Despite exploring her independence recently, we have seen a lot more of Zongoloni of late since the arrival of the new babies and we have witnessed this growing nurturing side to her. Shukuru has begun to shine at Umani as well; this has been due to improved health but definitely the influence of these little orphans joining their group. The new babies at Umani seem to have given her a new lease of life and she loves to dote on either one of them, given any opportunity. Enkesha enjoys Shukuru’s calm demeanour and even though sometimes she runs ahead of Shukuru, she understands that her friend sometimes moves slowly, so she always runs back to her to keep her company. There is a very beautiful friendship blossoming here.
In the short time she has been at Umani, Enkesha has already picked up on where the best browsing spots are. She loves to lead the herd out in the morning to begin a new day and continues to impress the Keepers. By spending so much time with Zongoloni she has already mastered how to pick up her own milk bottle from the ground; the ease and dexterity being even more impressive given the life-long wound to her trunk inflicted by the wire snare that almost severed her trunk completely, and has left it with a gaping hole.
With the older females in the herd focusing more of their time and energy on the little babies, this has encouraged Mwashoti and Alamaya to act more independently, which Alamaya has fully embraced. This month we found he wanted to do his own thing sometimes choosing to take his own path in the morning and browse independently of the herd; this is quite typical behaviour for young elephant bulls as they start to detach from their matriarchal herds as they explore further afield. He still returns each evening to the safety of the stockades at night, so we are certain he will remain dependent on us for a good while longer; these are just his first tentative steps towards independence. This is what is so ideal about our reintegration process which allows the orphans to slowly assimilate back into the wild when they feel ready, at their own pace, taking each day at a time. We have found over the years the orphans have very different rhythms and sometimes it takes some longer than others, so it has to be when they are ready. One day the Keepers decided to see how Alamaya was feeling and let him decide what he would like to do as they walked back to the compound that evening, without calling or ushering him home too. At first Alamaya seemed as though he wanted to head off further up the hills, but the moment he noticed the orphans halfway down the hill, he quickly turned around and began to follow them back to the stockades, still not feeling comfortable enough to spend the nights out with the others.
Mwashoti likes to keep little Enkesha company, since doing the same with Luggard isn’t even an option most of the time given that Murera, Sonje and Lima Lima hardly ever let him out of their sight. Murera has a habit of going straight over to Luggard’s room in the morning, waiting for him to come out of his night stockade, and she will then hug him close to her with her trunk. She will draw him close to her on cold days as well, offering him her body warmth. Lima Lima has proven to be a very dedicated baby sitter for Luggard as well and Murera knows she can rely on Lima Lima who has always enacted her instructions at Umani.
Our partly independent orphans, who the Keepers refer to as the ‘night-clubbers’ as they like to stay out at night having a riotous time judging by the noise and trumpets they generate, Zongoloni, Ziwa, Ngasha, Jasiri and Faraja still like to come and go as they please, linking up with the dependent orphans and the Keepers as they wish, but Zongoloni is often around during the day. One evening the night-clubbers escorted the dependent herd all the way home, and because Zongoloni was reluctant to return to the forest that night, they ended up sleeping right beside the stockade compound, and were there to welcome the dependent orphans, and her favourite Enkesha, in the morning again.
One morning was a particularly noisy affair, when the night-clubbers turned up to the stockade water trough with a wild elephant herd in tow; obviously some of the friends that they like to fraternize with during the night! Murera and Sonje felt that perhaps it would be better to keep Luggard and Enkesha separate from this rather boisterous crowd, and led them away, as they often don’t like the babies to be around unpredictable wild herds that could take too much of an interest in their little charges; they slipped quietly away from the rest with their little fellows in tow.
The orphans are always excited to see their more independent friends though, especially those that stay away for a few days at a time, namely Faraja and Ngasha. When they turn up with wild friends it is always exciting, especially if they have a young baby in their midst! One day Quanza was particularly enamored by a young calf that came with a wild herd and she kept trying to approach the little one. The calf, however, had a very protective mother who kept chasing Quanza away. Quanza eventually gave up and decided to head off back to the orphans who were all busy browsing. As the dry season sets in, the orphans are likely to come across more and more animals around the forest from wild elephant friends to large herds of buffalo, and masses of bushbuck who are thriving in the forest.