Keepers' Diaries, May 2019

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

This month 7 year old Faraja was very interested in fraternizing with as many wild elephants as he could. The meetings were not always as amicable as he would have hoped, and sometimes he returned to the other orphans and Keepers with scratches on his side where he had been pushed around a bit, but this did not deter him from seeking such encounters and he often went marching out into the forest in the morning throughout this month in search of some wild friends. 

Some of the wild bulls were eager to approach the orphans and familiarize themselves with the rest of our orphans and they particularly showed interest in the older female orphans like Sonje and Murera, and Faraja would welcome these closer to home interactions too. Faraja has been trying for a long time to gain Shukuru’s trust as well, and sometimes she will allow him to follow her around, although she always makes sure to stay well out of the way of any of his wild elephant escapades, as she is worried they will be overly bullish and push her around a bit. It is lovely to watch her friendship with Faraja grow, while she remains close to Zongoloni and Sonje as well; this unlikely bond between frail delicate Shukuru and brazen burly Faraja is quite unexpected!

Jasiri, despite most likely being half-brother to Faraja and exactly the same age, is unlike him and certainly more dependent still, preferring to stay close to home, and does not yet have this urge for independence that Faraja is feeling. Faraja spent a whole night out alone one night this month, but a few days later when Jasiri, Ngasha and Ziwa followed Faraja out to the forest for the day, Jasiri grew restless and started looking for Sonje and Murera so that he might follow them home, and had no intention of staying out in the forest like the other bulls have wished to on occasion. Jasiri remains close to Lima Lima and Zongoloni, and has even become quite protective of them; when wild bulls like ‘Osama’ choose to visit the orphans, he is often heard rumbling at the wild bull as if to chase him away.

It is wonderful that some of the younger wild bulls are choosing to approach the orphans and accept them wholly just as we see happen at Ithumba, as these encounters are how our orphans learn so much about a life in the wild, through teachings from their wild kin. This is a very important step in the orphans’ reintroduction back to the wild and it is a fantastic moment to witness as the young bulls become more and more interested in venturing further away from the stockades. Just as our orphans learn from the wild elephants, they too teach their wild kin about how their Keepers are also their family, not to be feared, and about different food as well! One morning as the orphans came out of their stockades, Faraja and Ziwa greeted a young wild bull and shared some Lucerne pellets with him. The young bull seemed to be unsure of the pellets as he kept throwing them over his head and to his sides. Lima Lima then sidled close to the wild bull, as if to show him what to do, and the wild bull then began to eat some of the pellets. 

We know very well how intelligent elephants are, but it is still remarkable to witness this first hand. All the Keepers are very fond of Lima Lima, but that is only because of how much she cares for them too. This month when one Keeper fell and hurt his eye, she was the first one to respond to his cries, and began trumpeting to alert the other Keepers as to where they could find their injured friend. As they waited for the other Keepers to find them, she patted him with her trunk as if to console him. Another day this month, a Keeper left his dust coat behind after sitting on it in the forest, and she carried it to him all the way to the other part of the forest where they had relocated! Another day Faraja unknowingly stepped in a line of safari ants which caused them to spread out in all directions and start biting the other orphans as well. When the ants get up the elephants’ trunks, it can cause serious discomfort, but Zongoloni had the clever idea to go to the water trough and blow bubbles into the water to dislodge and drown the ants, and the others ended up copying her too. 

The ‘babies’ of the herd Mwashoti and Alamaya are growing up; now they are five years old! Mwashoti no longer can fit his head underneath a Keepers umbrella when it rains, although he still tries, and we watched in amazement as Alamaya, this once timid bull, courageously rumbled and flapped his ears at a herd of buffalos to scare them away. Mwashoti is still very much ‘babied’ by Murera, but it will be interesting to watch the dynamics in the herd as some of the older bulls start to feel more independent. Quanza remains our shy and timid girl, and despite being the same age as Faraja and Jasiri, she is showing no signs of independence and seems to be quite comfortable together with the others females. 

May 2019 day to day

01 May

Recently, Faraja has been showing more and more interest in meeting up with his wild friends. Sonje and Murera are often visited by a wild bull, who seems to have taken a liking to the young girls. Yesterday morning, Faraja went running off ahead of the other orphans to meet up with his wild friends and when it was time for the orphans’ midday mud bath, he came down to the waterhole accompanied by the wild bull that is regularly visiting Sonje and Murera. Once Faraja had finished his midday bottle of milk, he walked over to Jasiri and Ziwa, as if to greet them, before heading back up the Umani Hills with the wild bulls. 

In the evening, as the orphans were getting ready to return to the stockades, Faraja came back to join them. Sometimes some of the wild elephants can be a little rough when interacting with the orphans and today seemed to be such a case as Faraja had some harmless scratch marks on his body from where some of the wild bulls had pushed him. As he re-joined the orphans’ herd, Lima Lima appeared to go and check that he was okay and the two walked back to the stockade compound together. 

Murera enjoying some fresh grass.

Mwashoti charging around the waterhole.

Sonje splashing around in the mud bath.