Keepers' Diaries, October 2021

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Unlike Voi and Ithumba, our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit has only been in existence for seven years. The Keepers have known every orphan since the day they arrived, so it has been very special for them to watch the eldest elephants reclaim their place in the wild. 

While this is a very personal process, most orphans tend to reintegrate in groups. We saw this with our “nightclubbers” who, under the leadership of Zongoloni, started spending days and then nights away from the dependent herd. Even now that they are leading fully wild lives, they usually stick together and visit their human-elephant family regularly.

Ziwa is the exception. He has always been a lone ranger, very fond of his Keepers and fellow orphans, but happiest when doing his own thing. At the beginning of the month, he arrived after a very long absence. When he first approached the Umani babies, the Keepers thought he was a wild bull, because he looked so rugged and imposing. After witnessing his warm greeting with Lima Lima and Zongoloni, however, they suspected it was Ziwa. They were overjoyed when they called him by name and he responded! 

Later in the month, Ziwa showed up in the company of several older bulls. He is the largest of our nightclubbers, but next to these friends, he looked tiny. Despite being so much younger and smaller, Ziwa seemed perfectly at ease around the wild bulls. It is wonderful to see how seamlessly he has become immersed with the local elephant population. 

While Zongoloni is the leader of the nightclubbers, she loves babies and is always on the lookout for younger females to add to her growing herd. In the past, she has tried to recruit Enkesha to join her, and now she does the same with Kiasa. Both girls are too young to go out in the wild just yet, but they do enjoy spending time with their “big sister.”

Murera is a recent entrant to the nightclubbers, and she seems to enjoy her wild excursions. She and Sonje remain wary of most wild bulls, preferring to spend time with female herds that have babies in tow. Towards the end of the month, however, Murera met a bull who really struck her fancy! She sniffed him all over and touched his tail with her trunk, before disappearing into the bushes with her new friend. She stayed away for most of the afternoon, leaving the Umani herd in the capable care of Quanza and Sonje. 

Before Murera and Lima Lima started their transition into the wild, they used to share the responsibility of looking after the younger babies. This meant Quanza had a less active nannying role. Now that both older females have joined the nightclubbers, Quanza has revealed a natural talent for nurturing. She is such a good roommate to little Kiasa and has also taken Enkesha under her wing, teaching the younger girls skills that will perhaps help them become matriarchs one day.

Enkesha and Maktao’s friendship continues to blossom. One day, they enjoyed a lengthy pushing game, which only ended when Enkesha got hit in the eye by a branch. Trumpeting in pain, she ran to the Keepers to see if they could help her. They examined her eye and then applied the necessary medication, which settled Enkesha considerably. Maktao felt very sorry for his friend and remained by her side, wrapping his trunk around her and rumbling softly at her, as though asking if she was ok.

Mwashoti is still grappling with some resentment towards the younger orphans. While he typically behaves himself, sometimes he gets very jealous and bullies Maktao and Kiombo. One day, he pushed Maktao so hard that the little bull toppled over. Enkesha rushed to help Maktao back to his feet, while the Keepers chastised Mwashoti. Mwashoti ran off trumpeting, as though complaining that he had been told off.

While he may be able to push around the younger bulls, Mwashoti is no match for his friend, Alamaya. One morning, when Alamaya arrived at the pellets corner, he found Mwashoti scooping up trunkfulls of the delicious supplements. Alamaya felt that Mwashoti had already had more than his fair share and it was time for him to move along. When the younger bull didn’t catch Alamaya’s hint, he pushed him with his tusks, perhaps a bit too hard, which sent Mwashoti trumpeting in protest. 

After spending their nights out in the forest, Jasiri and Ngasha often return to the Umani herd and mimic the behavior of their wild bull friends. Unfortunately, this means they often try to mount Murera and Sonje. Both girls dislike this behavior and avoid the boys at all costs. 

They might make nuisances of themselves, but our big boys are also fiercely protective of the dependent Umani herd. One afternoon, several male buffaloes blocked the orphans’ path and prevented them from walking down the hill. Jasiri registered the situation and circled back to Faraja, so the two bulls could hatch a plan. They ran towards the buffaloes with their ears spread wide and trumpeting loudly, forcing the interlopers to run off in the opposite direction. Murera took advantage of the diversion to gather the rest of the orphans. Everyone felt very triumphant and trumpeted as they made their way down the hill.

At the end of the month, we had a slightly dramatic incident at the Umani Springs. Enkesha found a lovely spot by the bank, which had just enough mud for a wallowing session. Kiombo saw what a good time she was having and decided to join in. He carefully surveyed the area for a spot to wallow, but he must have misjudged things, because his bottom landed squarely on top of Enkesha and pushed her into the mud. Kiombo managed to get out, but poor Enkesha was stuck! Hearing her cries for help, the Keepers, Sonje, and Murera rushed to her aid. The two matriarchs slowly moved down the bank and put their trunks under Enkesha’s belly to lift her. The slippery mud made things difficult, so the Keepers jumped in to help. While Sonje and Murera pulled, the Keepers pushed, until Enkesha was finally free. Maktao, who was observing from the sidelines, was overjoyed that the muddy ordeal had come to an end. 

Otherwise, it was a drama-free month, as the orphans enjoyed exploring the Kibwezi Forest and interacting with lots of wild elephant herds. The Keepers lovingly call Lima Lima the “receptionist,” as she is always introducing herself to new friends. One day, she showed up with a wild bull who she had been spending a lot of time with. Chaperoned by Lima Lima, Enkesha and Kiombo also joined the bull for a browsing session. At noon, Lima Lima returned Enkesha and Kiombo to the milk feeding area, leaving her male friend waiting for her. However, the only thing she loves more than socialising is her milk bottle. She got so distracted having her milk and mingling with her friends that she forgot all about the bull, who was left wondering what happened to his lovely female friend!

October 2021 day to day

01 Oct

When Alamaya arrived at the pellets corner this morning, Mwashoti was already there, scooping up trunkfuls of the delicious pellets. Alamaya felt that Mwashoti had already had more than his share and it was time for the younger bull to move along. Even though Mwashoti has broken away from the Umani herd to live an independent life, he is still younger and smaller than Alamaya. When the younger bull didn’t catch Alamaya’s hint, he pushed him with his tusks, perhaps a bit too hard, sending Mwashoti trumpeting in complaint. Mwashoti gets away with pushing around younger bulls, but he is no match for Alamaya and stayed away from the pellets corner until it was time to leave the stockades. Mwashoti still harbors a bit of jealousy towards Kiombo, because Kiombo moved into Sonje’s sleeping quarters and Mwashoti feels replaced. But it’s only a matter of time until this young bull forgets about being Sonje’s baby and embraces the freedom of being a wild elephant.

Kiasa and Maktao were walking together, enjoying their browsing and pushing games, when Zongoloni appeared out of the bushes. Little Kiasa was happy to see her friend. Any time Zongoloni arrives, she takes Kiasa under her wing and probably imparts her wisdom on the young girl, sharing information on the best browsing spots or stories of nighttime adventures. 

It was such a hot day that the orphans arrived at the noon feed earlier than usual, making a beeline for the mud bath to cool off. As soon as they were done with their milk feed, all the orphans returned to the mud bath. Murera and Enkesha showed off their wallowing skills by splashing mud on their chests. as Kiombo watched on. The orphans were joined by the nightclubbers, and Lima Lima brought her new bull friend. The wild bull was unsure of the Keepers, so he stayed back with Lima Lima in the bushes.

Sonje reaching up to grab a branch

Murera splashing water in the mudbath

Jasiri and Ngasha pushing games