Keepers' Diaries, September 2021

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Time will tell when our older girls are ready to mate, but they are certainly entertaining their fair share of suitors. Murera now spends most nights away from the stockades, meeting wild friends and perhaps being wooed by friendly bulls. Sonje, who is an exceptionally beautiful elephant, caught the eye of a very gallant bull. It was sweet to witness their courtship: During browsing sessions, the bull would reach up to pluck the tallest, greenest branches and give them to Sonje.

01 September 2021

While they used to spend their nights traveling far and wide in the forest, our night clubbers — Zongoloni, Jasiri, Faraja, Ngasha, Alamaya and Ziwa — have set up camp in the environs of Umani. This is a good thing, as their continued presence encourages wild friends to also take up residence in the area. As a result, Umani is quickly becoming a hub for wild elephants, which opens the door for many wonderful interactions with our dependent orphans.

Today, Zongoloni walked over to Faraja and rumbled in communication with him. The pair then walked towards to the Umani Springs, where four larger, wild bulls emerged out of the bushes. They clearly knew Zongoloni and Faraja, as greetings were exchanged. Lima Lima, who had already caught scent of these wild bulls, rushed over to welcome them. Always eager to meet new friends, she encouraged them to join her and the other orphans, but the bulls seemed hesitant to move beyond the night clubbers. Ever protective of her Keepers, however, Lima Lima rushed back to them, as thought to alert them to the presence of the wild bulls. Not knowing their temperament, she seemed to want the Keepers to keep their distance from the visitors. The Keepers moved further back into the bush, where the wild bulls would not be able to see them and the younger babies.

Kiasa immediately sensed the situation, so she walked over to where Enkesha and Kiombo were standing with Sonje. Quanza also joined them with Maktao in tow. Lima Lima made haste and the whole herd moved towards the hills, effectively avoiding any altercation with these new bulls.

02 September 2021

As the orphans were browsing at the top of Umani Hills this morning, a small herd of wild elephants with tiny babies joined them. Mwashoti was not pleased with the newcomers and seemed unsure as to which way to go, so he decided to join Enkesha and Kiombo, who were engrossed in a pushing game. However, he mistook this for a fight and ran towards little Kiombo. The poor young bull toppled over, which caused Enkesha to trumpet at Mwashoti in disapproval. Mwashoti felt unwelcome and left the Umani herd to browse by himself.  

The rains have still not made an appearance and most of Umani is quite dry. The spring, however, is teeming with fresh water and plenty of browse for all wild animals. Every day, the Keepers see herds of antelope and buffalo flock to there to drink and eat. Murera and Lima Lima continue to spend nights out with the other night clubbers. Kiasa, who used to rely on Murera for protection, has started bonding with Quanza in her absence. In the morning, Kiasa finds Quanza to give her a detailed report of her night.

03 September 2021

As soon as Sonje exited the stockades this morning, the night clubber boys, Ngasha and Jasiri, started to chase her. After a while, Sonje tired of their games and disappeared into the bushes, far away from the bothersome boys.

Alamaya arrived a little later and joined his friend, Quanza. They watched as the young babies, Kiasa and Kiombo, played with Enkesha. There were friendly tail-pulling games and then some pushing games. Enkesha is very gentle and patient with the babies.

As the orphans were getting ready to leave the stockades, Joy, a little antelope who has been hand-raised by the Keepers, decided to join the orphans. Once again, Mwashoti was not too happy with this newcomer and chased poor Joy back into the bush with some very loud trumpets.

Sonje returned a little while later and joined her friends. As soon as Ngasha spotted her, he maneuvered himself in her direction but Lima Lima stood in his way and made it very clear that the chasing needed to stop. Dejected, Ngasha returned to where his friend Ziwa was waiting for him and then Lima Lima also joined them.

04 September 2021

The day began very well, with orphans eager to set out on their morning activities. Everyone stopped at the water trough to have their fill before heading out to the hills. 

