wrestling games with older wild bulls. One day Jasiri arrived and started to chase around after Murera and was rather persistent, which was also upsetting for Luggard and the rest of the Umani herd. Zongoloni, being the capable matriarch of this little herd that she is, knew just how to handle Jasiri and his annoying behaviour, and she simply started to leave him out, as she turned up the following morning without him. She and the other orphans gave Jasiri the cold shoulder too just like when Ngasha was bothering Enkesha, and Sonje and Murera sent him away from the herd. This is effective punishment because elephants are such social creatures, they cannot stand being outcast for very long, and Jasiri very much took this to heart and seemingly learnt his lesson, for he abandoned his bad behaviour and went back to peacefully browsing with the orphans whenever he visited after that.

In fact with all their socializing with wild bulls, all five big bulls Jasiri, Ngasha, Faraja, Ziwa and Alamaya are often warned by Murera and Sonje who won’t stand for any kind of bad behaviour and won’t hesitate to reprimand and send them away if they persist. The bulls know how harshly they will be disciplined by Murera, so they are mostly well behaved and browse peacefully with the Umani dependent babies. Despite being independent it is amazing to still see them pay so much attention to Murera and Sonje, as they remain the older and motherly role models in their lives. One day Ziwa and Jasiri joined the Umani herd just before mud bath and a short while later a fight broke out between the two bulls to see who was the strongest. The matriarchs of the herd didn’t want the fight to escalate around their little ones and quickly intervened and separated the boys. The matriarchs of the herd always know just what to do at the right time, to ensure harmony between all the herd members prevails.  

Shukuru of course still doesn’t get caught up in any of this fracas. She and Quanza have struck up quite the friendship and are often witnessed wandering off in their own direction to find a suitable browsing spot, and browse side by side for most of the day. There is a budding friendship between Quanza and Enkesha too. The girls spend a lot of time together browsing and scouting out new areas where they can find water, with their quiet friend Shukuru following along behind. This is lovely for Enkesha and helps her feel loved and included in the herd, especially on the days when Zongoloni is absent, as Zongoloni is particularly smitten with Enkesha too.

Murera and Sonje are still vigilant motherly figures to their adopted little boy Luggard and always usher him away from any boisterous activities or protect him from any perceived danger, day or night! One night a resident leopard was obviously out and about hunting baboons that were sleeping in some trees not far from the stockades. The noise and alarm over that event worried both Murera and Lima Lima so much that in the end, all three of them ended up sleeping in Luggard’s room that night so they could protect him and keep him comforted and calm! Another day as the orphans browsed beside the water springs a bushbuck jumped out from the bushes, fleeing for its life from the very same leopard. The antelope saw the elephants and decided to seek refuge amongst them. Mwashoti and Lima Lima spotted the leopard and chased it off, while Murera as usual went into full maternal mode and moved Luggard away; and the poor bushbuck opted to stay with the elephant orphans all day, only leaving the safety of his new friends once they were returning to the stockades for the night. In fact Mwashoti is becoming quite the brave little solider these days. Another day Quanza let out a startled trumpet when some crocodiles jumped into the water springs to avoid being stepped on by her as she walked past, and it was little Mwashoti who rushed to his friend’s aid, running and trumpeting loudly to scare off any others that may have remained.

Mwashoti is still very playful too, and one day we watched him and Lima Lima dance around while chasing some butterflies, which are bountiful in the forest at the moment after all the rain we have had. Unfortunately Mwashoti is a little clumsy and he wasn’t watching where he was going, and he knocked his toes on some rocks and toppled over, but he was soon comforted by Sonje and Lima Lima who came running over to console him too. It seems that wherever there is mischief afoot, Mwashoti and Lima Lima are usually in the centre of things, be it tussling over the rights to a newfound mud hole or stealing hay bales from the store in the stockade compound! Lima Lima and Mwashoti certainly kept the Keepers on their toes this month. That isn’t to say that Lima Lima wasn’t her usual and most helpful vigilant-self for the Keepers too – she still alerts the Keepers of anything that might be amiss, and one morning helped them round up the orphan herd when a huge wild elephant bull wandered into the compound with bulls Jasiri, Ngasha, Faraja, Ziwa and Alamaya. Murera, Luggard and Shukuru were ushered into Luggard’s stockade, whilst Lima Lima helped the Keepers usher the others into their stockades before finally walking into her own too. The Keepers sat and watched from a distance as the bulls and their new friend enjoyed the Lucerne pellets all on their own!

As the night-clubbers continue to explore their newfound independence in the forest and Luggard and Enkesha continue to have the full attention of the others while they grow and learn in their new forever home, we are excited for what the New Year has in store for our orphans here in the Kibwezi Forest.

December 2020 day to day

01 Dec

The orphans had a wonderful start to their day and it only seemed to get better as they moved through the forests and hills finding plenty of delicious green foliage to feast on.

Lima Lima was the leader of the herd and as they were moving through the Kibwezi Forest she suddenly stopped abruptly, signaling the Keepers that something was amiss. Murera and Sonje, sensing that there might be danger up ahead, quickly rounded up Luggard and moved away to a safe distance. As the Keepers walked up to where Lima Lima was she drew their attention up to a tree, where a leopard was feasting on his fresh kill, a bushbuck. Posing no real threat as the leopard was so engrossed in enjoying his feast, the Keepers backed off with the orphans and re-routed their path through another part of the forest.

Lima Lima continues to be an ever vigilant member of the herd. At night too, the Keepers can always count on Lima Lima to alert them if anything seems out of the ordinary. This is Lima Lima’s special skill, one that the Keepers have come to rely on very much indeed.

Sonje at the waterhole

Ngasha sits down to nap

Orphans making their way home