Keepers Diaries, April 2018

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

As if the heavens were weeping with us at the loss of our Dame Daphne, this was one of the wettest months we have seen for a long time, across the whole of Kenya. It has all been such a contrast considering how devastating the drought was not even 6 months ago, when we lost so many elephants to malnutrition in those harsh conditions. It seems a world of extremes at the moment, but fortunately the Kibwezi Forest is never too severely affected by such events, being the source of the Umani Springs and a ground water forest, which is why it is such a suitable area for our Umani unit, with gentle conditions for our more compromised orphans.

Despite all the rain around, the orphans have loved their wallowing sessions this month as well. Every single watering hole, and there are now many, are filled with white and blue lilies and plentiful dragonflies and butterflies perched at the water’s edge. The springs became a crocodile lined flowing water- way when the water level rose significantly after so much rain, and even the crocodiles escaped to try and bask in any sunshine they could find. When the orphans chose to swim in their mud bath surrounded by a now very swampy area, they discovered it very quickly had become a deep swimming pool, with water so deep sometimes we could just see their trunks sticking out like snorkels. Alamaya and Lima Lima were seen holding the tails of Sonje and Jasiri to help them swim in the pool!

Sonje loves to roll on the ground in this sodden weather and invite the young babies Alamaya and Mwashoti to come and roll with her, bumping and sliding down her large back. One day Zongoloni tried to join in but Sonje soon objected given her size. The orphans also have to take extra care due to the wet and slippery paths as the dark forest soil can be treacherous and it is very easy to lose footing. Mwashoti, Murera and Sonje especially need to tread carefully as for them to fall over with their compromised legs would be a disaster, but they know this better than anyone so take extra special care. One day the young boys slipped and shouted to the Keepers for help, but Sonje was the first to get to the babies and help Alamaya up from the ground. The orphans also have to take extra care when playing their pushing games as it is much easier for one to slip and fall! Unfortunately the rain also brings many insects which hatch in the wet conditions, and Alamaya struggled to keep them from biting his rear end without the benefit of his tail as a fly whisk, the poor chap. To help the orphans the Keepers apply an insect spray every now and then which is effective. Ziwa and Mwashoti are always the best behaved during this exercise and stand patiently whilst allowing the Keepers to do the necessary, while Zongoloni and Jasiri are not so well behaved and run around all over the place making it very challenging for those doing the job!

The rain brought with it additional treats as the dramatic storms caused some of the older trees in the forest to come crashing down. An acacia tree fell not far from the stockades and the Keepers treated the orphans to some of its branches, their favourite, in their rooms when they returned in the evening. As usual Lima Lima was the most greedy baby. She has been so excited by all the new and varied vegetation growing at the moment, so she and Quanza are really savouring their browse at the moment.

At one midday feeding session this month Lima Lima stole Faraja’s milk bottles and a fight ensued between the older boys including, Ngasha and Jasiri as well, and the greedy Lima Lima – they felt that bottle stealing was one step too far even for her! In fact this naughty behaviour at feeding times has been a common trait this month, started by Lima Lima who stole the teat, the top of their bottles, and took off with it. When two of the Keepers slipped whilst trying to run after her she stopped and came back to check whether they were okay, as her love for the Keepers comes before all else, even her greed of milk! This didn’t stop her from repeating the same trick another day however, and Ngasha deciding to copy her, and one evening in her stockade as well with Quanza. She is a very cheeky, albeit loving, elephant and definitely the ‘character’ of Umani.

Although the matriarchs are becoming more independent, and Sonje was delighted to see the wild bull she is so fond of this month after a short hiatus, they are still too devoted to the young babies, Mwashoti and Alamaya, to leave the dependent orphans. Murera is not as interested in her milk these days, but as the oldest females they feel a strong maternal bond to help protect and care for their babies. Vice versa the little bulls look to them for love, leadership and protection too. As long as this bond is in place and the matriarchs dote on the younger boys, we feel Murera and Sonje will stay with the dependent orphans and the Keepers, their human family, while having the advantage of fraternising with the wild elephants whenever they want.

April 2018 day to day

During the night the orphans kept pushing at the sides of their stockades trying to reach some branches that were close by. Jasiri had been stealing branches from Sonje and Murera before turning to see what he could steal from Quanza who was guarding her branches in order to prevent them being stolen by him, Zongoloni or any of her other stockade neighbours. In the morning Alamaya walked out of his stockade and made a beeline for the pellets that had been put out for the orphans. Mwashoti followed Alamaya but when Quanza and Lima Lima arrived at the supplement feeding area Alamaya left to join Murera and Ziwa. When the orphans were full and had left for the bush a troop of baboons came looking for any pellets that had been left behind and began fighting each other for any pellets that they found. At noon the orphans made their way to the milk feeding area but did not seem to want to go any further. Sonje was the first to break ranks as she walked to the mud bath and began swimming. It was not long before the rest of the orphan herd joined her and they all enjoyed wallowing in the water.

Ziwa playing with Ngasha

Sonje playing

Quanza picking vegetation from the trees

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