The herd kept a brisk pace, which forced the Keepers to pick up their speed, too. The older orphans were up front, Keepers in the middle, with little Maktao and Enkesha bringing up the tail end. Suddenly, Lima Lima let out a very loud trumpet, startling the Keepers and forcing them to do a quick check of their surroundings. A closer look revealed that an older wild bull had decided to join the Umani orphans. The Keepers did not know this bull, so they quickly ushered Kiombo towards Sonje and the rest of the babies to the front of the herd to put some distance between the wild bull and the babies.  

Lima Lima decided to take the orphans towards a hill where there is plenty of browse. On arriving there, the orphans realized that other wild elephant herds had already been there, as had a herd of buffaloes, as evidence by the large piles of dung they had left behind. The orphans did not like this smell and moved on very quickly towards another spot that Lima Lima had discovered. Maktao and Enkesha walked slowly with Murera, who decided to bring up the rear today.

05 September 2021

After their lucerne feed, the orphans decided to approach the springs from the opposite side. On the way, poor Maktao got stuck in the mud. The rest of the orphans had hurried forward, eager to reach the springs, leaving Maktao to be rescued by his little friends Kiasa and Kiombo. They tried their best to help their friend, but with no luck, they are just as small as Maktao. Maktao was forced to trumpet for help, which sent Murera and Sonje rushing back to push him out of the mud. Once out, Maktao shook off the mud and ran ahead of everyone, not wanting to be left behind.

Since it was already nearing noon, the Keepers decided to lead the orphans to the milk feed area. After their bottles, all the orphans indulged in a leisurely mud wallow, but not Maktao. The poor boy clearly thought he would get stuck in the mud again, so he just stood off to the side and watched his friends wallow.

06 September 2021

As the orphans were enjoying their supplement pellets in the morning a fight broke out between our two younger girls, Enkesha and Kiasa. Enkesha felt that Kiasa was being greedy and thought there might not be any left for her. So, she tried to block Kiasa from eating any more. Being a very feisty little girl, Kiasa fought back. This escalated, and after awhile, it seemed as though the orphans had split into two teams supporting each of the girls. In the end, the Keepers decided that they only way to stop the ruckus would be to put out more pellets. As soon as they scattered them about, all the orphans forgot about their disagreement and rushed over to finish their feast. 

07 September 2021

Even though Lima Lima spends most of her nights out with her wild elephant friends, she has not forgotten her Umani family. She has taken a keen interest in Kiasa, almost taking her under her wing and showing her how to become a responsible matriarch. Just like Lima Lima, Kiasa is very quick on her feet and can outrun most of the other female elephants in her herd. Kiasa is always at the front of the herd, leading them to the mud-bath or leading her family home at 5pm. Enkesha, who is bit envious of all Kiasa’s natural skills, tried to race her one day and lost miserably. Now, she knows she is no match for the fast little girl and instead occupies herself with her adopted baby, Maktao. 

08 September 2021

So, just like humans, elephants too have different personalities and behaviors. As such, the night clubbers have formed their own groups. Ngasha and Alamaya tend to spend most of their time together, as they have similar personalities and like to explore with wild elephants. Zongoloni, Jasiri, and Faraja like to visit the orphans more and they tend to drop in more often than the others. Ziwa is a lone ranger, preferring the company of wild bulls to roam the expanse of Umani and the Chyulus. He drops in occasionally for a quick hello, but never stays long. During long absences, the Keepers hope he is happy and healthy with his new friends, or perhaps a new female friend.

09 September 2021

Late at night, the Keepers heard the night clubbers and Lima Lima trumpeting very loud. It was very dark, so the Keepers did not venture out to see why they were causing such a noise.

 When the Keepers opened the gates to the stockades early the next morning, Lima Lima rushed in, quick to find her friends and narrate the events of the night. With Kiasa and Enkesha in tow, she took the two girls towards the bushes. They all returned after a few minutes, running and trumpeting at the same time. This caught the attention of the rest of the herd, so everyone ventured into the forest to see what Lima Lima was so eager to share.

 Under a tree was a dead bushbuck, killed by the leopard who frequents this area. The Keepers moved the orphans away from the creature, so the cat could enjoy his meal peacefully. They knew that the leopard must be nearby, as he had surely been protecting his kill from greedy hyenas but ran away when the orphans approached.  

