Keepers' Diaries, January 2022

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

As we welcomed the first day of a brand-new year, the Keepers found the nightclubbers already outside the stockade compound, waiting for their friends. Faraja brought a wild bull along, who happily browsed alongside the herd. Sonje and Quanza thought it would be a good idea to introduce the little ones to the wild bull, but they went about it with great care. First, they went up to greet him individually, before escorting Kiombo and Kiasa over. Unfortunately, the babies were a bit forward with their greeting and touched the bull’s tail, which caused him to trumpet very loudly. Kiombo and Kiasa learned an important lesson about elephant etiquette to begin the new year!

However, Faraja’s wild friend continued to visit for several days in a row, and everyone moved past that initial shaky introduction. By the third day, he managed to convince Enkesha and Kiasa to follow him towards the Chyulu Hills. The Keepers only realised this after he had whisked them away and had to embark on a search party. Zongoloni must have heard the Keepers calling out, because she soon emerged from the bushes with the wild bull, Enkesha, and Kiasa in tow. As we are reminded time and again, Zongoloni is such an adept leader. The “night-clubbers,” the semi-independent orphans, are lucky to have her as their matriarch.

Mwashoti and Alamaya are incredibly close, but like all brothers, they have their occasional disagreements. One afternoon, a fight broke out when Alamaya accidentally dropped a branch he had been enjoying. Mwashoti quickly scooped it up and refused to relinquish it. A very heated pushing match ensued, which only ended when Murera intervened. She has a soft spot for Mwashoti. With a gentle nudge, she encouraged him to walk away, allowing Alamaya to reclaim his prized branch.

The elephant etiquette lessons continued when a small family herd joined the Umani herd. Kiombo desperately wanted to play with their two small babies, but the mothers put a stop to this idea and one of the females gave him a hard push. Quanza ushered the little boy away, rumbling all the while, as if reminding him that he needs to respect the females of wild herds. These interactions are a pivotal part of the reintegration process, as they allow the orphans to learn herd dynamics. It makes the Keepers very proud to see how quickly their babies are learning.

On the 5th, we were treated to an auspicious visitor who we have not seen for many years. One Tusker, as the Keepers have nicknamed him, is a huge bull with one very large tusk and one broken tusk. He is probably in his 40s, which makes him a dominant elephant. One Tusker is not very friendly, but the Keepers think he must have heard their voices and sought them out. As soon as they spotted him, the Keepers gathered up the orphans to avoid any altercations. Kiasa, curious as always, started to walk towards the big bull, but Sonje and Quanza immediately stopped her. On the other hand, Zongoloni, Alamaya, and Faraja are old enough to hold their own, so they joined One Tusker as he walked towards the Chyulu Hills.

While Murera has experimented with nights away from the stockades, she decided that she is not yet ready for that step. Instead, has been enjoying her new quarters within the compound. She has also rekindled her motherly love for Mwashoti, who is the young bull who originally store her heart. This has brought Mwashoti circling back, as he thoroughly enjoys all the attention from Murera. Reintegration is process that cannot be rushed, and Murera and Mwashoti will become more independent when the time is right.

That is not to say that their reintegration journeys are on hold. One afternoon, Murera chose to remain in the Umani Hills while the rest of the herd went down to the mud bath. It transpired that she was hanging out with two wild bulls, both of whom were thoroughly enjoying the beautiful girl’s company. The feeling must have been mutual, for Murera completely skipped her afternoon milk bottle.

The Keepers wondered if this day would ever come to pass, but at long last, Lima Lima has been weaned off her milk bottle! For an elephant who loves milk as much as she does, she accepted the transition quite gracefully. Now, she simply watches the babies enjoy their bottles without causing a fuss. The same cannot be said for Mwashoti, who still demands his milk bottle whenever he is around. The Keepers have been trying to wean him, but causes such a fuss that they feel sorry and give him a placating bottle. Every elephant weans in their own time, and soon enough, Mwashoti will accept that he is no longer a baby.

