Keepers' Diaries, February 2024

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

In the Kibwezi Forest, the month began with a buffalo invasion. Four of them, all males, took up residence near the waterhole and even slept near the orphans’ dust pile, as if laying claim to the entire area. One old bull refused to move on, even when the Keepers arrived with the milk truck, leading us all to wonder what would happen when the elephants arrived for their midday bottles.

As it turned out, little Mwana took care of the situation. She raised her petal-shaped ears and got ready to charge. The buffaloes couldn't believe what they were seeing — a tiny creature pursuing them into the tall grass! Soon, Amali, Lima Lima, Kiasa, and Quanza joined the charge. Buffaloes successfully vanquished, everyone could enjoy their midday milk. 

Another day, a surprise appearance of wild zebras caught everyone off guard. As the orphans scattered and ran, Kapei got confused and started following a wild herd. He only realised his mistake when they unceremoniously abandoned him in the middle of the bushes. Kapei let out a loud scream, which caught the attention of Kiombo and Quanza. They came to fetch the young bull and guided him back to the dependent herd.

On 6th February, Jasiri and Faraja returned to the stockades with some wild female friends in tow. It was a big group, but they left immediately after the dependent orphans came out of their stockades. Interestingly, the females chased Sonje away from their babies, but they welcomed Lima Lima. Lima Lima is famously outgoing, so perhaps she is a known friend to them.

As she gets older, Murera has become a bit more high maintenance. She is very grumpy when she eats her morning pellets and doesn’t allow anyone in her periphery. One such morning, she chased off Mwashoti, Amali, Enkesha, and Kiasa, keeping the eating area exclusively for herself. 

It was amusing to see how quickly Murera regretted her actions. Seeing all the orphans and even Mwana hanging out as a group a short distance away — never mind they were hiding from her wrath! — she strode over to them. When she approached, most of the dependent orphans fled, thinking she was still in a grump. Sonje coaxed everyone into forgiving and forgetting, but Amali wasn’t feeling quite so understanding. Amali has a special relationship with Murera and clearly did not appreciate the harsh treatment.

We believe that Amali is a Lima Lima-in-the-making. She has become a very strong defender of her Keepers. The four buffaloes were a mainstay at the mud bath this month, and every day, Amali did her very best to drive them away from her human family. She often had the support of Kiombo, Kapei, and even little Mwana in these missions. 

Meanwhile, Kapei has adopted — and perhaps even surpassed — Lima Lima’s love of milk. He always rushes to be the first to receive his bottle. In the past, this role was held by Lima Lima, but now that she had retired from milk bottles, Kapei has taken over as the primary runner.

Kiombo and Maktao are best friends and rivals. As boys of a similar age, they are constantly trying to out-dominate each other. They’re evenly matched, but Kiombo can be very clumsy, which is his downfall. One day, they were entangled in a wrestling match when Maktao unintentionally landed on Kiombo, using him as a landing pad. To add insult to injury, he then used Kiombo as a toy, rubbing his belly onto him and essentially pinning him to the ground. Poor Kiombo — it was not his day!

Mid-month, we were treated to a visit from Faraja. He showed up before dawn, which was a lovely surprise, as he had been away for some time. Kapei was eager to test his strength against the big bull, but he was too tiny and couldn't reach Faraja's tusks. And then, Kiombo to the rescue! He took Kapei’s place and tried his very best. He too was outmanoeuvred, but he put in a good effort.

Zongoloni did not make an appearance this month, but Quanza, Lima Lima, Sonje joined the dependent herd most days. More often than not, Mwashoti was with them, too. We believe he is drawn back to the herd because of his close bond with Murera and Amali. He has also become closer with little Kapei, but the young bull does get on his nerves. For instance, one morning, Kapei had the nerve to grab Mwashoti’s tail. Mwashoti was rightfully indignant and pushed Kapei away, allowing only Amali to join him in the bushes. This was a fair response to such insolence; most bulls would have been much more harsh with Kapei.

