Keepers' Diaries, February 2021

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Friendships run deep among elephants, and when friends have been apart — even for the briefest period of time — they reunite to great fanfare. Their excitement is very noticeable: trumpeting, rumbling and embracing each other with their trunks, as if to say, “Hi, where have you been? It’s so good to see you again!” This is always the case with little Enkesha and her dear friend, nine-year-old Zongoloni, who is matriarch of the independent ‘night-clubber’ group.

Whenever these two girls reunite, even after only a night apart, Enkesha runs to Zongoloni, ears flapping and her tail straight up in the air in delight.

In January, Zongoloni spent more time with the dependent herd, as fellow night-clubbers Ngasha and Alamaya were making a nuisance of themselves. This month, she resumed her independent forays into the forest with Jasiri, Faraja, and Ziwa. Enkesha sometimes expresses an interest in joining Zongoloni on these adventures, but she never actually leaves, because she knows that would mean giving up her nice, warm bed at night and her regular milk feeds. A smattering of rain this month confirmed Enkesha’s decision that she is not quite ready for a life in the forest, as she and Luggard flatly refused to leave their cozy bedrooms on wet mornings!

We were happy to have a little rain, as it replenishes all the vegetation for the elephants and other forest creatures. Our orphans are obviously thriving in this lush environment: The Keepers nearly didn’t recognize Ziwa one day, almost mistaking him for a wild bull because he has grown so big and strong!

Zongoloni was the perfect choice of matriarch to look after the willful bulls in the night-clubber group, Ziwa, Alamaya, Ngasha, Faraja, and Jasiri. She doesn’t suffer fools and is very strong, so the boys know she won’t tolerate their nonsense. When they do overstep the line, she doesn’t hesitate to mete out discipline. One day, the Keepers had to come between her and Ngasha, because she was chastising him so harshly. In fact, she lost part of her left tusk in the skirmish, but it only adds to her formidable appearance. Alamaya, Jasiri, and Ngasha know not to cross paths with her now.

Mwashoti has been eager to show off his strength to Ngasha, singling him out for pushing matches. Ever-vigilant Zongoloni is quick to step in if she thinks they are becoming too rowdy. Sonje also has her eye on Ngasha, but he has been very well behaved around the Umani herd as of late, which is a welcome change from last month. Shukuru, Murera, and Luggard always keep away from the boisterous games or fights, not wanting to get caught up in the fracas.

Luggard has been feasting on all the lush vegetation in the Kibwezi Forest, which is helping him grow stronger. One day, he even ventured to the far mud bath, which he had never done before. The young bull stood at the water’s edge and splashed mud on himself, while the Keepers assisted by coating all the areas he missed. Murera is still fixated on her little boy, but has started delegating nannying duties to the other older girls in the Nursery.

Some wild bulls called on the orphans this month, and for once, Sonje and Murera were interested in meeting up with them. Sometimes, the wild visitors arrived in the company of Ziwa, Ngasha, and Alamaya. Alamaya evidently still has some manners to learn, as he made the faux pas of pulling a wild bull’s tail one day! The bull pushed Alamaya in retaliation and then started charging at him, which sent our tailless boy running back to the others. Zongoloni and Lima Lima quickly came to his rescue, placing themselves between the bull and Alamaya, trumpeting in warning. 

There were some very entertaining mornings in the Umani compound this month. For once, rascal Lima Lima wasn’t the sole source of all the shenanigans! Shukuru has a real spring in her step these days, and she expressed her jovial mood one morning by stealing a broom and running around the compound with it. Enkesha always has an eye out for excitement, so when she saw the Keepers chasing Shukuru around, she couldn’t resist joining in. 

While Lima Lima is our most frequent lucerne thief, the others have been trying their hand at pilfering the tasty pellets and grass. They know it’s a naughty thing to do, but that doesn’t stop them! Enkesha snuck into the feed store one morning, and when the Keepers caught her red-handed, she sheepishly scurried to hide in a corner until Quanza retrieved her. Even Sonje was guilty of a lucerne heist this month. 

Last year, we rescued a baby bushbuck called Joy. Our Kibwezi Anti-Poaching Team found her when she was weeks old, and she has been raised by our Umani staff ever since. Joy spent her earliest days in the safety of the tree nursery, protected from any marauding baboons. One day, Enkesha mistook her for a wild bushbuck and started to chase her, trumpeting loudly. The Keepers had to step in and bring baby Joy back to safety! Now a year old, this darling antelope is beginning to embrace an independent life. Like most of our orphans, we feel sure she will continue to visit us, even once she is fully wild. 

February 2021 day to day

01 Feb

It was still quite dark and cloudy when the Keepers started feeding the orphans their milk bottles this morning. Visibility was poor but the ever vigilant Lima Lima sensed movement outside the stockades. Thinking perhaps it might be one of the night-clubber boys, both Lima Lima and Quanza walked up to the fence with their trunks raised, to see if they could catch a scent.

What they saw was a wild bull in the bushes. The Keepers didn’t stop the girls from interacting with the wild bull; in fact the bull seemed quite placid. It was only when Murera decided to get the Umani herd moving that she made a lot of noise going out of the gates, so that the bull decided to put some distance between himself and the herd. Murera must have done this to protect Luggard. Mwashoti, being the oldest boy in the herd, decided maybe he too should protect the herd by chasing the bull, so he ran towards the bull with ears spread, but the bull stood his ground so Mwashoti had no choice but to retreat and join the girls.  

It was quite possible that this wild bull was one of Zongoloni’s wild friends, as he seemed quite curious about the Umani herd. They found him again in the late afternoon when the orphans were on their way home. The wild bull was in the mud bath splashing around in the water, as the orphans walked by. They watched as the wild bull wallowed, enjoying himself very much and covering himself with mud to cool his skin from the hot sun.

Shukuru cooling off her feet

Alamaya dusting

Lima Lima splashing mud on her back