Keepers' Diaries, May 2022

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

For our Umani herd, May began with some unexpected encounters in the bush. First, a big tortoise crossed the road in front of the orphans. Because he prudently hid within his shell, most of the orphans didn’t even notice him. However, when Murera and Mwashoti saw the mysterious ‘rock’ in the road, they stopped to investigate. Mwashoti gave the tortoise a little kick, and after smelling it, Murera informed him that it was not a rock but a creature. Mwashoti could not believe his eyes when the tortoise emerged and walked into thicker grass to hide!

Later that day, Lima Lima and Zongoloni came across a sleeping buffalo atop Umani Hills. The buffalo was evidently very comfortable, as he refused to move. Lima Lima and Zongoloni tried trumpeting and charging at him, but they eventually had to call in reinforcements in the form of Jasiri and Ngasha. 

Sonje is a very capable matriarch of the Umani herd, but her love affairs can cloud her judgement a bit. Early in the month, she kept leading the orphans deeper into the bushes, which left the babies wondering if they should follow her. Enkesha urged little Maktao and Kiasa to hang back, a decision that Quanza supported. It was as if Quanza knew that Sonje had a rendezvous with Osama the wild bull. Sure enough, Sonje met up with her old suitor, but she returned after a short while. 

Because of its perennial springs, Umani Springs is faring better during this extended dry season than much of Kenya. Throughout the month, we saw all manner of creatures at the water hole, from bushbucks with tiny babies to troops of baboons to herds of buffalos. The vast number of animals that use Umani Springs as a water point demonstrate just how valuable the springs are.

Although he no longer sleeps in the stockades, Ngasha continues to latch onto the dependent herd. We think he is trying to assert his dominance as a bull and claim the orphans as his own. However, he makes himself scarce when Jasiri is around, knowing full well that his peer will keep him in check. The Keepers say that Jasiri is Head Boy, because he doesn’t allow any bullying. 

Kiasa used to be a big mischief maker at the Nursery. While her impish ways have cooled, she still can’t resist the occasional joke. Now, she likes to pretend that she has found a scary creature, when it is only something innocuous like a hyrax. One afternoon, she came charging back to the Keepers with her ears wide and flapping, which really frightened Maktao. As it transpired, the source of all her drama was just a hamerkop bird. Sometimes, she does this little act when there is no creature at all!

Towards the beginning of the month, Mwashoti and Faraja went on a safari with Zongoloni, but they returned after a few days. Murera was overjoyed to see Mwashoti and welcomed him like her lost son. When she heard he was back, she came running over to him, despite her bad leg. Murera always walks behind the other orphans, so she can go at her own pace and keep an eye on the others. When she rumbles, it is a signal for Mwashoti to join her at the back. Finally, she had her walking buddy back.

The following day, the orphans had a thrilling encounter. A herd of wild elephants waited strategically in an area they knew the orphans would pass. They raised their trunks in greeting and communicated that they wanted to introduce their babies to the orphan herd. Sonje and Quanza led the welcoming committee, but Kiombo got scared and immediately changed direction. He was not interested in meeting the wild babies, because he was consumed by jealousy over the attention Sonje was giving them. Sonje nipped this behaviour in the bud, rumbling at Kiombo to stop complaining and come join her.

In fact, the Umani herd were treated to near-daily wild encounters throughout the month. The wild elephants of the Kibwezi Forest have really embraced their presence. Whenever a herd has small babies with them, Lima Lima cannot contain her excitement and runs right over. She loves babies so much!

Alamaya is usually a well-mannered young bull, but he made some missteps this month. One day, he kept trying to steal a stick from Quanza’s mouth. When she turned her head away from him, he retaliated by pushing her from behind. Quanza was shocked by this behaviour and firmly put Alamaya in his place, reminding him that she is a strong girl who deserves his respect.

The evening of 14th May was very special, because Ziwa finally returned after a long absence. He appeared with a wild female herd, which has clearly adopted him as one of their own. The Keepers were delighted to see him and welcomed him with milk and lucerne pellets. The dependent orphans were already in their bedrooms for the night, but they rumbled loudly to say hello to their old friend. Ziwa visited several times throughout the month, which was such a treat for all of us.

Sonje continues to be the most popular female in the Kibwezi Forest. Later in the month, an enormous bull emerged from the trees and singled her out. This was not her old admirer, Osama, but a new love interest. As she walked into the forest with him, he affectionately placed his trunk over her shoulders. 

We have always known that Zongoloni is scheming to get Kiasa to join her ‘nightclubber’ group of semi-independent orphans — but the fact remains that Kiasa is far too young to go wild! However, Zongoloni enjoyed a small victory this month, when she whisked Kiasa away for many hours. She didn’t return Kiasa until later that evening, after everyone had had their bedtime milk bottles. As a result of her disappearing act, Maktao got an extra bottle and Kiasa went without milk that night.

Maktao and Kiombo like to start their day by tussling outside the stockade compound. One morning, they started their ritual as usual, but Sonje was feeling protective of her little friend Kiombo and tried to separate the boys. Her efforts were futile, as Maktao was enjoying the game and Kiombo was having fun provoking him. However, when Enkesha saw that it was verging into roughhousing territory, she intervened and stopped them. Maktao eventually moved away with Enkesha while Kiombo walked over to Sonje.

For Kiombo, May ended with an embarrassing gaffe. Hoping to broaden his horizons, he invited Alamaya to a game. Unfortunately, he touched Alamaya just above his missing tail, which is something the older bull is very sensitive about. Alamaya got upset and whirled around, pushing Kiombo down a slope. Kiombo, feeling sorry for himself, slunk back to the other orphans. Zongoloni and Sonje greeted him with sympathetic hugs and let him hide under their tummies. He didn’t sulk for long; he knows that these learning experiences are all part of growing up! 

May 2022 day to day

01 May

A big tortoise was crossing the road in front of the orphans. Many of the babies did not know what was on the road, luckily the tortoise sensed danger, he tucked his head into his shell and hid. The orphans mostly moved past the tortoise, only Mwashoti with Murera realised the hard rock on the road, then Mwashoti kicked it by his front leg, thinking it was a football. Murera smelt it and alerted Mwashoti that it was not a rock. Mwashoti could not believe the tortoise was now up and walking away into thicker grass to hide. Mwashoti was left confused, he ran back to the others trumpeting loudly.

Lima Lima and Zongoloni came across a sleeping buffalo on top of the Umani hills. The buffalo was relaxing, and he refused to move. Lima Lima and Zongoloni were trying to get him to move out of their way by trumpeting and charging at the bushes. Jasiri and Ngasha joined them to help, this forced the buffalo to run away.


Lima Lima