Keepers' Diaries, March 2023

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The month began with some delightful visitors — in the form of several of our ex-orphans! After heralding their arrival with lots of crashing and breaking branches, Faraja, Jasiri, and Zongoloni emerged from the forest. It had been several days since their last visit, so the Keepers were very happy to see them.

In fact, Ngasha was the only one not celebrating the arrival of the older boys. He enjoys being the dominant bull of the orphan herd, but when Jasiri is around, he is promptly usurped. Ngasha knew what was coming, so he left the herd before Jasiri got a chance to chase him. It was prudent for him to leave on his own terms.

Quanza and Lima Lima are taking on more prominent leadership roles, which is lovely to see — but they still have a bit to learn. After one midday milk feed, the girls started leading the orphans back to the stockades. Ever-capable Sonje and Murera had to step in and change their direction, as it was far too early to go home. We’re not sure why they were in such a rush to wrap up the day! 

While Quanza only recently started spending nights out in the wild, Lima Lima and Zongoloni are quite established as wild elephants. One night, the Keepers heard a great commotion outside the stockades. They went to investigate, and found Zongoloni and a group of friends drinking from the water trough. Zongoloni remained with the Keepers for a while, until the wild elephants came back to fetch her. A few minutes later, Lima Lima rocked up. Instead of joining Zongoloni, she lingered outside the stockades until the morning, waiting for Kapei to emerge.

Kapei is usually the root of all drama, but one morning, Amali pulled a ‘Kapei’! After their midday milk bottles, the orphan herd headed towards the dust bath. However, Amali decided she wanted to do something different and walked off on her own. When she discovered that no one was following her, she trumpeted loudly to get everyone’s attention. The orphans spun round to check on their Amali, as such dramatics are very out of character. Mwashoti, ever attentive, went back to fetch his young friend and delivered her safely to Murera’s side.

Sonje has assumed the role of ‘overnight matriarch.’ In the evening, she guides all the babies home, ensuring everyone is safely delivered into their bedroom. While she keeps an eye on all the babies, she is particularly diligent towards Kapei and Amali. Amali is very attached to Mwashoti, but he spends his nights out in the forest. Realising that the young girl needs looking after, Sonje takes over for night duty. In the morning, Mwashoti is always waiting outside to collect Amali.

Sonje has always attracted more than her fair share of suitors — even we can tell that she is an exceptionally beautiful elephant! This month, she must have been in season, for she was surrounded by a coterie of admiring bulls. We hope and suspect that motherhood is on the horizon for our lovely matriarch. 

The highlight of the month — in fact, the year, or even the decade! — fell on 12th March. On an afternoon that began as any other, Murera let out a short trumpet and then disappeared into the bushes. A few minutes later, all the orphans gathered round and started calling to the Keepers. They quickly realised the cause for celebration: Murera had given birth to a beautiful little girl! Our entire Umani family was overjoyed and so incredibly proud of Murera. We named her daughter Mwana. You can read the full update here.

The first night, Murera did not move, instead remaining where she had given birth. The Keepers brought milk bottles, lucerne, and fresh vegetation to her. Lima Lima stayed by her side all night. At first light, the dependent orphan herd gathered around their matriarch. Even Ngasha, Jasiri, and Faraja joined the birth celebration. Perhaps realising the gravitas of the occasion, they were on their best behaviour and not quarrelling as they usually do. 

Interestingly, for several days after Murera gave birth, a big, wild bull stood vigil by mother and baby. He kept his distance, but was clearly asserting himself as their personal protector. Given how attentive he was, the Keepers suspected that he must be Mwana’s father.

However, there was one hiccup in Murera’s entree into motherhood. Perhaps because of the hip and leg injuries she sustained as a calf, she found it difficult to stand still and in the proper position for baby Mwana to suckle. The first days are pivotal for any newborn elephant, and the Keepers worried that her daughter was not getting the all-important colostrum and milk she needed to thrive. So, they stepped in and began milking Murera, then bottle-feeding Mwana. In an incredible display of trust, Murera accepted these measures without any reservations.

