Keepers' Diaries, December 2017
Umani Springs Reintegration Unit
Umani was blessed with good rains, and this beautiful ground water forest is teaming with even more life than usual from dragonflies and butterflies, to buffalo and bushbuck and many family herds of elephants with their new born babies. This is such a beautiful home for our orphans, and was a Unit set up first with injured Murera and Sonje in mind. These two have come such a long way since their arrival at the Kibwezi stockades in June 2014. With their compromised legs due to Murera’s broken hip and the bullet lodged in Sonje’s knee, they were the pioneer arrivals at the new facility all those years ago, and are faring so well. They have got a firm grip on their herd of orphans, very much in charge despite being more compromised than some of their herd. Now at 8 and 6 years old respectively they are excellent leaders and matriarchs for the other younger orphans at Umani, as they together bravely take those first steps towards living a wild life without the guidance or example of much older Ex Orphans, they find themselves the pioneers, and thanks to their constant interaction with the wild herds and the tender care and comfort of their Keepers our Umani babies are thriving.
01 December 2017
The elephants exited the stockades this morning following a night of constant rainfall. Alamaya and Mwashoti rolled around in the muddy ground around their stockades covering themselves from head to toe in mud. Sonje then took Mwashoti for a scratching session against the rocks where they were soon joined by Murera who also wanted to have a good scratch.
The orphans walked in single file along the bushes from Kenze to the Umani Hills feeding on fresh browse as they made their way to the forest. Zongoloni, Quanza and Lima Lima walked through some thick forest and came across some buffaloes that were sleeping in the tall grass. Jasiri and Faraja joined them but upon spotting the buffaloes they ran away, followed by the three girls, and rejoined the keepers, making sure to stick close to them.
02 December 2017
Today Sonje had a lovely time playing. She got on the ground and rolled around entertaining the babies, inviting them to climb over her back and join in on the fun. When she had enough she slowly got to her feet and seemed to be limping. The keepers were worried that she may have injured herself but thankfully she was okay and she was just stiff in her bad leg. In no time she was back running and playing with the rest of the orphans.
The vegetation is once again lush and green making for very happy orphans who love browsing in the grasslands following short walk in the hills. They spent most of the day feeding in the grassy fields and even Ziwa and Ngasha seemed to put their pushing games on hold while they concentrated on feeding and filling their bellies. Once they were full, the boys all engaged one another in some strength testing games with each one having someone to play with.
03 December 2017
It was raining very hard as the orphans exited their respective stockades this morning. As Alamaya was walking out following his milk feed he realized how heavy the rain was a quickly sought shelter back in his stockade. May of the babies preferred to stay under cover this morning as they didn’t want to get rained on. By the time the orphans came out to begin the journey to the forest everything was soaked and quite slippery. Murera and Sonje led the group to the edge of the grass where Zongoloni took over with Alamaya, followed by Mwashoti, Quanza and the rest of the babies with Murera bringing up the rear.
While out in the forest the babies browsed peacefully enjoying feeding on all the branches that they could reach and browse off. As it has been cold and raining none of the orphans wanted to wallow in the mudbath and chose instead to continue with their browsing activities.
04 December 2017
Some elephants from the forests came to browse along the sides of the stockades, trying to follow up after Zongoloni who had walked along the path the bulls were following. Upon their arrival Sonje and Murera ignored them, and Lima Lima and Quanza just watched them from under the shade of the stockades as they passed by.
The smell of the wild bulls reached Alamaya then Mwashoti, who came to the gates to see what wild elephants were out there. Ziwa was pushing hard on the gates of his stockade to get out and join the wild elephants, who had a tiny baby girl walking under her mother’s belly. Faraja and Ngasha were outside of the stockade and approached the little girl. When she sensed Faraja and Ngasha were walking behind her trying to play with her tail she screamed, making her mother turn around and protect her from the inquisitive young boys.
05 December 2017
Mwashoti and his neighbour Alamaya came out in the morning and immediately started messing around climbing on each other. Alamaya then escalated the playing mode to a fighting one. Ziwa tried to join in and separate them but Alamaya did not listen, until Lima Lima came over and talked to Alamaya instead. Alamaya then moved away and walked off into the bushes, leaving Mwashoti alone to join Sonje and Zongoloni.
In the forest along the Umani Hills, Murera stopped and looked back to see how Ziwa and Ngasha were doing. They had stopped browsing to enjoy a pushing game. With all the vegetation around they were not worried about browsing and instead wasted their time with a wrestling game; they did not have to be concerned about going hungry because with all of the vegetation around, they could eat later.
06 December 2017
Sonje and Zongoloni were walking in the forest and stopped for awhile. Sonje rolled on the ground exercising and stretching her body to prepare for the day of walking ahead. Zongoloni watched as Sonje was rubbed her bottom on the ground and stretching her bad leg. The keepers wondered about her leg and what it feels like on a day to day basis; if it bothers her all the time, but she seemed happy and okay and enjoyed her game of rolling on the ground for a bit.
All the elephants seemed very playful today, charging around in the forest enjoying the tall grass and fresh food all around because of the good rain. At the bottle feeding time all the orphans came along; the first group was lead by Mwashoti and Alamaya, followed by Zongoloni and Jasiri leading the second group. None of the orphans went to the waterhole to drink or swim because they had found plenty of other waterholes in the forest; by the time they got to the bottle feeding area they did not feel like wallowing and it was quite chilly as well.
