Keepers' Diaries, September 2020

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Alamaya has really been exploring his independence this month and has stepped out on his own a lot more, even spending a few days and nights away from the comforts of the stockade and his milk feeds. Not only has the young bull started spending more time away from the dependent Umani herd, but he doesn’t always accompany the independent group either, those known as the ‘night-clubbers’. Instead, we see Alamaya choose to turn up and join the orphans to browse on his own, and sometimes accompanied by wild friends too.  He does still have a close relationship with the other five independent orphans, Zongoloni, Ziwa, Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri however, but Alamaya is very good at making friends it seems, and particularly with wild bulls. 

Perhaps the wild bulls are curious, and want to mentor him in some way given his unique circumstances as Alamaya is a eunuch, losing his genitals after a vicious hyena attack when he was an orphaned baby. When Alamaya turns up to see the other dependent orphans with one of these wild friends in tow, they are curious to watch this extraordinary family of dependent babies so comfortable with their devoted human family beside them. They never get too close however, but prefer watching the Umani herd with their Keepers from a safe distance, even choosing to accompany the orphans for some of the day. Sonje and Murera make sure to keep Luggard out of the way during such interactions and if she is around, Zongoloni does the same with Enkesha.  

The night-clubbers visit every few days and whenever they feel like it, but they are often around in the morning looking for some Lucerne, or at mud bath time when they know the dependent orphans will be at the mud bath area for their milk bottles.  Here they like to congregate to swim together and enjoy the company of their friends. It seems as though Ziwa and Zongoloni are in charge. The Umani herd are always so excited to see them though, particularly Quanza who always rumbles in delight when they decide to join them, and Enkesha too who is always thrilled to see Zongoloni.

When she is not with Zongoloni, Enkesha is accompanying Shukuru throughout the day. Shukuru is so fond of the little girl and since her arrival she seems to have given Shukuru a whole new lease of life, and she has never looked better. She is also well aware of Enkesha’s astute nature and how clever she is when it comes to finding the best browsing spots; when Enkesha deliberately walks off to another particular area, she will always follow her to join in on the delicious pickings. Enkesha is an adventurous and vivacious elephant who has thrived at Umani since the move in July and is growing so big and very fast, and she is always looking for fun wherever she can find it. One day she and Quanza found some crested crane birds drinking water at the edge of the water trough. Feeling rather naughty, Enkesha decided to chase them. Quanza then joined in the fun by letting out a few loud trumpets which sent the birds flying off in all different directions, but she didn’t stop there; she thought a little chase was in order as well, and she ran after the crane birds as they were trying to lift off until they were all out of sight. Luggard, Lima Lima and Murera who were browsing nearby, carried on with their activity, seemingly oblivious to all the trumpeting and chasing games. After the noon milk feed, Enkesha also likes to sneak off unnoticed to the back the vehicle that brings their milk bottles. She will poke her trunk around in search of an extra stray bottle that she might find; mostly she is out of luck, but that hasn’t deterred her dogged determination each and every day.

Shukuru still very much savours peace and quiet and doesn’t like to become involved in too many of the rambunctious activities or pushing games, and will politely wait to enjoy a more sedate mud bath on her own, or move away to a different area if she spots boisterous boys like Alamaya and Mwashoti play fighting. Mwashoti has become a high-spirited character of late, and seems to have taken up the habit of climbing on top of Lima Lima. Lima Lima does not like this and avoids spending too much time around Mwashoti if she can. Enkesha does not mind spending time with him however and they can sometimes be spotted browsing together with a special friendship forming. Mwashoti is a revelation, walking with hardly a limp, and when one casts back to the state of him when he came into our care it really is a remarkable journey – ending with him healing better than our wildest dreams could have ever imagined. The cable snare that viciously cut his ankle to the bone robbed him of his mother, and we thought the possibility of a normal life. As it turns out Mwashoti is not nearly as impaired as we anticipated, and his mobility continues to improve.  

Sonje and Murera are steadfast when it comes to keeping their precious Luggard safe, and Luggard is so lucky to have such love. They make sure they stay close to the young bull, to ensure none of the other boisterous boys can barge or disturb him. Luggard is a little intimidated by the sheer size of some of the older orphans and he knows too knows to stay close to the older girls to avoid any shoving. He and Murera are still devoted to one another. Luggard likes to sometimes rest his head against Murera’s chest, a pose he finds very comforting, and Murera is more than willing to mother this little boy. If Murera needs a break then Lima Lima is quick to step in and assume responsibility for looking after the little calf. Murera often likes to walk with either herself or another like Lima Lima at the front, and she behind Luggard, to make sure he is protected from both sides. Luggard is starting to make more friends in the Umani herd too, and is happy to join others like Quanza at the waterhole. Murera and the others are also there to teach Luggard too; even the sweetest of elephants will sometimes require lessons in manners, and there is no one better to impart this knowledge than Sonje and Murera who continue to prove why they are such successful matriarchal role models of the Umani herd. If ever Luggard shows any hint at being stubborn or petulant, they will gently guide him through rumbles and signals to do the right thing, and the young bull is very happy to oblige when he knows the matriarchs are being serious! 

It’s even very dry now in the oasis that is the Kibwezi Forest these days, and we look forward to the much anticipated rains which are drawing near. There are still quite a few wild elephant herds in the forest and some mornings can be filled with the sound of loud trumpets of large visiting herds of wild elephants. Much to the Keepers’ delight, sometimes our own partially-independent group Zongoloni, Ziwa, Alamaya, Jasiri, Faraja and Ngasha are found accompanying a wild herd, having met up in the forest. Often the Keepers find this independent group already know some of the wild bulls that choose to visit as well, by the way they greet each other, evidence that our orphans are steadily getting to grips with a wild life.  They straddle both worlds still, but this is a normal part of the process of their reintegration; as they grow older they will venture further afield, but their mentors, Sonje and Murera, remain more anchored to the Umani Unit and because of their injuries they will always be circling back to the oasis that is Umani Springs.

September 2020 day to day

01 Sep

The orphans were looking forward to their midday bottle feed today. As soon as it was time, they all rushed towards the Keepers.  

When they were done, they all made their way to the waterhole to quench their thirst as it had been a hot day so far. Murera and Luggard walked slower than the rest. Luggard stopped to drink straight from the water pipe that was filling the waterhole. What started off as a simple activity, soon turned into a game of tug of war, with all the orphans pulling the water pipe for themselves. In the end it was big boy Mwashoti who won; his might and size wore everyone out and Mwashoti enjoyed the fresh clean water, straight from the pipe.

Murera didn’t want to wait her turn at the water pipe and so decided to carry on walking to the waterhole with Luggard. Enkesha joined Murera and as they drank their water, while Luggard stood by watching them. As soon as Enkesha was done she looked for Mwashoti and they both took off into the bushes, where they remained for the rest of the afternoon browsing peacefully.

Orphans at the waterhole

Lima Lima looking after Luggard

Mwashoti drinking water directly from the pipe