Enkesha and Kiasa act as Murera’s deputies. Sometimes, Sonje and Lima Lima become a bit overzealous about Mwana and forget their place. In these instances, the junior girls do an excellent job of shepherding the baby back to her mother. While Enkesha is always calm and polite, Kiasa can be a bit of a rogue. She has always been that way, even at the Nursery!

It is mating season in the Chyulu Hills and Kibwezi Forest. As a result, wild elephants have become increasingly vocal and present throughout the forest. One morning, an exceptionally large bull passed through. His enormous tusks nearly touched the ground, intimidating even Kiombo, who typically introduces himself to potential new playmates. 

Later in the day, Keepers were astonished to see Lima Lima emerging from the bushes accompanied by this giant bull. They appeared to have a close bond and were easy in each other’s company. She escorted him to the waterhole, where they enjoyed a refreshing swim together. Interestingly, this was a platonic friend; it is not mating season for Lima Lima, as she is already pregnant.

Sometimes, the smallest things create the greatest drama. Such was the case one afternoon, when a cloud of butterflies were fluttering around. Amali and Kisa joined forces to keep the butterflies away. However, Kiasa stumbled and fell while trying to catch one of the delicate but dexterous insects. Everyone started trumpeting, and soon the whole herd was in a state — but no one knew why! All the babies ran into the bushes, fleeing unknown (and nonexistent) enemies. 

Towards the end of February, we received an unexpected rain storm. Caught off guard, the orphans hurried back to their stockades for shelter. Everyone huddled beneath their respective roofs while the rain, thunder, and lighting clattered overhead. Kapei, Kiombo, and Mwana were particularly upset by the noise. Unfortunately, the discord wasn’t over: Later in the night, hyenas prowled by the fence, emitting their characteristic cackles. The sounds worried our littlest girls. Mwana hid next to her mother while Amali moved closer to Kapei's side. 

At the end of the month, we had a lovely reunion of most of our wild-living boys. Alamaya arrived with Mwashoti, and shortly thereafter, Ziwa came with his adopted wild family. As usual, Ziwa was quickly shuffled along by the leader of his group. We think they get jealous of the obvious bond Ziwa has with his human-orphan family.

Murera wasn’t ready to part ways with Ziwa, as she was eager for a proper catch-up. However, Ziwa’s leader was insistent. Little Kapei went with him — perhaps awestruck by the Alamaya’s impressive size and tusks. Later, Kiombo volunteered to go on a Kapei rescue mission. He went into the bushes and brought the young bull back to the orphan herd, where Sonje and Lima Lima clustered around him. Amali, who loves welcoming friends, also received him warmly. 

February 2024 day to day

01 Feb

Sonje, along with Quanza, reported earlier than ever before this morning, while it was still very dark and going outside was still not possible for the babies and Keepers. However, Sonje and Quanza continued to wait for the other orphans to come out at their normal time, six o'clock. Sonje kept rubbing her back on the loading bay walls as they waited for the babies. When the Keepers began preparing the bottles for the orphans, Quanza came close to the gate. Finally, the time was right. Amali was the first to come out, followed by Kiasa, and they were greeted by Quanza. Later, Murera arrived with her little baby, and then pellets were distributed, with all five night clubbers now enjoying their pellets.

However, Murera was feeling possessive of her pellets and kept fighting the others when she noticed them moving towards her pile, insisting on eating in her own space without sharing. She pushed back Mwashoti and then chased Quanza away, leaving only Amali with Mwana around her pellets. She didn't want anyone else close, except the two little girls.

When the other babies realised it wasn't necessary to stay around Murera, who was now chasing everybody away, Mwashoti, Kiombo, and Maktao decided to explore new areas for food. Later, Murera felt it wasn't right to be only with the little girls without the others, so she walked out, followed by Mwana and Amali. Kiasa later returned and walked away with Mwana.

Sonje arriving very early this morning

Quanza browsing with Mwana

Mwana nursing on Murera