Keepers' Diaries, July 2023

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

July was marred by a great tragedy for our Umani family, and the entire Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team. Before relaying the sad events that unfolded, we will share the rest of the month’s happenings.

We have been noticing more and more elephants within the Kibwezi Forest. The dry season is starting to bite in the surrounding ecosystems, and they know that food and water can still be found here. As the orphans were browsing one morning, Alamaya spotted a small wild baby in the long grass. Everyone gathered around to admire her. The baby's mother, who was browsing nearby, showed no concern about the presence of the orphans; she knew they came in peace. Lima Lima and Sonje spent a lot of time with the wild baby, chaperoning her through the grasses while her mother enjoyed a break.

One morning, a few junior wild bulls joined the orphan herd. One of the bulls tried his luck with Sonje, trying to climb on her, but Jasiri and Ngasha quickly joined forces and chased him off. The Keepers were glad to see the two rivals, Jasiri and Ngasha, come together and successfully protect their friends. The older girls celebrated and showed their appreciation after the bull was chased away.

Little Amali remains very skittish. While foraging in the Umani Hills, two dik-diks crossed the path in front of her. Never mind the fact that these tiny antelope are absolutely harmless; Amali got a terrible fright and bolted through the bushes, seeking protection from Sonje and Quanza. They were surprised to see the little girl in such a panic. Before Amali could explain what happened, Ngasha came across the dik-diks and chased them away. Again, it made a pleasant change to have him diffusing drama, instead of causing it!

But then, just like that, Ngasha was back to his usual tricks. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong target — plucky Kiasa doesn’t take any nonsense. As the orphans were walking back in the evening, the big bull tried to climb on Kiasa, but Kiasa quickly thwarted his attempts. Ngasha seemed surprised by the strong young girl and walked off to try his luck with someone else.

Kiasa’s peer, Maktao, isn’t quite as formidable. One morning, a baboon sidled into the pellet corner. Maktao alerted his bigger friend, Mwashoti, and they charged at the interloper, trumpeting loudly. The boys believed they had the baboon cornered, but the primate proved too clever. He was already in the treetops before the elephants reached him. The two boys were left breathing heavily after their chase. Despite the baboon's escape, Maktao continued to charge at the shrubs, just in case more were concealed within. Eventually, he had to concede that the baboon had gotten away.

We’ve noticed that Zongoloni has been escorting her wild friends to the stockades in the early morning. We believe she brings them to see little Mwana, so they understand why she is always drawn back to the orphan herd. Zongoloni faces great competition for Mwana's affection, notably from Kiasa, Enkesha, and Sonje. If Zongoloni wasn’t a frequent visitor, Mwana would not depend on her or trust her. Thus, she must be present every day.

Sometimes, Zongoloni gets carried away. One day, she tried to kidnap Mwana from one of her most reliable nannies, Kiasa. Enkesha, another reliable nanny, knew it was time to intervene. She moved over to where Murera was enjoying the mud bath and informed her of Zongoloni’s behaviour. Murera became very upset and retrieved her baby. She kept Mwana close for the remainder of the day, hawkishly on the lookout for Zongoloni.

One afternoon, Amali and Kapei decided that they wanted to try being leaders. The pair banded together and confidently walked at the front of the herd. However, they betrayed their inexperience by walking briskly without taking breaks. Sonje and Quanza, who are adept matriarchs, knew that Murera would struggle to keep pace. They blocked Amali and Kapei’s path, giving Murera and Mwana time to catch up. Mwashoti and Alamaya doubled back to walk with Murera and keep her company. It’s wonderful to witness how the Umani herd supports each other.

Mid-month, we were treated to a Ziwa visit. He passed through in the company of a wild female. Ziwa stopped briefly to greet his friends, but the female was anxious to keep going. They must have been hurrying back to the rest of their herd. Ziwa’s reintegration journey has been such a success; he is thriving and has been completely embraced by his new, wild family. 

Kiombo and Maktao are best friends and occasional rivals. As age-mates, they like to test each other’s strength. Sometimes, however, their games escalate into serious fights. Such was the case one afternoon, when Maktao pushed Kiombo forcefully, sending him flying backwards onto the ground. Instead of stopping, Maktao went to push Kiombo while he was still down. Mwashoti and Alamaya sympathised with Kiombo, and they stepped in to separate the two young boys and spare a serious fight. 

Mwana is very clever, curious, and observant. Every day, she is learning lots of things from her Umani family. One afternoon demonstrated this keenly: First, she picked up a stick with her little trunk to scratch herself, just like she had seen her mother doing. Then, she saw Kiasa scratching against a rock, so Mwana dropped the stick and started scratching, too. It was a funny sight, because the rock was too big for her tiny bum. Once Kiasa had finished scratching, Mwana also wrapped up and followed her over to where Enkesha and Amali were dusting themselves. Copying the older elephants, she indulged in a fun dust bath. Kapei, who never misses a trick, took the opportunity to commandeer Mwana’s discarded stick.

Amali and Mwashoti remain the best of friends. Her friendship with Kapei is more complicated. Kapei can be quite a bully, but Amali knows that Mwashoti will always have her back. On one such occasion, Kapei started pushing her, so Amali screamed loudly, seeking help from her ‘big brother.’ Mwashoti arrived to find Kapei pulling his little friend’s tail. Mwashoti got very upset with Kapei and instantly chased him away. 

This bickering is typical — Kapei and Amali are like a pair of quarrelsome siblings. One day, they had a fierce battle over who could plant their bottom in position to scratch against a certain stump, never mind the fact that the forest is full of potential scratching posts!  

19th July stands out as the saddest day in the history of Umani Springs. Under the most shocking, tragic circumstances, we lost a friend and fellow Keeper, Patrick Muiruri. An unusually aggressive wild bull in musth was pursuing Zongoloni, who was in season. Out of nowhere, he exploded out of the forest and locked onto the Keepers. They took off and found refuge in a nearby cottage. However, Patrick ran in a different direction, taking a longer route. The bull caught up with him, killing Patrick almost instantly. His attack was entirely unprovoked, unexpected, and shattering for all who witnessed it.

The orphans were very distressed to see this unfold and disappeared into the forest. They did not return to the Keepers for the rest of the day and didn’t even come back to the stockades that night. For many, it was their very first night out in the bush, which must have been scary. The entire herd remained elusive until the following day, after the bull who killed Patrick was successfully translocated out of the Kibwezi Forest. Remarkably, the orphans returned just hours after he was moved. We believe they were distraught by the events that had unfolded and did not want to bring further danger to their Keepers. Once they saw that the bull had been taken away from the forest, they knew it was safe to return home. 

Once the Umani herd was back together, the orphans started to settle down. It will take time for everyone to heal from all the sadness that unfolded this month. However, we are happy to report that normalcy has largely returned among the orphans. The Keepers were particularly worried about how Mwana would fare after the tragic incident. Thankfully, she seems her usual self — cheerful, healthy, and strong — which has brought all of us much comfort.

July 2023 day to day

01 Jul

Sonje got a break from making all the decisions; she handed over her leadership responsibilities to Lima Lima and Quanza. However, Sonje found it difficult having nothing to do, she stayed at the edge of the Umani herd, standing idly.

Quanza led the herd; she took Mwana with her but left Murera and Mwashoti at the back. After being up front for a while, Mwana decided to go find her mother. Mwana went running back with her ears flared. Murera was happy to take her baby back, she welcomed her with lots of hugs and trumpeting, making Mwana feel loved. Mwana spent the rest of the day with her mother and ignoring her nannies. Kiasa kept herself entertained by hanging out with Zongoloni.


Lima Lima