This continued, night and day, for more than a week.Then, on the 11th day, we finally had a breakthrough. Without preamble, Murera propped her leg forward and allowed Mwana to suckle. From that moment forward, she nursed her like an old pro. Again, the Keepers were so very proud of their matriarch.

Initially, Lima Lima emerged as Mwana’s top nanny. However, we think she is jealous that Murera has a baby, and she seems to be focusing on her love life with a new level of intensity. In the weeks following Mwana’s birth, the Keepers witnessed her courting a number of wild bulls, although one particularly handsome bull emerged the victor. Perhaps motherhood is also on the horizon for Lima Lima in the not-too-distant future.

All the girls are absolutely smitten with baby Mwana. Enkesha and Kiasa are particularly smitten — in fact, Kiasa is so attached to Mwana that Murera often has to remind her who is her actual mother! Amali remains very independent, but she really enjoys playing with the tiny baby. It seems that Lima Lima had aspirations to take full custody of Mwana, and when Murera would not let that happen, she took it personally. As a consolation prize, she shifted her affection back to Kapei. Naturally, he was very happy to have the attention.

While the boys are certainly intrigued by Mwana, they mostly continue life as usual. Maktao and Kiombo have their usual pushing matches, equally matched yet absolutely determined to establish their dominance. Mwashoti is still focused on Amali, but he has grown closer to Alamaya now that Murera is preoccupied. Only Kapei is overtly antagonistic towards Mwana, as he had grown used to being the belle of the ball! Luckily, he still gets plenty of attention from the older girls.

On 24th March, the missing link of our Umani family finally got to meet baby Mwana. Ziwa is so established in his wild life that he only visits us sporadically. However, he had clearly gotten wind of Murera’s news, because he unexpectedly appeared outside the stockades not two weeks after she gave birth. He had clearly come to see the miracle with his own eyes.

The month closed with a very cute moment between some of our Umani youngsters. In the morning, some brave baboons were trying to steal the lucerne pellets. Kiombo and Maktao were too absorbed with their usual sparring match to notice, but Kapei, Kiasa, and Amali decided it was their job to defend the pellets. They stood their ground, charging the baboons and trumpeting. They thought they were the victors, but truth be told, the baboons waited in the treetops until the orphan vacated the scene, then they came down to ‘clear the table’!

She may be young, but we can already tell that Mwana will be a force to be reckoned with. She is absolutely obsessed with the mud bath, never mind the fact that she is dwarfed by the big, boisterous bodies flailing around in the wet earth. The Keepers tried their best to deter her, shepherding her instead to a private puddle. At the end of the month, after days of trying to dodge the Keepers, Mwana finally got in for a proper wallow. The water was deeper than expected and almost came over her head, but Mwana was not fazed. She was so happy to be in the thick of things — in fact, the Keepers had a very difficult time convincing her to leave!

March 2023 day to day

01 Mar

When they were let out of the stockades, the orphans went straight to the lucerne pellet corner and had a competition of who could eat the most pellets. Kapei started making a lot of noise and protesting as Mwashoti and Alamaya were much faster at hoovering up the pellets. Kapei started shouting to the older girls, knowing they would chase the older boys away. Sonje and the other girls came over but Mwashoti, Alamaya and Ngasha had already moved away, not wanting to get into trouble.

The orphan herd moved off towards the Kenzili area. Murera did not want to follow the herd today; she decided the Kenzili area was too far to walk. Mwashoti and Murera watched the herd walk away then they started off on their own path towards the Umani hill. The keepers were divided, some stayed with Murera, the others went with the rest of the herd. They found lots of nice fresh vegetation in the Kenzili area. Quanza and Lima Lima pulled down branches for the Kapei and Amali to feed on.

The orphan herd did not make it back to the mud bath for their 11am feed, so the car was sent out to the Kenzili area with the milk bottles.