Keepers' Diaries, May 2020

Select your unit:

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The Kibwezi Forest is a green utopia year round, which is one of the many reasons we chose it as the location where our most vulnerable orphaned elephants could find their place in the wild. We have watched in anticipation recently as our first orphans from the Umani Unit, dubbed ‘the nightclub crew’ by our Keepers because of their night time antics, start to take their first tentative steps towards independence. These are tentative, as they still like the comfort and security of knowing they can return to the stockades or browse with the orphans and their human-family, the Keepers, at any time during the day. Faraja, Ziwa, Ngasha, guided and led by the capable female Zongoloni, who we feel sure has been earmarked by Murera to keep an eye on the three bulls, love exploring further afield and fraternising with wild friends, but Zongoloni does like to check-in with the dependent herd at least once a day. They have been aptly named due to the good times they seem to enjoy throughout the nights, with plenty of trumpeting heard every night in front of the Umani Springs eco lodge at the salt lick as they enjoy the company of each other and wild friends. 

Sometimes the four orphans return with some of their wild friends in tow, as if they have had conversations in the forest and the wild elephants have been curious to learn more about their unusual set up – the sight of our orphans accompanied by their loving Keepers must be quite something for them to behold. We were happy this month to come across Ndugu, one of the very first wild bulls who came to investigate our new Unit in the Kibwezi Forest, which we finished in 2014 when we moved our first orphans Murera, Sonje, Lima Lima, Quanza and Zongoloni there. He is such a handsome and gentle elephant bull and is happy to walk in the company of the orphans and their Keepers, or browse alongside them, not bothering anyone. We were heartbroken to find towards the end of the month that he had sustained terrible injuries inflicted during a fight with another wild bull, and immediately called on the SWT/KWS Mobile Veterinary Unit to come and treat him. Sadly, despite darting and treating him they gave him a poor prognosis given the severity of the huge tusk wound that went between his scapula. As Ndugu chose to stay in the area after his treatment, browsing quietly given his lack of mobility, we were deeply saddened to find that on the 1st June, he lay down and passed away from his injuries. This was heartbreaking for Umani as Ndugu had become such an integral part of the Umani establishment with his mentoring ways. We have lost a wonderful friend of the forest. 

Encouragingly, we watched this month as Jasiri seemed to build up the courage to join the ‘night club crew’ in the forest more regularly, eager to start exploring his independence as well. He moved to the Umani Unit in 2015 with Faraja and Ngasha, so is very close to them, but he has been much more cautious in approaching this next phase reluctant to leave the confines of the stockades at night and the big girls. 

Lima Lima and Shukuru are excited sometimes when the independent orphans are browsing away, as they know now that they will be the lucky recipients of the supplement bottles meant for them! You can almost see the look of disappointment cross their faces, if the independent crew suddenly rock up for feeding times from the forest. Alamaya and Mwashoti on the other hand seem to miss the older boys, and are always so excited to see them return. When Alamaya sees them arriving in the morning he begins to trumpet and rumble loudly in excitement. 

Following the abundance of rain we have had since October last year, the already verdant Kibwezi Forest has been given a new lease of life, and it is still flourishing and green. The grass has grown so tall and thick in some places, sometimes the Keepers have a hard time seeing smaller Alamaya and Mwashoti, and they are forced to follow a trail of swaying grasses and the sound of munching in order to locate them. Alamaya is still acting defiantly and trying to prove how big and strong he is, while Mwashoti is still comfortable being quieter and walking close to Murera and Sonje. Alamaya actually chose to spend much time with Quanza as well this month, browsing and playing with her often. Shukuru still likes to spend time on her own as she prefers to walk at her own pace, taking her time browsing, free from the jostling of the others, she therefore keeps away from the slightly more rambunctious boys.

Of course the most exciting news from Umani this month was the arrival of new babies Luggard and Enkesha into the fold, who arrived on the very last day of the month. We knew they would fit perfectly into the make-up of our herd here, built for elephants with lifelong injuries, and their friends, who can’t walk the hundreds of miles required to search for food in Tsavo’s dry season. Instead, they need to live in a forgiving environment like the Kibwezi Forest, and we always knew that Luggard would be destined for the Umani Unit for this reason. Enkesha, with her compromised trunk, would never lack a different variety of food to eat at Umani, and was the perfect steadying force to accompany Luggard to their new home. Lima Lima was the first to welcome the babies to Umani, not even waiting until the lorry had come to a complete stop before she was walking up the loading bay to investigate the new arrivals. Luggard seemed a little confused by his surroundings at first but he was quickly comforted by his Keepers and all the older girls Murera, Sonje, and Lima Lima. Enkesha was quick to lead the orphans out to the forest, not even knowing where she was headed, but as always, her independent and courageous nature meant she was already comfortable in her new surroundings. 

The arrival of these two babies sparked a new lease of life in Shukuru who is enjoying them enormously, and everyday she is getting a bigger spring to her step.  

May 2020 day to day

01 May

As the orphans made their way to the forest this morning, they startled a herd of buffalo that had been grazing quietly. Taken by surprise, the buffaloes panicked and started to run towards the orphans. Defiant boy Faraja stepped up to protect his herd. He began a slow charge towards the buffaloes and on the way struck a branch with his head to scare them off. The trick worked and the buffalos dispersed, running off in different directions away from the orphans. The orphans then carried on browsing in peace.  

Lima Lima found a scratching tree and busied herself, finding the exact spot to scratch her back. At the mud-bath, Ngasha emerged the swimming star of the day; he found a water pool and splashed and wallowed as his friends watched from a distance, as they decided against swimming today.

Faraja charging in the forest

Lima Lima scratching on a tree

Orphans at mud-bath