10 September 2021

Early this morning, the Keepers took the orphans in the direction of the Umani Springs. Murera hurried ahead, as though she might have caught the scent of something. Sure enough, after a few minutes, we heard Murera let out a few very loud trumpets that got the rest of the herd very excited. They found her standing over the placenta of a newborn baby, which must have been born in the night. All the female elephants of the Umani herd were now very excited. Keen to find the newborn baby and its herd, they spread out wide and deep into the area. The Keepers had a tough time keeping up with them and keeping the herd together. The only way to calm the girls down was to entice them back to the stockades with lucerne pellets. Meanwhile, two of the keepers returned to where the placenta had been found to carefully discard it. This was the only way to get the girls to give up the search for the baby and its herd, and to carry on with their normal activities for the day.  

11 September 2021

Faraja returned today, after a two-week absence. Our Umani herd and their friends were so happy to see him and welcomed him back with trumpets and trunk hugs.

The only elephant who was not happy to see Faraja return was Ngasha.  Threatened by Faraja’s presence, he challenged the big bull to a fight. They tussled for almost an hour. Faraja, is now very well-versed in the art of fighting, skills he no doubt had picked up from other wild bulls during his two-week absence. He did not hold back from showing Ngasha he was the bigger and stronger bull. 

Poor Ngasha left the orphan herd to lament his defeat. Lima Lima, who hates to see discord between her friends, ran after Ngasha and brought him back to the herd. The Umani herd were happy to see him return and welcomed him back, just as they had Faraja. All the elephants then decided to make their way down to the mud bath to cool off from the searing heat. 

12 September 2021

Lima Lima is an elephant of many talents. The Keepers often joke that if there was an Olympics for elephants, she Lima would win many medals. She is always the first to finish her bottle of milk. She is the fastest runner in the herd, she knows the best browsing spots, and she has a great sense of direction. If the Keepers and orphans venture too far from the stockades, Lima Lima will be the one to lead them back home at 5pm. She is also the most social and makes friends with wild elephants very quickly, especially wild bulls. Lima Lima is the peacemaker of the herd, often mediating fights that break out between the night clubber boys. Lastly, Lima Lima has great instincts. The Keepers rely on her skills to sense any impending danger and to warn them in a timely manner, so they can make plans to move the herd away from the danger.  

13 September 2021

When Mwashoti was a younger bull, Sonje took him under her wing and the two spent all their time together, even sharing sleeping quarters. Now, Mwashoti is a big bull and must find his own way into the wild.  

It appears Mwashoti hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet. Ever since the youngsters arrived, he is quite jealous of the attention Kiombo receives from Sonje. Mwashoti feels replaced and, at every given opportunity, tries to bully Kiombo. When no one is watching, he sneaks up on Kiombo and pushes him over or blocks his path. This upsets Sonje greatly, but she also understands that Mwashoti needs time to adjust. Instead of chastising Mwashoti, she simply moves away with the younger bull.

The other girls are not so accommodating: The past few occasions, they have reprimanded Mwashoti for his naughty behavior. He doesn’t like to be in the girls’ bad books, so now he tries to be more friendly with Kiombo.

14 September 2021

Mwashoti is not the only one struggling with the new dynamics of the Umani herd. Enkesha is struggling to hold her place with the new babies. She wants to be the leader of the younger orphans, but Kiasa, who is quite strong-willed, believes she is the right elephant for the role. Kiombo and Maktao also seem to feel that Kiasa should be the one to lead them.

It was inevitable that the two youngest females of the herd would lock horns sooner or later — or, in this case, tusks. A fight broke out between Kiasa and Enkesha. The older girls watched on, thinking it would fizzle out, but eventually Murera and Sonje had to step in and separate the two girls. After a few rumbles and individual consultations, Enkesha and Kiasa settled their differences and decided to browse together. The Keepers expect a repeat of this incident, as Kiasa is a very headstrong girl.

15 September 2021

Our night clubber boys report to the stockades every morning, because they know the Keepers put out pellets for the orphans. With the rains still absent, fresh forage continues to be a challenge.

