There were some interesting developments at the Umani Springs stockades in the Kibwezi Forest this month. The Keepers were delighted to see Murera, who is normally extremely wary of any wild elephant bulls, take quite a keen interest in some of them during their covert visits. June saw some very impressive big bulls with big tusks visit the stockades for the first time, and perhaps their sheer size and presence was enough to attract the attention of shy Murera. Although the keepers are happy that Murera is beginning to warm up to the wild elephant herds of the forest, it is a concern for the keepers to have such large wild bulls creeping around through the bushes trying to get to the girls, as it is very easy to accidentally stumble upon them without warning. Despite this, the keepers are being extra vigilant and encouraging the visits, whilst Lima Lima is great at giving them forewarning when wild elephants are around in order to keep them safe, and she provides them with great comfort instinctively knowing they need her forewarning.
During one of these forays in the forest with the wild bulls, the keepers looked on in awe as the orphans all happily mingled with them, with Lima Lima and Ziwa getting up close and feeling them tentatively with their little trunks, easily walking beneath the bellies of the big males, and not even being able to reach up and touch their ears or heads, making all the orphans look so tiny in comparison. Sonje and Quanza were a little more tentative, but clearly they too were enjoying the attention. Such interactions are hugely important for the orphans, teaching them how to behave properly in wild elephant company, as when any of the orphans misbehave or get too boisterous with their wild elders, the bulls are all too ready to give them a good prod with their huge tusks to warn them to watch their manners. Seeing this incredible interaction develop here at our relatively new reintegration unit is a great joy for us all.
All of the orphans really have made Umani their home and have settled in effortlessly, yet some of the babies do experience some bad memories from the trauma they experienced before their rescue. Alamaya, has some terrible memories of the hyenas that attacked him when he was alone in the Maasai Mara before he was taken to safety, so when one night some hyenas came close to the stockades and started making their loud and eerie whooping calls, Alamaya was immediately terrified. When he heard the calls, he began defending his stockade by pushing on the wooden posts and pushing the gates to make lots of noise, whilst signalling to the other orphans to be aware. The keepers came out of their night duty tent immediately, understanding that Alamaya was scared, and ran towards the hyenas shouting at them to scare them off and stop their calling, which made Alamaya settle down.
As with this time of year, the forest is now experiencing some chilly overcast weather. Without the sun to warm things up the orphans are always a little more docile, especially in the mornings. Mwashoti and Murera feel the cold more than the other orphans at Umani, and when they are first let out from their night stockades, the keepers can see that their old leg injuries are stiffer than normal, as they walk slower, trying to warm themselves up and stretch out their legs. It doesn’t take long for them to feel better after some good exercises with the others, whilst Mwashoti has also found a great new game to wake himself up in the mornings, chasing the little resident dik diks around the compound as they try and grab snacks to eat, which makes him feel like he is a big boy, enjoying not being the smallest animal in the stockades.
Just as Mwashoti wants to feel like a big bull, Faraja and Jasiri are also trying to act more and more grown up. During their daily walks out into the forest they always try and go their own way, whilst one day during the month they refused to follow the keepers at all, stubbornly stomping in the opposite direction. The keepers called and called, but they didn’t listen until Murera had to step in and, as mini matriarch, herded them back with authority, not taking any disobedience and warning them about their rebellious behaviour and that they are not ready yet to take on the wild world alone.