Keepers' Diaries, June 2018

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The Keepers at Umani were simply over the moon to receive orphan Shukuru into the fold this month, not having had a Nursery baby since Alamaya and Mwashoti moved there in 2016. Visibly confused when she first arrived on the 16th, thinking perhaps she was on her way back to Ithumba, Shukuru looked out of sorts when she first emerged from the elephant translocation lorry to be met first by Lima Lima, and then the rest of the Umani orphans. They were not strangers, Murera and Sonje knew her from their Nursery days, and Lima Lima was delightful, fussing over her and patting her with her trunk, but it was obvious Shukuru was perplexed. Once she spotted the thick lush grass which she could not get enough of it, pulling it up in trunk-fuls, she became preoccupied with feeding but still remained aloof from the rest. It was a stark reminder how long Shukuru has suffered from her ailments, to see her side by side the other Umani orphans and especially next to Murera who was born in the same month and year; she was incredibly slender and small by comparison.

The Keepers have been delighted with her progress throughout the month however, obviously excited by the amount and variety of vegetation all around her in the Kibwezi Forest, and comfortable with her friends, Sonje, Mwashoti and Lima Lima who she appears closest to. It was for this reason the lush and gentle environment of Umani was chosen for Shukuru to be moved to, as we felt sure that the easy living that it affords, with food and water plentiful throughout the year, would give Shukuru the best chance at making a full recovery. Shukuru even rekindled her love for the milk formula, which had started to dull in the Nursery as she preferred to go off in search of fresh vegetation. Now she rivals greedy Lima Lima as they both charge ahead to reach the milk feeding area first. The only part of this she has not perfected like the other Umani orphans is the ability to pick up her own bottle, but just like Mwashoti and Alamaya, who learnt this trick from Zongoloni and Jasiri before, we are sure she will pick this up as well.

Most receptive to their new addition were Sonje and Lima Lima, keen to protect and shelter Shukuru from the boisterous boys such as Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri. They followed her everywhere and made sure no one bothered their little charge. Little Alamaya was a bit put out at first, not enjoying the fact that Shukuru was getting all of the attention now and from one of his adopted mothers as well, but with the intervention of Sonje and the Keepers he soon settled down and accepted Shukuru into the herd. Murera was welcoming but with Shukuru being the same age (although certainly not her size) maybe there is a little reticence that in the fullness of time Shukuru might rival her position as Matriarch of Umani, as she has not been quite as welcoming as one would expect.

As the surrounding areas are starting to dry out towards the end of the month, more and more animals are making their way into Kibwezi Forest and its perennial supply of food and water. We came across a few wild herds this month, much to the delight of Sonje who likes these social visits. Unfortunately on one occasion one of the big bulls was a little too rough with her and climbed on her back which pulled a muscle in her bad leg. She was stiff for a few days but recovered well. It did not deter her from meeting the wild elephants again, but Quanza was not happy with how Sonje had been hurt and for days tried to steer the orphan herd away from these wild interactions when she could. There have been a great many buffalos in the forest as well, perhaps looking for more grass and vegetation, and Lima Lima has been vigilant in warning the other orphans and her keepers if they come too close. With other grazing animals of course their predators such as leopards follow, and there were some sleepless nights for the Keepers this month as the orphans, and sometimes any baboons nearby as well, protested the presence of a leopard trying to sleep in a nearby tree. The leopard poses no threat to the orphans, but they do not like the unfamiliar and feline smell and therefore always make a fuss when one is close by during the night!

Although the rains have moved on, the weather remains cold and chilly throughout the months of June and July, and the orphans have not always felt like a mud bath, preferring instead just to have a drink and go and dust themselves on the mound of soil provided for them. When she has chosen to mud bath, Shukuru has done it to the side to avoid the rough bullish boys, or with one of the youngsters. Eventually she had enough mud baths to turn the grey colour of the Umani orphans, losing the rust red colour of the Nursery babies who bath and dust themselves in the clay soil of Nairobi.

June 2018 day to day

01 Jun

All the orphan elephants looked happy and ready for the new day today. Alamaya and Sonje were interacting very early in the morning, hugging and interlocking their trunks above their heads. Mwashoti walked to his friend Murera for the same, after becoming jealous watching Alamaya and Sonje. It was quite a cold day, and this made Murera with her bad hip and leg walk a bit slower. Lima Lima and Zongoloni came back to keep pace with Murera and Sonje, after Alamaya left to browse with big boy Faraja in the bushes.

Keeper walking with the orphans

Sonje on the left with Alamaya

Quanza picking some tasty leaves