Keepers' Diaries, December 2021

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The past few months were difficult for the wildlife of the Kibwezi Forest and surrounding Chyulu Hills. First, the prolonged drought brought about a scarcity of forage. We also grappled a spate of wildfires, which kept our field teams busy and pushed all manner of creatures towards the safe haven that is Umani Springs.

After such a dry spell, all creatures are grateful that better times have arrived. As the rains continue, we are seeing less and less of our wild visitors. Of course, our semi-independent orphans, the nightclubbers, still arrive every day, often with new friends in tow. 

With such a bounty of vegetation around them, our babies often forgot about their milk bottles! One afternoon, the Keepers beckoned them for their lunchtime bottles, but no one wanted to leave the green feast they were enjoying. Lima Lima and Sonje had taken the youngsters deep into the forest, while Murera was with Mwashoti and Alamaya at the top of the Umani Hills. Historically, Murera has struggled to walk up the hills, but lately she has been managing well. In the end, the babies had their bottles a few hours later than usual. Sleepy and satisfied with their full bellies, everyone then converged for a siesta underneath the shady trees.

All was not completely peaceful this month. Ngasha’s feud with Faraja continues, much to everyone’s dismay. After many failed mediation attempts, Lima Lima and Zongoloni, who are the matriarchs of the night clubbers, gave up trying to broker peace between the bulls. Instead, Faraja has teamed up with Ziwa, and they spend most of their days roaming far and wide. 

Ngasha also attempted to oust Jasiri from the Umani herd, but he underestimated this particular rival. Jasiri has become very strong and puts up a good fight. In the end, Ngasha had to concede defeat to his one-upon-a-time friend and found himself ousted from the herd. While he experienced a taste of his own medicine, Faraja and Ziwa felt it was an opportune time to return. They were met with a jubilant welcome from the other orphans, who embraced them with trunk hugs and trumpets. A funny moment happened as one of the Keepers was taking photos of Ziwa and Faraja. Alamaya came over and knocked the camera right out of his hand, as if he was jealous of all the attention the older boys were getting!


Zongoloni is an excellent leader of her semi-independent orphan herd, but she can get a bit ahead of herself. She is absolutely smitten with her adopted little sister, Kiasa, and is constantly trying to recruit her to join the nightclubbers. However, Kiasa is far too young to be out in the forest at night. The Keepers are happy for her to spend the day with Zongoloni, but they must remain vigilant lest the older girl try to whisk her away.

Oftentimes, the nightclubbers touch base with the herd in the morning, only to disappear for the rest of the day. Mwashoti, who is still quite attached to the dependent herd, remains the exception. He waits patiently by the gates until they are done with their morning routine, and then they all venture out into the forest together. One day, Mwashoti and Enkesha came across a flock of crowned crane birds and butterflies. They took great delight in chasing them and making a lot of noise. Even Murera joined in, making up for her lack of speed and mobility by trumpeting very loudly. In all his enthusiasm, Mwashoti tripped over a big branch and fell into a heap on the ground, sending the birds and butterflies flying into the sky.

Murera is a laid-back matriarch, but everyone respects that she always has the final word. One morning, as the Keepers tried to gather the orphans for their midday bottle feed, Lima Lima instead took them further towards the hills. Sonje and Alamaya both tried to shepherd the unruly troupe back to the feeding point, but no one listened to them. In the end, Zongoloni pulled rank and alerted Murera. Upon hearing Murera’s decisive trumpet, all the orphans turned around and contritely followed her to the feeding area.

Sonje remains very attached to little Kiombo — but as one of the youngest members of our Umani herd, all the girls are jockeying to spend time with him. One afternoon, Sonje decided to venture deeper into the forest. Quanza saw her window of opportunity and seized it, sneaking off with Kiombo for some quality time. However, Sonje quickly caught onto her plan and reclaimed her little boy.