The Keepers noticed that Faraja was quite listless and hung back as the other boys made their way to the pellet corner. The Keepers felt he must be missing his friend, Ziwa. Knowing that Lima Lima is also a good friend to Faraja, they encouraged Lima Lima to spend time with him. They invited Faraja and Lima Lima to stay the night at the stockades, thinking being around the other orphans would help lift his mood. The two friends seemed to enjoy their night in the stockades. 


16 September 2021

Spending a night at the stockades with his friends helped lift Faraja’s spirits. It appears he and Lima Lima must have discussed Faraja’s dilemma, because as soon as they were done with their morning rituals, they both left the stockades in search of Ziwa.

There was no sign of either of them at the noon mud-bath or even when the orphans were returning to the stockades in the evening. The next morning, Lima Lima arrived at the stockades without Faraja. She was very tired and thirsty and spent a long time drinking and eating. Since they didn’t see Faraja all day, they assumed he must have either found Ziwa or decided to continue searching for his friends on his own.

17 September 2021

Today, a lone wild female elephant decided to join our orphans. She was very calm around our babies and she spent most the day browsing alongside them — that is, until the arrival of our night clubber boys.

 As soon as they saw a wild female had joined their friends, all the boys started to fight for her attentions. The youngest of the night clubbers, Mwashoti and Alamaya, didn’t stand a chance. They were immediately defeated and stood back to watch the older boys fight over who would leave with the wild female. Ngasha challenged Jasiri but lost after fighting for almost an hour. Finally victorious, Jasiri walked away with the wild elephant girl.

18 September 2021

The rains still haven’t arrived and most of Umani is still quite dry except for a few spots. Our orphans are quite active, spending their day walking in search of fresh browse. One such spot is the at the top of our sundowner hill. Since it is a steep climb, this is a challenge for elephants like Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti who have problems with their legs. Murera therefore leads her friends towards the Springs and Lima Lima leads hers towards the hills. The Keepers have to split into two groups, one group with Lima Lima and the other with Murera and her friends. 

 At around 10am, we heard a small trumpet coming from the top of the Hills, where Lima Lima stood with her small group of orphans. After a few minutes, we saw Kiasa running down the hill towards Murera, who welcomed her with trunk hugs and low rumbles. No matter how strong-willed Kiasa is, she still needs the nurturing, love and care from her surrogate mother Murera.

19 September 2021

Sometimes, Lima Lima will sneak off from the Umani orphans unnoticed. This behavior concerns the Keepers because they wonder if she is ok or not. Our Head Keeper, Philip, decided that two Keepers should follow Lima Lima to see what she gets up to.

 The Keepers were not surprised to see her following a troop of baboons. Lima Lima knows that wherever the baboons go, there is sure to be plenty of acacia pods to feed on. As they feed from the top of the trees, where elephants can’t reach, they invariably drop some pods that Lima Lima can feast upon. Clever girl, Lima Lima! After this the Keepers were happy for her to go off on her own, knowing she is safe. However, they make sure she returns for the mud bath and when the orphans come back to the stockades in the evening.



20 September 2021

Lima Lima’s escapade had not gone unnoticed. Three of her friends caught onto her clever plan, which she was more than delighted to share with them.

 So off went Lima Lima, Mwashoti, Alamaya, and Ngasha, to follow the baboons. This has become such a regular occurrence that the baboons are very comfortable around the elephants. They are happy to have the elephants follow their troop, knowing their presence will keep them safe. Baboons are easy prey for leopards, but when elephants are nearby, they wouldn’t dare attack them. So, it was an arrangement that worked well for both species.

21 September 2021

For a week now, a wild bull has been following the Umani orphans. When he first arrived, he kept his distance, but with each passing day, he moves closer and closer to the orphans.

