Keepers' Diaries, November 2023

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

In the Kibwezi Forest, November began with rain — and lots of it! During 48 hours of relentless storms, Lima Lima, Zongoloni, and Sonje failed to link up with the orphan herd. This must have felt like a very long two days for Murera, as she relies on the older girls to help look after baby Mwana. In their absence, little Amali, Kiasa, and Enkesha stepped up to entertain Mwana and give Murera a break.

The month also began with some comical lodging drama. During one rainy evening, Murera took baby Mwana beneath the stockade roof to nurse. Sensing an opportunity, neighbour Kiombo wound his trunk through the wooden partition and snatched their share of freshly cut greens. He thought Murera would be too busy to notice the theft — but how wrong he was! She moved swiftly to Kiombo’s hiding place and made her displeasure clear, although the fence separating their rooms protected him from any real discipline. Still, Kiombo screamed as if something drastic had happened. He retreated to the wall he shares with his other neighbour, Kiasa, but she had cleverly moved all her greens out of his reach.

Kapei is our resident glutton. Thanks to the recent rains, food is abundant in the Kibwezi Forest and Chyulu Hills, so everyone has plenty to eat. However, Kapei wants it all for himself. If he sees someone browsing ahead of him, he rushes to the front, attempting to prevent others from accessing any fresh vegetation before he’s had first dibs.

One afternoon, little Amali and Mwashoti decided enough was enough. They devised a clever strategy to catch Kapei off guard. Using elephant intuition, they sussed out the browsing area that Kapei had set his sights on. When the greedy young bull arrived for his private feast, he found Amali and Mwashoti already there, enjoying the branches he had targeted. 

For baby Mwana, every day is a new discovery. Luckily, she is surrounded by excellent teachers. One morning, the little girl attempted to manoeuvre a branch. Although it was a small branch, her tiny trunk struggled to break it into a manageable size. Kiasa and Quanza came to her aid, breaking it for her. Mwana then had one branch to snack on, and one branch to play with!

On 4th November, we were treated to a visit from Ziwa. Sonje, Zongoloni, and Quanza arrived late, having spent the night in the Chyulu Hills. They were joined by Ziwa and his wild friends. Typically, Ziwa’s ‘adopted family’ is quite standoffish — we suspect they see us as competition — but on this occasion, one of the females approached the orphans in a friendly manner. However, Lima LIma and Zongoloni did not welcome her into the herd, fearing she might kidnap one of the youngsters.

On 9th November, Jasiri arrived with a giant bull in tow. Most bulls seem to gravitate towards Sonje – she is a very beautiful elephant, after all — and this one was no different. However, neither she nor Zongoloni were interested in the handsome visitor. They turned away and remained with the dependent herd instead. 

Faraja, Jasiri, Ziwa, Mwashoti, and Alamaya were frequent visitors this month, though each bull has a different cadence. Mwashoti, who is very bonded with Murera and Amali, links up with the dependent herd most mornings. Alamaya, another gentle bull, is another familiar face. Faraja and Jasiri are much more erratic in their visits, while Ziwa is deeply immersed in his wild life and shows up a few times a month, at most. It just goes to show how unique each orphan’s reintegration journey unfolds. 

This month, we noticed a marked drop in wild elephants in the Kibwezi Forest. With the rain, they have dispersed far and wide, enjoying the fresh bounty of green in the ecosystem. While it is wonderful to see wild elephants out and about, they do bring about their stresses. The drop in wild encounters has contributed to a much more relaxed atmosphere for the Keepers and dependent orphans.

Little Amali was only rescued a year ago, but she is really coming into her own — we are so proud of her! She is emerging as an excellent ‘big sister’ to baby Mwana. One evening, we witnessed her escorting Murera and Mwana home, walking slowly to match Murera’s pace. Although a milk bottle was waiting for her, Amali first went to check on mother and baby, making sure they were settled in their stockade before returning to her own room. For several months after her rescue, Amali struggled to find her place amongst the Umani orphans. Now, she is an integral part of the herd. Murera relies on her help, Mwana looks up to her like a big sister, and Mwashoti cherishes her as a little sister. This has been Amali’s year!

While we welcome the generous rains, they did lead to some sleepless nights. Kapei, Amali, and Mwana detest the sound of heavy downpours on the stockade roofs. While the Keepers are always present to restore calm, the older orphans are also essential. One stormy night, the youngsters were restless. Then, Maktao initiated a rumble, prompting a joyous response from the entire herd and effectively putting an end to the heightened tension. Kiasa, Enkesha, and the others attentively raised their trunks in the direction of Murera and Mwana. Murera emitted a gentle rumble, reassuring them that all was well.

Run-ins with wild elephants may have been down this month, but we still had plenty of exciting encounters. One afternoon, the orphans were heading towards the Umani Springs when Kapei sensed something amiss. Amali, following closely behind, also halted, putting everyone on high alert. Sure enough, they discovered a large python basking in the sunshine. Kapei's quick instincts and the collective awareness of the elephants led them to stop, reassess, and change direction — for both their safety, and the safety of the Keepers. Guided by Lima Lima and Kiasa, everyone moved in a less slithery direction.

November closed with a spot of drama. Sonje returned home today after being absent for about four days. The Keepers noted that she was dull and restless — unusually, she was not even in the mood to play with Mwana. Upon closer inspection, they discovered that she was experiencing sores in her mouth and an upset stomach.

Acting quickly, we called Dr Limo of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit to the scene. The Keepers had separated the other babies, as they didn’t want them to worry, but Lima Lima refused to budge. Sonje was put to sleep so as to enable a closer inspection. The vet determined that Sonje had consumed a harmful plant, prompting an allergic reaction. After a straightforward treatment, she was revived and back on her feet. Everyone warmly received their beloved Sonje back into the fold, relieved the drama was over as her symptoms dissipated.

November 2023 day to day

01 Nov

It's now raining hard in Umani. Many had not experienced rain, particularly little Mwana. However, she loves water and swimming more than the older babies — notably Mwashoti and Alamaya, who typically skip the midday swimming sessions and avoid the waterhole. 

After it rained for two days straight, Lima Lima and her teammates failed to come home during that period. Mwana missed their presence, and even Murera felt it. When Lima Lima and her team are around, Murera can relax. Lima Lima, Zongoloni, and Sonje, even allowed Mwana to suckle from them, although of course they are not producing milk. 

However, the two days without them felt very long for Murera, as opportunities for free time were far and few between. Now, it was the responsibility of Enkesha, Kiasa, and little Amali to entertain Mwana and give Murera a break.

On the way home, Amali took over the leadership from Enkesha so that Mwana could closely follow them. As usual, Murera was the last one at the back. When the elephants formed a straight line, blocking Mwana's view of Murera, she broke the line to go back and support her mother.

Murera and Mwana suckling