Umani Springs is an oasis in the dry thickets and volcanic outcroppings of Kibwezi forest. The forest sits in the shadows of Chyulu Hills, and is shaded by Ficus Figs and yellow barked acacias, which glow like natural lanterns in the gentle dawn light. Ancient Baobab trees with their plump pregnant trunks are dotted through the forest, which the local Wakamba people use to make sacrifices.
At sunrise the cicadas produce a low hypnotic hiss, and the hammerkop wails in the distance. The light drips through the bush, complementing the dappled spots on the bush buck’s back, and the giant atlas moth finds a hidden roost. Vervet and Sykes monkeys chase each other through the scrub, tree hyrax peek out from their tree trunk nests, and the scent of jasmine wafts through acacia thorns.
The lands are expertly managed by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and are dedicated to rehabilitating baby orphaned elephants back into the wild. The facilities can host up to ten youngsters, and have staff that care for them around the clock. The elephants wake-up early, and the day starts with a visit to their enclosure where they can sleep safely through the night. If the wild herds of elephants visited the night before, they can be quite rambunctious, crashing through the trees, and trumpeting to the wild giants, but the wild elephants are still suspicious of them, and not ready to accommodate them in their herds.
The elephants seem to love their caretakers, each having its own personality and favorite caretaker that it goads to scratch the bottom of its trunk, pulling their hand into its mouth to lick their fingers. The elephant’s intelligence is so apparent. They are incredibly social, communicating with low gurgling growls, interlocking their trunks in embrace, playfully pushing each other, spouting water at their friends, and gleefully moshing together in the mud pools until they are all lathered in coats of muck and dust.
As the shadows of the afternoon grow longer, one can meander down to the Umani Spring. It feels like a secret forest oasis — a lush green in the otherwise parched savannah grasses. The water runs clear, and fish and tadpoles dart among the mosses, hunted from above by herons. However, it also has an eerie unsettling spirit. Giant rock pythons live in volcanic crevices, growing up to seven meters, crocodiles lurk in the shadows, and the markings on the backs of the swallowtail butterflies mimic bloodshot eyes peering through the leaves. Leopards hunt the springs at night, and hang baboon carcasses in the trees like voodoo warnings in the bayou. It is a serene and spellbinding place, both a sanctuary and place of ambush.
The Umani Spring Lodge has wide open French doors, classic safari furnishings, a pool with an island of palm trees and hardwood decking that surrounds three different private cabins. Fire red dragon flies cruise over the pool and rock agamas bask on the hot rocks. The giant stone sculptures of scarab beetles and outdoor showers encircled in black volcanic rocks and are iconic, and the friendly team of staff cater to your every need. It is the perfect balance of indoor comfort with the wild outdoors.
As the last light of the day descends behind the Chyulu Hills, giant praying mantis hunt, and crested guineafowl scurry through the bushes with rebellious looking feather mohawks. The musk of the baboon hangs heavy in the thicket, routinely drawing in leopards to hunt among the cabins. The bush babies call from the tree tops and bushy-tailed marsh mongoose and genet cats slink around the edges of the camp looking for a treat. The wild elephants crash through the trees in the jet black night, adding a sense of adventure to the feeling of luxury.
Playing with baby elephants and observing them interacting with each other and their caregivers brings you closer to an understanding of what is wild about elephants, and what thoughts and feelings can be communicated between our species and shared. It is a magical experience, and such a privilege to be able to enjoy it in the comforts of the lodge, and with the company of such knowledgeable and dedicated caretakers.