Keepers' Diaries, March 2021

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

When the wider Tsavo area is the throes of the dry season, wild elephants and other creatures converge in the Kibwezi Forest. Lured by the promise of plentiful foliage to eat and spring water to drink, they forsake the dusty plains in favour of the lush forest. We saw this happen during March, when the number of elephants, buffalos, bushbucks, and even butterflies in the Kibwezi Forest seemed to swell overnight. 

This made for a number of interesting wild interactions for our orphans over the course of the month. The mud bath is always a hotspot for visiting wildlife, which is a point of contention for the orphans: They seem to think of this muddy paradise as their territory, and promptly chase off any prospecting antelope or buffalo until they are done.

The ‘night-clubbers’ spent a lot more time with the dependent herd during March. Under the assured leadership of Zongoloni, this semi-independent group includes Jasiri, Ziwa, Ngasha, Faraja, and sometimes Alamaya. Now that they are spending nights out in the forest, they have developed a routine of linking up with the dependent herd for their morning browsing session. Towards the end of the month, they switched things up and arrived at the mud bath to spend the entire afternoon with their friends and Keepers.

Murera and the other girls in the dependent herd have become a little wary of the night-clubbers, and rightfully so: While Zongoloni remains above reproach, the bulls have been picking up naughty habits from their wild counterparts. Jasiri and Ngasha are the worst offenders, chasing after the girls and generally making a nuisance of themselves, and the Keepers often have to intervene to keep them in check. Faraja and Ziwa are slightly better behaved, but sometimes Faraja takes things too far. He knows that Zongoloni has no patience for their nonsense and makes a quick exit if he oversteps the line. One day, he got carried away during a game with Mwashoti and pushed him to the ground. While the Keepers checked on Mwashoti, Zongoloni honed in on Faraja. He saw her coming and made a hasty exit, prudently remaining in the forest for the rest of the day.

In fact, Faraja committed a few blunders this month. One day, he touched Alamaya’s tail stump and incited a fierce retaliation from the younger bull. He certainly knew better than to do this, as Alamaya is sensitive about his lack of tail. Zongoloni usually intervenes in these disagreements, but as the boys grow in size, they also grow more challenging to keep in line, so she has been letting them fight it out and work off their extra energy. Murera also has no patience for bullish behaviour, but her reaction is the polar opposite of Zongoloni’s: Whenever the boys start their games, she and Shukuru shepherd Luggard as far away as possible from the commotion. Shukuru has also gotten into the habit of standing next to Zongoloni, as she knows that her plucky friend will protect her.

There is one elephant Zongoloni will always stand up for, and that is Enkesha. She sees the younger girl as a little sister, and her wrath is swift should any of the boys dare to pick her. In fact, Zongoloni’s relationship with Enkesha left her feeling a little conflicted. With all the wild elephants visiting, she wanted to go out and make new friends, but she was also loath to leave her “little sister” behind. Enkesha, who is equally besotted with Zongoloni, often tried to follow her on her forest adventures. However, she seemed to know that she wasn’t quite ready for Zongoloni’s level of independence and always turned back to the dependent herd. Without fail, her friend Quanza was waiting attentively to welcome her back. 

Many of the visiting wild herds had very young babies in tow, which was a lovely sight for the Keepers. Not so long ago, before Umani Springs was established, it was a rarity to see elephants in the Kibwezi Forest. Quanza and Mwashoti are usually curious to meet wild friends, and this month was no exception. Lima Lima honed in on any opportunity to interact with babies in the herds, but they were normally shrouded by protective mothers and nannies, much to Lima Lima’s chagrin. Sonje remained a bit aloof towards wild visitors, unless there were some intriguing bulls in the mix. We wonder if she is still looking for her friend Osama, a handsome bull who we have not yet seen this year. Lima Lima also spent an afternoon in the company of several wild bulls, but she returned in the evening as the orphans were getting ready to return to the stockades.

Murera was not excited about the prospect of wild visitors, worried that they might bother her precious Luggard. While she might want to protect Luggard, he has been showing an interest in befriending wild bulls. On the morning of the 14th, a young bull linked up with the herd. Luggard appreciated his docile demeanor, and he and Murera spent the day with their new friend.

Then, later in the month, something even more spectacular happened: A huge bull appeared at the mud bath and walked slowly over to Luggard. He was so big that he dwarfed even the biggest members of our herd. The Keepers called to Luggard, but he chose to remain rooted to the spot. The wild bull seemed rather curious about Luggard and inspected him with his trunk, which our lion-hearted boy allowed as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. Ngasha stood by the entire time, watching the scene unfold and providing a comforting presence. After a lovely interaction, the wild bull waded into the mud bath, while Luggard enjoyed his own splashing session at the water’s edge. It was such an incredible thing to behold and we felt so proud of Luggard for pushing his own boundaries and seeking new, wild friendships. 

They say ‘curiosity killed the cat,’ but it certainly got the better of Lima Lima this month. During a morning browsing session at the foot of the Umani Hills, she found a cave camouflaged in the rocks. Sonje, who can be just as curious, joined Lima Lima in investigating this new discovery. The girls had to climb over a few rocks to get to the cave, some of which had rather large cracks. Lima Lima couldn’t resist sticking her trunk in one of those cracks, which accidentally disturbed a small swarm of bees! They stung Lima Lima’s trunk, which sent her running back to the herd with the bees in hot pursuit. Sonje also got caught in the crossfire, suffering a sting on her back before a speedy detour spared her from further assault. Lima Lima has always been a quick thinker, so she splashed into the nearest water pool and covered herself in thick mud to ward off her buzzing attackers.

It’s safe to say that Umani has been a ‘hive’ of activity this month! We feel certain that the long rains are just around the corner, which will send many of the wild visitors out of the forest and into the Chyulu Hills and beyond. While the orphans have certainly enjoyed all their wild interactions, they might look forward to quieter, more peaceful months ahead. 

March 2021 day to day

01 Mar

Luggard woke up this morning but wasn’t his usual joyful self; instead he took his time moving out of his room and walked slowly towards the stockade gate.

Sonje saw him standing there, next to Murera, who was trying to convince him to join everyone at the pellets corner. Sonje also saw that Murera was in a hurry to get to the pellets herself, so she decided to take over duty of Luggard, and Murera walked over to join the others at the pellet feeding area. As soon as Lima Lima and Quanza were done with their supplement feed they joined Sonje in trying to get Luggard to have his supplement feed before they left for the day. Lima Lima rumbled at the little boy and we don’t know what she communicated to him, but the young bull perked up and walked slowly to join Murera. It seems Lima Lima always knows just what to say to Luggard to get him to become his sweet old self.  

After their midday bottle feed, Shukuru led all the orphans towards the waterhole and everyone was ready to cool off in the mud. Shukuru looked around and saw the boys were getting ready to join them, so she changed her mind and instead stood away from the mud-bath watching her friends. After a while Lima Lima emerged, covered in mud, and could see that Luggard too needed to cool off; she managed to again encourage the young bull to join them, this time in the mud wallow. Enkesha and Shukuru who had opted out of the mud bath also joined Lima Lima and Luggard, at the edge of the mud bath and splashed mud on themselves and on Luggard.

Shukuru trying to break a big branch

Enkesha and Quanza at the water trough

Faraja covered in mud