September began with our Umani orphans being trailed by three wild bulls, who kept approaching them throughout the day, trying very hard to keep company with our babies; but the orphans were weary and chose to keep their distance. The month has been extremely hot, and our little albino boys, Faraja and Jasiri, instinctively know they need to take shelter during these scorching days and choose to spend much time in the shade, understanding that is what they must do due to their sensitive skin. The thick grey mud from the waterholes acts as a helpful sun shield and they both love their mud baths, so are seldom without a generous layer of mud over their fair skins.
The Umani babies are all fat little ticks who love their bottles and seem much frisker than any other orphans – it must be the plentiful acacia pods as they really are looking extremely healthy, particularly having just weathered a long dry season. Lima lima and Zongoloni are two greedy elephants prone to snatching food from the others, whether it be pods, grass, browse, Lucerne and even milk bottles. Sonje and Murera do discipline them and sometimes have to push them away to give space for the others when they become too overbearing. Ngasha is a big boy, a very close friend of Faraja’s and Jasiri is the dominant bull in their midst. Ziwa and Zongoloni the cosseted babies of big girls Sonje and Murera, and Quanza and Lima Lima two mischievous best friends.
The bushbuck population of Kibwezi forest has really proliferated, testament to the recovery of this precious habitat ever since it has been under the Trust’s management and protection. The bushbuck do like to hang out with the baboons as the baboons dislodge the much loved acacia pods, so the bushbuck benefit from what falls to ground. The orphans have worked this out too, and they often also follow the baboons, congregating under the abundant flat top acacia tortillas trees hoping for tasty dry season treats.
There was drama one day this month when Ziwa got stuck in a drying mud hole. His screams brought Sonje, Murera and Keepers running to investigate the problem. Thanks to combined teamwork both elephants and humans were involved extracting Ziwa. He was then showered in comfort from the big girls as the whole event had unnerved him terribly. This comes as no surprise given that Ziwa must surely have memories of how his sick mother eventually ended her days, trapped in a mud hole unable to stand due to weakness, semi submerged in the water hole and eventually having to be euthanized.
During this dry season the orphans have been heading further afield, even into the Chyulu National Park which abuts the forest. They follow the well-worn wild elephant paths which weave through the lava. The Chyulu Hills consist of undulating grasslands with the peaks covered in beautiful indigenous forests which provide a dry season refuge for many wild elephants, with the Umani Springs in the Kibwezi forest providing the dry season water source. One day while in the Chyulu National Park Ziwa found himself surrounded by three huge wild elephant bulls, which daunted him and sent him running back to the Keepers. The close proximity of the bulls unsettled the Keepers as well who decided to guide their orphan herd back to the waterhole to have their afternoon feed. Quanza sensed their fear and while the group ran down the hill towards their familiar waterhole her trumpets of distress echoed throughout the forest.
One early morning the orphans came across a female herd of elephants drinking from the crystal clear springs, and with them was a tiny baby which Lima Lima was immediately drawn to. However the mother detected human scent on Lima lima and turned away protecting her calf. The encounters with the wild elephants are becoming increasingly more common and a new development this month has been that such interactions have taken place during daylight hours.
The active mudwallow sessions are often shared with terrapins and baby crocodiles that have become extremely long suffering, as the orphans are bent on trying to dislodge them from their watery haunt. On days when the bathing is particularly energetic both crocodile and terrapins are forced to leap on the elephant’s backs for safety. This happened one day to Zongoloni, who upon feeling something cold on her back immediately leapt from the waterhole dislodging her crocodilian passenger, who rapidly scampered over tufts of grass to safety.
More recently the elephants have taken to dislodging reptilian occupants ahead of the mudbath, thrashing the water with their trunks and feet, causing sufficient turbulence while they wait for the desired results. Such action is effective and once the terrapins vacate the water on masse, the elephants take over.
There have been interesting encounters throughout the month with species other than the wild elephants. One occasion the orphans found themselves surrounded by a herd of buffalo, until the sound of human voices calling the elephants deterred the buffalo herd who galloped away, which unnerved the babies who hurriedly retreated to their Keepers. One night two noisy leopards in the tree tops close to the stockades kept the compound awake with their sawing roars. Ziwa on another occasion found himself surrounded by a troop of baboons and screamed out for help which came in the form of Murera and Sonje who were quick to rescue him. Crowned Cranes landing to catch grasshoppers close to where Lima lima was standing freaked her out sending her charging through the undergrowth trumpeting, frightening the rest of the group who eventually also hightailed it towards their Keepers for comfort.
On the 28th September Lima lima gently touched a handsome wild bull who was relaxing in the shade of a giant Newtonia tree. Having touched and smelt one another, the bull imposed himself with ears spread and head held high causing Lima lima to retreat. At the sound of the Keepers voices the bull mock charged and this sent the orphans scurrying off in the opposite direction. They headed to their midday mudbath still filled with excitement from their interaction with this handsome fellow.
Many more stories can be enjoyed in the daily entries of the Umani Keepers’ Dairies.