Lima Lima remains the social butterfly of the herd. She is always the first to welcome a wild bull or befriend the females of wild herds. Her keen sense of smell and hearing, coupled with her unfaltering devotion to her human-elephant family, make her an excellent scout. The Keepers really rely on her to alert them of any lurking danger. As Kiasa approached the mud bath one afternoon, Lima Lima noticed that a water buffalo was also making his way over. She trumpeted loudly to alert the Keepers, but before they could act, Lima Lima had already ushered Kiasa over to Murera and chased the buffalo away. This was one of many buffalo-related incidents this month in which Lima Lima saved the day.

We received a downpour of rain on the night of the 17th, which caused a great racket on the rooftops. Kiombo was really upset about all the noise, but his roommate was there to comfort him. Sonje rumbled warmly at the young bull and invited him to snuggle beneath her belly. Maktao and Enkesha, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the rainfall.

Ever since Ngasha started his feud with the night-clubber boys, Faraja, Jasiri, and Ziwa have chosen to join groups of wild bull. These boys now seem happier in the company of wild bulls, which shows just how far along they are in their reintegration journeys.

Spending time with the nightclubber boys has given Zongoloni and Lima Lima the valuable insights on how to socialize with wild bulls. We had hoped the same for Ngasha, but his poor manners continue to isolate him. He still depends on the Umani herd for company, and while he is clearly very fond of everyone, he often forgets himself and plays too rough with the little ones. At this rate, Ngasha’s reintegration many take longer than the other orphans.

Zongoloni and Lima Lima seem to be of two minds when it comes to the night-clubber boys. Lima Lima has taken Ngasha, Alamaya, and Mwashoti under her wing, while Zongoloni is with the big boys Ziwa, Faraja, and Jasiri. We often see the girls trying to broker peace with Ngasha, but he is very stubborn and refuses to hang out with Faraja and Jasiri. We still do not know the source of their feud, although we suspect Ngasha is just trying to establish his dominance.

During her night-time “safaris”, Zongoloni has mapped out the best hidden secrets of the Kibwezi Forest and Chyulu Hills. As the temperatures soared towards the end of the month, Zongoloni knew exactly where to take the herd. She led the orphans to some as-yet-undiscovered water holes in the Chyulus, where everyone enjoyed a lovely, leisurely swim. She seemed proud to share this special spot, and the other orphans were very grateful for her local knowledge!

January 2022 day to day

01 Jan

As we welcomed the first day of a brand-new year, the Keepers found the nightclubbers already waiting outside the stockade compound for their friends.  Faraja who hasn’t been spending time with the orphans, arrived today, with a wild bull friend. The wild bull seemed to of a similar age to Ngasha and Jasiri and was happy to browse alongside them. Sonje and Quanza thought it would be a good idea to introduce the little ones to the wild bull, so first they went up to the wild bull to greet him and then returned to main herd to bring Kiombo and Kiasa to greet the wild bull. Unfortunately for the two babies, the wild bull did not take too kindly to having his tail touched. This calm bull turned around and trumpeted very loudly at the babies, sending them running back to the main herd. Sonje and Quanza also made a quick getaway and after that the wild bull stayed away from the orphans and chose instead to browse a bit further away with Jasiri, Ngasha and Faraja for the rest of the day. 

Zongoloni was one of the first orphans to break away from the Umani herd, Jasiri, Ngasha, Ziwa and Faraja followed suit. Zongoloni soon became the matriarch of the nightclubbers herd and whilst some of the boys come and go and others have joined, the re-integration process of our orphans continue. With Lima Lima joining Zongoloni as second in charge, Zongoloni with her no-nonsense attitude and Lima Lima with her gentle and fun ways, these two girls keep the boys in line. 

Kiombo and Mwashoti pushing games

Sonje leading orphans to Kibwezi Forest

Young wild bull visiting the orphans