We are building a few more stockades at Umani Springs anticipating new arrivals in the fullness of time. These new stockades have become a great point of interest for the Umani orphans, who inspect them almost daily, with Sonje particularly interested, sensing there may be more babies coming her way! No plans have been made as to who will be coming and when, although our Nursery baby Mwashoti, with his compromised leg, will definitely be a candidate in time, coming, of course with some of his favorite friends.
Lima Lima is the ears and eyes for the Keepers in Kibwezi Forest, mindful of their safety at all times. She is quick to sense any potential danger from wild elephants and buffalos, giving her human family timely warning. This month there have been many encounters with wild elephants - big bulls and some females herds as well. The Kibwezi Forest wild elephants are definitely becoming more used to the presence of the Keepers, more comfortable exposing themselves frequently during the daytime now, and becoming bolder in their presence. One bull, bolder than the rest, even joins the orphans sometimes for their midday mudbath. Given that this unit is still very new at just two years old, it is remarkable to see this transformation. It is not just the elephants that are becoming tamer and more trusting, but all the wild animals of Kibwezi Forest now that It is fenced on three sides, with the fourth large boundary open to the Chyulu Hills National Park. The buffalo population is also taming down, as are the bushbucks, who have increased enormously now that bushmeat poaching in the area has been eliminated for well over six years. However, bushbucks have taken a hammering this month from the resident leopards , our keepers witnessing two recent leopard kills and two Leopard cubs having also been sighted by the Keepers. On the 14th of this month, a leopard was in one of the tall acacia trees that fringe our Umani stockades and was extremely vociferous all night. His rasping call kept both elephants and Keepers awake, agitating the entire compound and inhibiting sleep. Later in the night a bushbuck fell prey when the leopard pounced on it in the early hours of the morning and sequestered her kill in the forked branches of a high tree. At night wild elephant herds become bolder than usual and love to drink the fresh spring water from the Orphans trough situated close to the stockade entrance. This month some female herds with tiny babies spent time close to the stockade perimeter fence communicating with our orphans for hours, while the Keepers observed the exchange from the safety of their night duty tent perched on a platform.
This month Faraja found himself tangled up with a dikdik who ran between his legs, scaring him witless. He took off screaming, unnerving all the others, and it took the keepers a good long time to calm things down. The decision was made to take the orphans to a new location in order to distract them, so on that day they headed as far as the Kithasyo airstrip. This is a lovely area, popular with the wild elephants, as it is full of broad flat topped acacia trees, whose nutritious pods are a delicacy in the dry season. On another occasion Faraja stepped on a tortoise thinking it was a rock, and very sadly, inadvertently killed it. He appeared visibly distressed at having done this, and the Keepers found him standing beside the casualty gently touching it. Normally the orphans are especially careful, but in Kibwezi where there are many lava rocks throughout the region, this would be an easy mistake to make. On another occasions some bushbucks came dashing through the midst of the orphan herd whilst escaping a leopard, and understandably this and their alarm calls unnerved the orphans who were quick to scatter in all directions, with Ziwa choosing to take comfort close to the Keepers. Murera and Sonje who were more concerned for his welfare than their own, were calling and searching for him and were delighted to find him safe and sound close to the Keepers. The others took some rounding up before being brought together and calmed down. One day this month a huge buffalo decided to mudbath at the same time as the orphans, but his imposing presence proved too much for Quanza, who along with the other babies, chose to vacate the water rapidly rather than share it with him. The large inviting pile of soft red earth brought in for the babies and their wild friends to enjoy is a welcome complement to their mudbathing sessions, which normally end in a liberal dousing of soft powdery earth.
During the hotter times of day, the orphans tend to rest under shady trees, the little albino bulls, Jasiri and Faraja, being particularly careful about keeping out of direct sunshine at such times. Fortunately they are spoilt for choice with plenty of cover in this forested area. This month some long treks were undertaken by our orphans into the Chyulu Hills National Park, something that is not easy for Murera and Sonje to achieve, being slower than the rest with their compromised legs. Sometimes they choose to remain behind leaving Lima Lima to escort the likes of Quanza, Zongoloni, and the naughty boys Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri high into the hills in search of new adventures, and interesting browse. The Keepers are always in attendance and Lima Lima takes care of their safety ensuring they are made aware of the presence of other animals they may encounter well before they the men even see them.
On the 11th of the month a big bull, who is fast becoming a special favorite with the girls Zongoloni and Quanza, visited them at mud bath time. He is becoming more accustomed to the presence of the Keepers, and the babies are now much more comfortable around him. He is clearly fascinated by this unusual herd of young elephants accompanied by their two legged friends, and is learning to trust both. Just as the wild bull named “Rafiki” was the catalyst who introduced the wild elephants to the Ithumba orphans’ set up, and forged understanding between the Ithumba wild elephant herds and the orphans’ Keepers, this wild Umani bull is now doing the same. Through him and his inquisitive nature the message will reach the other wild elephants in the area that these humans can be trusted, something that month on month is becoming more evident.
Despite being an extremely hot time of the year, ample shade and water has made for a very pleasant month at Umani. Many more stories unfold through the Keepers daily entries.