Keepers' Diaries, May 2021

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

This month began on a heartbreaking note, as we lost Luggard on the 11th. His decline was sudden, but not wholly surprising: At just four months old, he nearly lost his life in a hail of gunfire. The bullet wounds left him permanently maimed, and while his lionhearted spirit carried him bravely through the past five years, ultimately, his body had taken him as far as it could go. He was happy at Umani Springs, which gives us great comfort, and passed peacefully surrounded by those who loved him most.

In the days following Luggard’s death, the orphans struggled immensely with their grief. However, it was immensely heartwarming to see how the “nightclubbers” — Zongoloni’s band of partially independent orphans — stepped up to console the dependent herd. When they arrived the morning after his passing, they innately knew that Luggard was no longer with us. While the nightclubbers are usually a rambunctious bunch, they quietly gathered around Lima Lima and Murera, offering their condolences in the form of quiet rumbles. After a few minutes of this, both Lima Lima and Murera seemed much more settled, but it was heartbreaking to watch her not feeding with her head hung, her trunk softly blowing into the dust. It was comforting for the Keepers to see the Umani family come together in this difficult time, and further testament to the deep bonds that exist within our orphan herd.

Luggard often frequented a special acacia tree just outside the stockades. In the days following his passing, the other orphans used it as a memorial for their friend, standing underneath its canopy and touching its bark with their trunks. Lima Lima disappeared one day and the Keepers eventually found her standing under “Luggard’s tree.” Later that evening, Jasiri, Faraja, Ziwa, Ngasha, and Alamaya surrounded the very same tree. These nightclubber boys never spent much time with Luggard, but they clearly still felt his loss keenly. Our little lionheart was only at Umani Springs for a year, but he really left an imprint on everyone there.

Perhaps aware that the herd was feeling fragile, the nightclubbers donned their protective hats in May. On the 21st, a wild bull spent the day with the Umani orphans. He was extremely polite, but Jasiri took umbrage at his presence and chased him off with the help of Ziwa and Faraja. The bull reappeared the next day in the company of two wild friends, and again the nightclubbers tried to break up the party. Apparently, they are rather jealous to find the Umani girls in the company of wild bulls! Another afternoon, a friendly bull became enamored with Sonje. He tried to prevent her from going into her stockade, in the hopes that she would follow him into the forest instead, which caused Sonje to trumpet in irritation. Not a moment later, the nightclubber boys came crashing out of the bushes, chasing the bull away while Ziwa quickly ushered Sonje into the stockade compound. 


Despite the best intentions of the nightclubbers, some of our Umani girls are rather enamoured with wild visitors. Lima Lima became smitten with a handsome wild bull who visited the herd for a few days. She was spotted encouraging him to wallow with the orphans and even joined him on private forays into the forest. The Keepers knew it was serious when she almost forwent her noon bottle in favour of spending time with her handsome friend!

However, all thoughts of wild elephants were forgotten on the 24th. Early that morning, the translocation lorry rolled up, delivering Nursery graduates Kiasa, Kiombo, and Maktao. We often marvel at the depth of elephant communication — they always seem to know things ahead of time — and that day was no exception! The Keepers tried to keep the Umani orphans at bay for as long as possible, so as to not overwhelm the newcomers, but there was no holding them back. Shukuru broke ranks first and the rest soon followed, showering Kiasa, Kiombo, and Maktao with a truly heartfelt greeting. The nightclubbers soon joined the welcoming party, filling the air with a spectacular chorus of rumbling and trumpeting.

The girls were overjoyed to welcome a little girl into the fold, and Sonje and Lima Lima have taken on the little boys, Maktao and Kiombo respectively. Enkesha was a bit jealous at first, but she quickly brushed it off and spent time with her sidekick, Mwashoti. Murera immediately adopted Kiasa as her own and became rather covetous, only granting Lima Lima and Quanza access to her when she needed a short break from nannying. Zongoloni, who is matriarch of the nightclubbers, began reporting to the dependent herd each morning, eager to spend time with the new babies. We knew she had her eye on Kiasa, and sure enough, she tried to spirit her away at the earliest opportunity! The Keepers were onto her plan and quickly retrieved the little girl. 

As the newcomers arrived from Nairobi, the Keepers and Angela Sheldrick made an important decision about Shukuru. She hadn’t been herself recently, growing increasingly solitary and losing condition. We felt it was time for her to make the reverse journey to the Nursery, where she can receive more hands-on care and veterinary attention. Poor Shukuru has been grappling with health issues for many years now, and she boarded the lorry without hesitation, as if she knew it was the right thing to do. In Nairobi, we can keep her under close observation and hopefully get to the bottom of what ails her.

While the month began with heartbreak at Umani Springs, it ended on a hopeful note. Luggard left an indelible mark on all of us, human and elephant alike, and he will never be forgotten. However, the arrival of three new babies was just the solace our grieving herd needed. We will move forward together, looking to brighter things on the horizon.

May 2021 day to day

01 May

Today Zongoloni and Alamaya thought they would be a bit cheeky and join the dependent orphan herd by sneaking in from behind the stockades.

Their plan worked with the Keepers as they didn’t notice them, but didn’t fully success as of course Zongoloni’s little friend Enkesha caught scent of Zongoloni and ran up to her to give her trunk hugs. Enkesha is quite tiny compared to Zongoloni’s big frame so it was very sweet to see Enkesha reaching up and trying her best to give Zongoloni trunk hugs. Zongoloni saw that her little friend was struggling so she stooped a little lower so that she too could envelope Enkesha. For Enkesha this is always the highlight of her day; seeing Zongoloni and browsing with her. These two are often seen side by side, Zongoloni with her head bent towards Enkesha as though imparting pearls of wisdom to her - maybe about her own adventures at night with wild elephants - all the fun, excitement and some dangers that come with being a wild elephant, and maybe all the best spots to browse in too.  

Alamaya walked over to Mwashoti, looking to engage him and a pushing and strength testing game. Normally Mwashoti obliges the other bulls, but not Alamaya so much. Alamaya’s playing methods have always been a bit on the rough side and more so now as he has picked up habits from the wild bulls he meets out in the forest. Mwashoti is bit more mild mannered and is a gentle bull, and so when Alamaya saw that Mwashoti wasn’t interested, he left Mwashoti alone. 

Later the orphans came to a clearing where it seems as if other wild elephants had dug up some roots but not eaten all of them, and the orphans scrambled to see who would get to them first. Because of all the commotion Shukuru decided to move away from the herd and find a quiet spot away from all the ruckus. 

Murera getting the herd ready to leave

Lima Lima sucking on her trunk

Mwashoti with a mouthful of forage