Keepers' Diaries, June 2019

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

After good rains in May we moved swiftly into the ‘cold’ season characterised by foggy cold mornings and much cooler climes. This season is especially felt in the Kibwezi forest environment, and needless to say there were not too many mud baths for the orphans this month. 

The youngsters Alamaya and Mwashoti would also walk in the middle of the herd and stay close to the others, in order to keep warm. The forest is teaming with life, from stunning butterflies to baboons and many antelope groups with the bush buck population exploding. Many of the animals are used to the elephant orphans and their Keepers now, and they are happy to all browse together as one group without running away. The relationship between the orphans and their Keepers rubs off on all manner of species, who as a result understand that everything must be okay and safe, and so are becoming increasingly confident and tame as well.

Many wild herds have been migrating into the Kibwezi Forest to take advantage of the plentiful water found there at the Umani Springs, and vegetation too of course remains abundant. This resulted in many constructive interactions with wild friends for our Umani orphans, and the wild bulls were especially curious in our older females Sonje and Murera, who are now 8 and 9 years old respectively. Sonje is sometimes happy to return this attention, but Murera is always cautious and likes to gather the herd around to protect them, careful to keep her precious family intact. Ngasha, Faraja and some of the other bulls are always curious in these wild encounters and are increasingly showing signs of branching out on their own more.

For some reason this past month, Lima Lima and Quanza seem to have fallen out and keep picking on each other; stealing branches from one another, or milk bottles, or arguing who should look after the baby Alamaya – when things really get out of control Murera and Sonje or the Keepers have to step in, and poor Quanza will spend the rest of the day sulking on her own. Zongoloni has remained relatively neutral not wanting to get drawn into this recent spat

Shukuru is still improving in this forested environment, and has kept close company with Sonje who is always very protective of her. One day when Shukuru was in a very laid back mood and remained in the stockades to drink awhile, Sonje panicked when she could not find her in the forest and ran back trumpeting in search of her. After all the fuss and commotion, Shukuru made sure to keep up with the herd for the rest of the day!

Ziwa and Faraja have become a little bit less obedient and they have started to do their own thing rather than follow Sonje, Murera and Zongoloni. Sometimes Faraja would stay with a wild herd for nearly an entire day. Ziwa would try to do the same but sometimes he can be a little too rough, and once he was chased away by one of the younger bulls. Faraja and Ziwa exploring their independence also means leading the orphans to new and different parts of the forest. At first the other orphans would be a bit frightened by being in an area they were not familiar with, but the Keepers were there to reassure them. It is good for the orphans to discover new areas, as this will teach them to find new browsing territories once living wild. 

It is interesting to note that Faraja and Ziwa still very much consider Murera and Sonje the matriarchs of the Umani herd, and fear being reprimanded by them still. If either of them see Murera and Sonje approaching after they have done something naughty like push each other around for too long, or upset Alamaya by touching his tail, they swiftly run away to avoid being chastised.

As they get older, Mwashoti and Alamaya are also developing a curiosity in the wild herds, although they would be careful not to get too close and have to remain respectful or risk being charged away. Both young bulls have been actively starting pushing and wrestling games in order to test their strength against each other. Both want to prove their strength as often neither wants to give in! However, as soon as Alamaya sees Murera in the corner of his eye he quickly moves away, he appears to know that he may get into trouble if he hurts Mwashoti whist Murera is close by. Zongoloni does not suffer any bullish behaviour around her and is quick to intervene if she feels it is getting out of hand or becoming irritating. 

June 2019 day to day

01 Jun

After a long day of browsing on fresh greens, the orphans made their way back to the stockades for the evening. Along the way, Alamaya came across a large dust mound which he decided to have a play around in. He threw dust all over his body, so much so that he was practically all white by the time he was done. Sonje appeared to be confused by his colouring as she kept approaching him with caution. The Keepers didn’t even recognise the young boy and found his look quite amusing. 


Orphans around the water trough