Keepers' Diaries, February 2019

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

In the drier months the Umani Unit really comes into its own. Built in 2014 for vulnerable orphans needing a gentler environment, the source of the Umani Springs within the Kibwezi forest means that wild elephants and other animals seek refuge in the forest during this time more than ever, content under its protective canopy. 

This made for plenty of interesting interactions with other wildlife for our orphans this month. The orphans seemed to encounter wild elephants and buffalo the most, and Lima Lima was always quick to alert the others and especially the Keepers that other, potentially unsafe, wildlife was present. Despite her greedy character which is somewhat endearing too, Lima Lima’s caring nature constantly amazes her Keepers who quite literally have grown to rely on her totally – they call her their GPS! Another day she realised the Keepers were looking for Shukuru and Alamaya, and led them straight to where they had sneaked off to the mud bath. She is still very good friends with Quanza as well, our shy little girl, and we often spot them resting with their foreheads together, trunks relaxed and hanging loosely down in front, very happy in each other’s company.

The shaded forest canopy is especially important for our fair-skinned bulls, Jasiri and Faraja, during this hot time. Their skin, a consequence of a genetic mutation, is lighter than others and they instinctively know to keep in the shade as much as possible while browsing, to ensure they do not burn. They relished the mud bathing times where they can coat their skins in a thick layer of protective mud. It was Shukuru however who led the mud bathing times this month, and sometimes encouraged the orphans to visit twice in a day even. The shade alone was not enough for her, and she loved swimming in the wallows this month.

She is still very careful and does not like to partake in many activities with the boisterous older boys, but loves being in the company of Murera and Sonje, who are protective of her, and sometimes the younger boys Alamaya and Mwashoti as well. She is usually the first to arrive for her milk bottle and has learnt to hold the bottle herself just like all the Umani residents, a trick that they seem to quickly learn here. By holding the bottle herself she is able to just drop it when she is done to move swiftly off to the mud bath!

We cannot quite believe that Mwashoti and Alamaya, the babies of the herd, are now five years old. They are still the best of friends and enjoy playing, but Mwashoti is slightly more placid than Alamaya, who is a bit more boisterous and is really growing into a massive young elephant. In fact, that is a common trait with all the Umani elephant orphans, they are all huge, much bigger than their age mates at either Ithumba or Voi. The good life is telling, and safe to say our Umani boys are going to be huge bulls one day.  Despite their size they are still watched over by the matriarchs Murera and Sonje, with Mwashoti more dependent on them than Alamaya, but they are still ready to dole out discipline whenever necessary, like the day Mwashoti was being naughty and tried to steal some branches from the docile Shukuru; this was not tolerated!

It seems like only just the other day that Ziwa was the baby of the herd, but now he is a strapping seven year old bull, who likes to play with the other bulls Ngasha, Jasiri and Faraja. Sometimes their pushing games can get a little out of hand, and one day Jasiri pushed Ziwa so hard to the ground that he yelled out, and both Lima Lima and Quanza came over to try and help him up. He didn’t even come for his milk bottle later that morning because he had lost face, and he was probably avoiding Jasiri too, but the Keepers sympathised with him and took his bottle to where he was standing on the edge of the forest, ensuring that he didn’t miss out. He was deeply grateful for sure.

Sometimes Ziwa and the other bulls try to go in their own direction, and not listen to the matriarchs Murera and Sonje. This seems to annoy Murera and sometimes she repels the bulls from re-joining the herd later, insisting they take time out from the group. This is something that is considered a great punishment for any elephant.  When Zongoloni sees them getting such punishment she moves quickly to try and persuade Murera to forgive them and accept them back to the herd for the rest of the day. Other days Murera and Sonje are in better moods and more relaxed, happy to follow the bulls in the direction they want to go; it seems to just depend on how they feel!

February 2019 day to day

01 Feb

It was a cold and foggy morning as the orphans left the stockades for the browsing fields. Due to the fog, none of them wanted to head towards the Hills as there was very poor visibility and chose instead to browse on the lower flatlands. As the day progressed it got hotter to the point that the orphans ended up seeking refuge from the sun under the shade of the trees. 

When the two light-skinned orphans, Faraja and Jasiri, came to the waterhole they were thrilled to cool down in the muddy water and have a refreshing drink following the hot day in the forest. Sonje teamed up with Shukuru and Mwashoti for some mud bath fun, rolling around and swimming in the water. 

Mwashoti walks to the water springs

Lima Lima inspecting Shukuru's mouth

Sonje at the waterhole

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