Keepers' Diaries, January 2024

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

In the Kibwezi Forest, the Umani orphans and their Keepers were in full celebration for the new year. To mark the holiday, the babies were treated to some special greens and pellets, different from their usual fare. Mwana, the jovial little baby, wanted to taste everything she saw her friends eating. It’s hard to believe that her first birthday is fast approaching!

Ever since Lima Lima mated with her boyfriend a few months ago, she has become moody and less friendly towards her Keepers and other elephants. Her longtime friends are always kept guessing by her unpredictable moods. One day, Quanza, Mwashoti, and then Sonje tried to have a chat with her, but she dodged them, pretending to be busy with Amali, Kiasa, Enkesha, and baby Mwana. However, she was simply avoiding them.

The orphans had an exhilarating encounter with buffaloes this month. It was an otherwise normal afternoon, until four buffaloes appeared on the road and blocked the babies’ path. They flatly refused to move, forcing the Keepers and their elephants to change course. However, lazy Kiombo and Maktao didn’t want to take a detour. They thought they were big boys and could scare the buffaloes into submission. They got a rude awakening when the buffalos again refused to yield, sending them running back to the herd. The situation escalated when little Kapei got confused and almost walked right into the buffaloes’ midst. Luckily, Quanza intervened and shepherded him to safety.

No matter the weather, Mwana always finds an occasion to swim. One afternoon, the orphans ignored the swimming pool after Kiasa and Quanza tested the water and found it to be cold. This message was relayed to the other babies, and no one showed interest in swimming midday. However, as the orphans were returning to their stockades in the evening, baby Mwana got her way. She resolutely led the herd to the water pipeline, which was spilling into a lovely mud bath. Everyone enjoyed a good swim before continuing home for their evening bottles.

Some nights are more dramatic than others. Late one evening, Kiasa and Kapei started pushing against their stockade walls and banging on their gates. They were trying to alert the Keepers that a leopard had stalked by the compound. The clattering awoke the Keepers, who went out to investigate. At first, they didn’t see anything. But then, following Kiasa’s indications, they spotted a leopard crouched atop a nearby gumtree. He quickly retreated into the forest and, peace restored, everyone went back to sleep until morning.

Faraja has really embraced his wild life. One day, the Keepers spotted him amongst his wild friends, but he didn’t acknowledge greetings from his human-orphan family. It was almost as if he wanted to brag that he is now an old boy, unlike the dependent orphans. Later in the month, however, he came for a proper catch-up with his human-orphan family. He headed right over to Sonje and Lima Lima, knowing that Lima Lima is very good at welcoming friends and would update him on everything that had happened while he was away.

On 10th January, Jasiri returned after a long absence. He arrived in the company of Alamaya, Faraja, and the other nightclubbers. At first, it took the Keepers a moment to recognise the big, impressive bull in their midst. When they realised it was Jasiri, they called his name and he happily walked over for a proper catch-up. 

Once upon a time, Zongoloni was notorious for trying to steal the younger orphans. Murera must have made it clear that any attempts to kidnap baby Mwana would not be tolerated, because she stopped her antics for a time. But this month, she was back to her old tricks. One day, Zongoloni tried to convince Kiasa to leave with her. This was her clever attempt to kidnap Mwana, because she knows that Kiasa is one of the baby’s trusted nannies. However, Murera saw right through her act and managed to prevent the young girl from joining Zongoloni. Both Enkesha and Murera reprimanded Kiasa, telling her that it would not be wise to take Mwana from her mother.

Amali remains such a devoted ‘big sister’ to baby Mwana. One afternoon, Mwana got distracted chasing butterflies — which is one of her favourite activities! Despite her best efforts, she didn’t manage to catch any and, in her enthusiasm, fell to her knees. Amali was drinking her milk and saw this unfold out of the corner of her eye. She rushed to finish her bottle and then ran to fetch Mwana, who seemed no worse for wear after her unsuccessful butterfly mission.

Many bulls change after going wild, but Alamaya and Mwashoti remain humble and friendly boys. Alamaya visits less frequently than Mwashoti, but whenever he does, he enjoys a very warm welcome from his Keepers. During one visit, the Keepers were rubbing his belly and ears, letting him know that he had been very missed. Jasiri became jealous and beelined over, wanting a similar reception!

Lima Lima may be moodier than usual, but she is as brave as ever. The Keepers were very grateful for her vigilance one afternoon, when she alerted them about an impressive bull who was just a short distance away. They moved the herd away, while Lima Lima kept the visitor occupied. After the bull eventually left, she followed her Keepers to ensure they were out of harm's way. The Keepers were very grateful for Lima Lima's courage and quick thinking.

At the Nursery, Kiasa was a notorious menace during milk feeds. She has calmed down significantly since moving to Umani, but she still loves her bottles! She has become familiar with the milk truck and its colour. One morning, she heard a vehicle driving along the forest road and went to investigate. Recognising it as the milk truck, she started barreling after it. Unfortunately, it was not yet time for the bottle feed — the truck was just transporting some people before making the trip over with the orphans’ bottles. Kiasa would have to be patient!

Kapei is becoming less spoiled by the day, but some glimmers of petulance remain. One day, he was determined to play with the big boys. Alamaya ignored him, but Kiombo generously went down on his knees so Kapei could climb atop his back. However, he soon tired of Kapei’s weight and stood up, sending the young bull tumbling to the ground. 

January ended with a big night for Enkesha. For two nights in a row, a wild elephant herd with many babies courted Enkesha intensely, trying to entice her to join their herd. Much to our surprise, Enkesha accepted their invitation and — despite the Keepers’ many attempts to call her back — disappeared into the forest with her new friends. 

The following morning, the Keepers and rangers patrolled the forest, hoping to find Enkesha. All of the sudden, they heard an elephant yelling. Suspecting it was Enkesha trying to find her way back, they followed the noise. Sure enough, a stout elephant came charging out of the trees — it was Enkesha! She was joyfully received by all the girls, who acted as if she had been away for many weeks, instead of one single night. They made lots of noise, as if they were interrogating and perhaps even chastising her about her disappearing act.

January 2024 day to day

01 Jan

The orphans and their Keepers were in full celebration for the new year 2024. To mark the holiday, the babies were treated to some special foods, different from the usual fare. They were pellets and fresh, soft greens that the Keepers fetched to give on this happy day. Mwana, the jovial little baby, wanted to taste everything she saw her friends eating. She ate lots of pellets and then boldly pulled soft greens from Amali’s stash. At eating time, no one is very friendly as they compete for food; Mwana was no longer being a friend to her closest friend, Amali. Amali also understood she is the baby among them and kindly left the soft foods to little Mwana. Murera, with other big head girls, left the nannies with the baby as the big girls looked for more food towards Umani hills. Then Kapei and Maktao moved in different directions; being boys, they did not care. Kiombo followed the two boys, but once he saw his closest friend, Sonje, he went to join her instead. 

At the waterhole, on this special day, none of the babies wanted to wallow or swim; they found it too cold. After Kiasa and Enkesha took the baby to the water’s edge to test the temperature, they found that it was too cold to get into.

Murera spending time with Mwana

Maktao and Kapei browsing together

Enkesha enjoying a cool down