 The Keepers think he is on the lookout for a mate. Unsurprisingly, our beautiful Sonje caught his eye. When they are browsing together, the wild bull will often reach up to pluck the tallest, greenest branches and give them to Sonje. While Sonje seems to enjoy this treatment, she is not ready to mate. Somehow, her suitor managed to separate her from the main herd and chase her all the way into the Chyulu Hills. However, Sonje is a very clever girl and outsmarted the wild bull, making a hasty retreat to the stockades. One of the Keepers on milk mixing duty saw Sonje outside the gate and immediately let her in. The bull was not far behind, but as soon as he saw Sonje within the stockade compound, he gave up his pursuit and withdrew into the forest.

22 September 2021

As the orphans were peacefully browsing one morning, a wild bull approached the Umani herd and tried to chase the Keepers away from the orphans. The older orphans followed the Keepers, but in all the commotion, our babies, Kiombo, Kiasa, Maktao and Enkesha got separated from the rest of the herd. The wild bull chased the Keepers all the way towards the Chyulu Hills, before suddenly turning around and disappearing.

 Lima Lima realized that the babies had been left behind, which threw her into a panic. While the Keepers continued to escort the older girls, she ran through the forest to collect the quarter. She found all four of them browsing with the older bull who had just chased the Keepers. They were safe, but as soon as the wild bull spotted the Keepers, he resumed his chase. Umani’s Head Keeper, Philip, signaled to his team to retreat to the stockades. Lima Lima took this opportunity to sneak our little babies past the wild bull and take a different route back home. Everyone was rewarded with buckets of lucerne pellets upon their return. Perhaps the wild bull thought the babies were not safe with humans and hence the chase, but all was well now.  

23 September 2021

Elephants can be so funny at times, bickering over the smallest things. Today, it was Kiombo and Kiasa, both of whom know they are doted on by their surrogate mothers. They had a disagreement on who should have the most lucerne pellets. Kiasa can be a greedy girl, so when Kiombo started to eat her side of the pellets, she pushed him and a fight broke out. When Sonje saw Kiasa pushing Kiombo, she ran to protect her little boy. Kiasa was upset at being reprimanded, so she let out a small trumpet, which brought Murera running to her rescue. A fight then broke out between the older girls, with Murera and Sonje defending their adopted babies. Jasiri, who was in the nearby forest, arrived at the stockades and put an end to the fight.


24 September 2021

All the orphans arrived at their midday milk feed, hungry and eager for their bottles of milk — none more so than Lima Lima. She picked up her bottle of milk and was the first to empty its contents. As soon as she was done, she made a beeline for Kiasa’s milk bottle! The poor little girl was in the middle of finishing her bottle when Lima Lima snatched it from her. This behavior was so unlike Lima Lima that all the Keepers were in complete shock. When Kiasa let out a trumpet, rightfully complaining that her milk bottle had been taken away from her, the older girls chased Lima Lima in retaliation. She was duly embarrassed by her behavior and proceeded to drop the stolen bottle and run off in the bushes until things had settled. She sheepishly returned in a bit, hoping that her friends had forgiven her.

25 September 2021

It was mid-afternoon when the orphans decided to make their way to the swamp. Lima Lima waded through the swamp and came across something that look like a ball. Reminded of her days at the Nairobi Nursery, where the orphans were given a ball to kick around and play with, she started to nudge and kick her new toy. The Keepers weren’t sure what she was up to, so ventured closer to have a look. It transpired that her “ball” was actually a poor tortoise! He was hiding in his shell to protect himself from Lima Lima’s giant foot. The Keepers had to distract Lima Lima so one of them could rescue the tortoise and place him in a safe place, where no elephant would step on him.


26 September 2021

This morning, Umani was graced with soft rainfall. As it fell to the ground, the familiar scent lingered in the air, that of rain falling on the parched soil. The orphans remained in their rooms until the weather improved.

 The night clubbers were already banging at the compound gate, as they thought it unusual to see the orphans still in their stockades. As soon as the rain stopped, the Keepers opened the gates and everyone made their way to the lucerne corner. The orphans filed out of the stockade compound with their Keepers with them, enjoying the fresh, cool air. Murera knows how sticky and slippery the soil can get with the rain, so she took her time and stepped carefully. Two Keepers stayed with her, to keep her company.  

