Keepers' Diaries, July 2022

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The month began with a visit from Ziwa, who is the first Umani orphan to fully transition to a wild life. He showed up at the stockades with some wild bulls in tow. Sonje was perturbed to see so many strangers approaching, but as soon as she saw Ziwa, she settled down.

Clearly the navigator, Ziwa confidently strode into the compound and helped himself to the pellets the Keepers had set out. His wild friends remained further away, as they did not want to get close to the Keepers, but they were clearly curious about why Ziwa was so calm around the humans. When the group started to leave, Ziwa followed them without a backwards glance. He is just like a teenager, only stopping home to enjoy a free meal!

Enkesha and Maktao remain best friends. They usually go in the same direction as each other, even if it is the opposite direction to the rest of the herd. As they walk side by side, we often see Maktao affectionately sling his trunk over Enkesha’s back. He really looks up to his ‘big sister.’

In fact, all the older girls are excellent honorary big sisters to our younger orphans. One evening, a buffalo walked out of the bushes and headed straight towards Kiasa, who was busy scratching on a post. Lima Lima and Sonje sprung into action, rushing over to the younger girl in order to warn her. Kiasa moved out of the way just in time and went to Sonje’s side for protection.

However, the girls can also be very mischievous. We were reminded of this one morning, when a troupe of sykes monkeys was trying to climb down a tree. Unfortunately, Lima Lima was relaxing underneath that very same tree, and every time they descended the branches, she lifted up her trunk to stop them. She made it look so fun that Zongoloni joined in, too. The monkeys started shouting in frustration, and ultimately the Keepers had to come over and call the mischievous elephants away.

Rains have failed across Kenya this year, and even the Chyulu Hills and Kibwezi Forest are uncharacteristically dry. Finding enough food is becoming difficult and many wildfires are approaching. There is still plenty of vegetation around the Umani Springs, and our orphan herd has the benefit of lucerne and milk feeds, so they are not suffering. However, other animals have been coming to eat leftovers, which we happily supplement in order to support our wild friends during this challenging time. 

Interestingly, the drought has turned the bushbucks and baboons into allies. The baboons climb the acacia trees and shake the branches so the pods fall to the ground, where the bushbucks can easily reach them. 

Predictably, the orphans quickly realised that they could take advantage of this situation, too. Quanza is the leader when it comes to chasing the baboons and bushbucks away from the leftover seed pods. Lima Lima and Sonje have taken on the role of branch shakers to get the pods down, while Maktao, Kiombo, and Kiasa happily enjoy the spoils. One afternoon, Sonje had finished shaking the branches and wanted to eat some pods, but she found that they had already been finished — none of the babies thought to save any for Sonje!

After a lengthy absence, all the ‘nightclubbers’ — the semi-independent orphans — came home, under the leadership of Lima Lima and Zongoloni. There was lots of happy reconnecting, especially for Kiasa, Sonje, and Murera, who ran over to greet Zongoloni. Kiasa had really missed Zongoloni, who she sees as a big sister. Whenever Zongoloni disappeared from her sight that day, Kiasa would let out an alarmed little trumpet.

Alamaya and Mwashoti were happy to see their friends Faraja and Jasiri, but Ngasha was less than thrilled to have them back. Faraja and Jasiri extended their trunks in greeting to him, but he did not want to interlock trunks. Instead, he pushed Faraja, who he apparently still feels some animosity towards. Mwashoti brokered peace, assuring Faraja that everyone else was happy to see him, and everyone ignored Ngasha’s rudeness.

Ngasha made several gaffes this month. One day, he kept chasing Murera and Sonje, which made Kiasa, Kiombo, and Enkesha very upset. Kiombo and Quanza teamed up and reported Ngasha to the Keepers. The Keepers ushered the naughty boy away, so the rest of the herd could browse in peace. The babies celebrated their victory by trumpeting loudly and charging at the bushes. 

However, Ngasha’s bravado is only a big act. We were reminded of this one morning, when he turned up accompanied by a wild elephant family. He spent some time with them, but the Keepers could see that he was uncomfortable. There were several big bulls in the herd, who he was clearly scared of, because he couldn’t push them around as he does the orphan herd. Ngasha gave the bulls a wide berth, and it made the Keepers laugh to see his bashful behaviour.

All the girls are obsessed with wild babies — in fact, several of the boys have baby fever, too! After one midday milk feed, Kiasa raised her trunk over her head. The Keepers assumed she was just stretching and thought nothing of it. Little did they know that Kiasa, Kiombo, Maktao, Enkesha, and Sonje had found new wild friends who had tiny babies in tow. They disappeared with the wild herd and the Keepers briefly lost track of them. In the end, it was Quanza, Mwashoti, and Murera who saved the day. They appeared out of the bushes and showed the Keepers where the others had gone, so they could wrangle them.

It has been cold this month, and to keep warm, Kiombo started huddling under Sonje’s tummy. This didn’t sit well with Kiasa and Maktao, who jealously pulled his tail and pushed him away from Sonje. Just like young siblings, they are always getting into spats which are forgotten as soon as they begin.

The month ended with another brazen kidnapping plot by Zongoloni. She saw her window of opportunity one afternoon, when Kiasa was standing a bit apart from the Keepers and the other orphans. She quickly whisked the younger girl away, disappearing into the bushes. The Keepers searched and called out for her, but Kiasa was nowhere to be found. When all the orphans came back to the stockades that evening, she was still absent. Evidently, she wanted to experience a night out in the wild with her ‘big sister.’ Long after everyone had gone to bed, however, Kiasa turned up at the stockades. She had clearly lost her nerve and forced Zongoloni to bring her home! The Keepers gave her a milk bottle in the middle of the night, to reward her for coming back.

July 2022 day to day

01 Jul

Some wild bulls walked into the stockades with Ziwa, it seems he was the navigator. Sonje was wary of the bulls until she realized that Ziwa was with them. He walked in confidently and started eating the pellets the keepers had put out. His wild friends stayed further away as they did not want to be so close to the keepers, they were curious as to why Ziwa was so calm around the humans. When the wild elephants started to leave, Ziwa followed them and didn’t even pause to say goodbye to the keepers and the other orphans. They all left towards the Chyulu Hills, while the orphan herd moved to the Umani springs. 

Enkesha and Maktao are best friends, so they walked together towards the Chyulu area. They usually go in the same direction as each other, even if this is the opposite direction to the rest of the orphan herd. Maktao had his trunk over Enkesha as they walked. Kiombo felt left out so he spent the day with Sonje. Some Sykes monkeys were in the trees above, they climbed down the branches to the ground and gave Kiombo a fright. He screamed and started running, this scared Sonje who also started running. Kiombo saw Sonje running so he started running faster.

Quanza and Kiombo at the mud bath