All the youngsters have an incredible support system. After midday bottles, Enkesha decided to engage Kiombo and Kiasa in a friendly pushing game. Kiombo has not quite learned how to play-fight, so he pushed Enkesha quite hard. Enkesha, who doesn’t tolerate such nonsense, promptly pushed him back, which escalated into a fight between the babies. While Quanza restored peace, little Maktao rushed over to check on Enkesha. Kiombo, who was clearly fuming about the fight, walked over to Zongoloni, as if to complain to her about Quanza and Enkesha. The Keepers saw Zongoloni give Kiombo a trunk hug.

Our sweet boy, Maktao, continues to push himself to face his fears. He is a very nervous swimmer, but he finally plucked the courage to wade into the water. However, his courage was very short-lived: A turtle hopped onto his back, sending the young bull screaming and running out of the mud bath. We feel sure that he will eventually master his nerves!

While the nightclubbers can be rowdy, they do care a lot about their human-orphan family. One day, a baboon interrupted Enkesha and Maktao’s browsing session and made quite a racket, jumping from branch to branch. Enkesha tried to send it away, but in the end, it was Jasiri and Ngasha who chased off the annoying baboon. Later in the month, a buffalo blocked the orphans’ paths as they made their way back to the stockades. This time, it was Ziwa and Faraja who saved the day. They suddenly appeared out of nowhere and chased the buffalo away, so their friends could safely return home.

It rained on and off throughout the month. After a night of showers, the Umani herd carefully made their way towards the Kenze Hills. The Keepers had their raincoats and umbrellas with them, which was the source of great interest among the orphans. Kiombo and Maktao sidled up next to them, so they could examine their rain gear more closely. While Maktao seemed to wonder if one Keeper’s umbrella was a tasty snack, Kiombo stood patiently beside another Keeper, happy to share the umbrella with him.  

The holidays were a special time at Umani. The festivities began on Christmas Eve, when the Keepers gave the orphans a second helping of treats. Everyone, human and elephant alike, enjoyed a lovely feast on Christmas Day. The younger babies received an extra bottle of milk, while the older orphans got an extra helping of their favourite lucerne pellets.  

After such celebrations, everyone was feeling a bit lazy on Boxing Day. The orphans took their time coming out of their quarters and finishing their morning routines. Even Sonje, who normally rushes out of the stockade compound, took her time. The Keepers said it reminded them of how humans over-indulge on Christmas Day and then are lethargic the next day.  

The year ended on a wonderful note. A wild elephant family joined the Umani herd out in the forest. Sonje had some lovely interactions with their babies, but Kiombo came in a bit too bold. He walked over to one of the smaller calves and touched her with his trunk, which sent the baby running back to her mother, trumpeting loudly. The mother gave Kiombo a small poke with her tusk, as if warning him to leave her baby alone. 

Later in the day, the Umani orphans met up with another wild herd, but this time it was a group of bulls. They seemed to know Murera well, based on the warm greetings they exchanged. Murera and Quanza then introduced the bulls to the rest of their friends. These impressive elephants towered over all the orphans — even Jasiri, who is the largest member of the Umani herd. 

As the Keepers bid goodnight to their babies in their stockades, they all gathered round to wish each other a very happy new year!

December 2021 day to day

01 Dec

It has been a tough few months for all the wildlife within the Kibwezi Forest area. The prolonged drought brought about a scarcity of forage and also saw the beginnings of the wildfires, which pushed most of the animals towards the safe haven that is Umani Springs. With the recent rains, however, all this changed. The Kibwezi Forest, the Chyulu Hills and its environs are teeming with plenty of greens and fresh water. The animals, including our very own orphans, now venture far and wide to get their fill, as was evident when the night clubbers visited us this afternoon. Ziwa and Faraja both arrived with their bellies looking very round and full.

Alamaya and Mwashoti have been taking advantage of the recent rains; they have discovered many mud-baths and today were seen by the Keepers, covered in mud from the tips of their tusks to the tips of their tails. The Keepers also saw them running in the bushes, splashing through water puddles, chasing each other. Enkesha and her little friend Maktao also indulged in a gentle friendly game of chase after watching Alamaya and Mwashoti.

Quanza checking on Kiombo

Murera and Mwashoti at the dust mound

Mwashoti browsing