27 September 2021

Zongoloni and Faraja arrived very early this morning, earlier than their usual time. Zongoloni was rather impatient, pushing on the gate and making a racket. She kept on rattling the padlock with her trunk, so eventually the Keepers let her and Faraja in while the other Keepers rushed to lay out the lucerne. Faraja burst through the gates headed straight for the hay store, stole a bale of hay, and hightailed it out of the compound, knowing that he had done wrong. The Keepers yelled at the naughty bull but could not stop him, so Zongoloni and Lima Lima decided to take up the chase. By the time they caught up with him, the bale was undone and all the hay had scattered. Instead, all the three friends decided to share the hay bale between themselves.

Later in the afternoon, Lima Lima brought one of her many male friends to the stockade. They were also accompanied by Ngasha, Jasiri, and Alamaya. Lima Lima wanted the Keepers to meet her new friend. Just as parents would, the Keepers wondered how many suitors Lima Lima has, but it seems as though she is still deciding who is the best one. This bull was very big in size, but the Keepers know Lima Lima will her take her time in choosing a suitable mate. Right now, she is socializing with as many bulls as she can to try to find the right one. 

28 September 2021

Ever since Murera started staying out at night with her wild friends, Kiasa has been sleeping on her own in their shared pen. The Keepers were planning on moving Kiasa, but this decision was taken out of their hands, when the little girl made the switch on her own. Yesterday evening, she invited herself into Quanza’s quarters and settled in for the night. This made Quanza very happy indeed, to have a baby of her own. For Kiasa, her older friend provides the nurturing and caring presence the Keepers felt she lacked when Murera began her transition into wild. Both girls settled well into their new sleeping arrangements.

 All the orphans decided to walk down to the springs to drink fresh water. While Ngasha, Faraja and Alamaya had their fill, Lima Lima spotted a crocodile making his way towards Alamaya. Alamaya was very engrossed in drinking, so Lima Lima ran towards him to alert him. The Keepers also noticed the interloper and began shouting, which sent the crocodile slithering back into the spring. Alamaya and the other boys, meanwhile, ran off in the opposite direction!

29 September 2021

Lima Lima’s wild suitor decided to pay her another visit today, but instead of standing outside the compound, he stood hidden in the shade of some trees. Sone and Kiombo were the first to spot him and rumbled to the rest of the herd to pass on the news. Faraja, who is Lima Lima’s close friend, was not too happy to see the visitor. He started sniffing the wild bull, but was in for a rude shock when he tried to sniff his underbelly. The bull turned on Faraja, pushing him with his large tusks and digging them into his back. Faraja immediately regretted his investigation and tried to surrender, but the bull was itching for a fight. Lima Lima quickly rushed over and stood between them, giving Faraja the opportunity to retreat. 

 Faraja is still quite young and clearly has a lot to learn about social etiquette when it comes to senior bulls. Kiasa and Kiombo watched this whole exchange in silence, perhaps taking notes on do’s and don’ts for when they are older.

30 September 2021

Enkesha continues to show signs that she will become a good matriarch one day. Her care for Maktao is exemplary. Both have similar temperaments, preferring to browse by themselves, away from any boisterous games or wild elephant visits. Maktao likes to play with Enkesha, as she is very gentle with him. The only time he steps back is when Mwashoti comes to spend time with Enkesha, knowing that the older bull is a little more boisterous in his games.

 Maktao has picked up new skills since coming to Umani, but he has yet to perfect the art of wallowing. He prefers to stand at the edge of the mud bath, using his little trunk to splash mud on his chest. The Keepers are hopeful that this shy bull will eventually learn how to cover his body in mud, as this is an essential survival tool. Lima Lima and Sonje are our resident wallowing champions, while Kiombo has been known to follow his surrogate mother into the mud bath.

Yesterday, Jasiri, Ngasha and Ziwa were absent. Today, Jasiri and Ngasha arrived. There was still no sign of Ziwa, but this is his true nature. He has always been more independent than the other orphans, even from the time he was at the Nairobi Nursery. The Keepers feel he is now fully immersed in his wild life and they hope to see him soon.