07 December 2017
The wild elephants surprised the keepers and orphans this morning when they began trumpeting near the stockades early in the morning. Everything was quiet and no one expected such loud noise so early. Later Lima Lima followed the path from where they had heard the noise coming from, and brought the wild elephants back to where the keepers and other orphans were. Jasiri and Faraja teamed up with Ngasha to walk over to them, but before they could greet them the elephants pushed them back and they ran back to their human family.
Despite their initial unfriendliness, the wild elephants following the orphans whilst they made their way through the forest. Only Quanza and Ziwa decided to interact with them for a short while. Quanza left with them for a short while as they walked towards the Chyulu Hills, but later came back to the keepers and the other orphans. In the afternoon, Mwashoti and Murera were walking very slowly behind the group. They looked very tired after a long day walking and trying to keep up with Lima Lima, who was moving from one area to the next, tasting all the different delicious vegetation to fill up her tummy.
08 December 2017
When the keepers walked the babies towards the Umani Hills, Ziwa did not want to follow the keepers and was instead trying to go his own directions. The keepers did not want to go his route and Sonje kept rumbling loudly trying to stop Ziwa from walking in silly directions that would not be good for her, Murera or Mwashoti’s legs. Zongoloni and Faraja joined in as well and they all stopped Ziwa from walking his way, and he came back to Sonje and Murera who were going down the slope of the hill.
Some buffalos came along and the orphans were nervous of them, running back to the keepers for safety. When it was time to return to the stockades for the last bottle feeding, all the babies lined up in a straight line, with Murera and Sonje walking at the back and Mwashoti and Alamaya leading the way home at the front.
09 December 2017
Alamaya was very playful today and pushing Zongoloni along from behind. He pushed her frequently so she did not have the chance to turn around and do it back to him! Lima Lima joined in the game as well and then Mwashoti felt jealous. He started to play with Sonje instead; Sonje knew that Mwashoti is a gentle boy and not a trouble-making baby. The big bulls were further away behind some bushes, pushing each other very hard. Jasiri started playing more seriously with Ziwa who seemed ready to fight back too, and they stamped around the bushes flattening the area they were playing in.
10 December 2017
All the babies got ready for the new day and were ready to walk out of the stockade compound after having their milk bottles. Jasiri and Zongoloni were very eager to come out and were very impatient for the keepers to open the gates for them! Jasiri climbed on Zongoloni and she then tried to climb up the walls, eager to get out into the forest. When Lima Lima came out with Quanza she instead walked to the hay stores and grabbed some bales of hay to run away with! The keepers shouted at her and she dropped the big bail she was carrying with her trunk, and she ran to join the other babies in the forest.
Wild elephants approached where some of the orphans had gathered for fresh branches to eat in the morning. Some of the young babies among the wild herd were trying to play with Lima Lima who loves babies. Zongoloni wanted to join in but Lima Lima did not want her to and set about walking in different directions with the young ones, trying to confuse Zongoloni about the direction she was going in with the wild babies!
11 December 2017
After two days of rain and drizzle today it looked like it was going to warm up. All the orphans were very jovial and playful today as they walked to the bushes, looking for how to begin their new day. They started by rolling around in the muddy soil around the stockades. Murera and Sonje also tried to get involved, but they know the consequences of hurting their bad legs and the difficulty they might have in getting up again!
As the orphans browsed throughout the morning, some bushbucks came along and obviously felt very comfortable and calm with the keepers, even walking along with them and the elephants. They used to run away but now with the reduction in hunting and poaching in the Kibwezi Forest and surrounding area, they do not fear humans as much. The DSWT de-snaring teams keep up vigorous patrols along the park boundaries and throughout the area so that we can be sure of the safety of our orphans and other wildlife in the forest.
12 December 2017
When all the babies walked out for the new day, Sonje went ahead and stopped some of the babies from going in a direction the matriarchs’ did not want to go in today. Sonje rumbled trying to communicate with Murera to help; she wanted them to head towards the Umani Hills instead of where the bulls were walking to which was all wet and not nice to walk through. Mwashoti and Zongoloni responded nicely to Murera and Sonje then the boys were forced to turn around and follow the matriarchs and the keepers.
At the noon bottle feeding time all the babies assembled readily waiting for their milk. Alamaya and Mwashoti can pick up their own bottles from the ground these days just like Zongoloni and Jasiri taught them; it looks like they plan to relieve the keepers from their feeding duties!
Ziwa and Quanza arrived and after his milk bottle Ziwa made a lot of shouting noises since he believed his milk had finished too quickly. After bottle feeding, the walk continued to find more browse. Ziwa walked very fast to the bushes holding a big bunch of grass to his mouth. Faraja tried to grab some thinking that Ziwa had something very sweet to eat but he stopped when he realised it was just grass and Ziwa was just getting carried away!
13 December 2017
The bulls like Faraja, Jasiri and Ngasha wanted to be independent from the matriarchs today, keeping their distance and not wanting Sonje to browse with them or even play in the mud with them as they sometimes do. Zongoloni wanted to join Ziwa, Ngasha and Faraja but then decided to turn and follow Mwashoti and Murera.
At the waterhole no elephant walked to the water hole because it is still so wet in the forest and they have no need to bathe in the big mud bath. A crocodile was trying to come out from the water near the water trough when Lima Lima saw it. Jasiri and Quanza then saw it too and trumpeted very loudly trying to scare the crocodile away, even though it was just a baby. Murera and Sonje then led the orphans along a path some wild elephants had taken, as Sonje was trying to lead them to see the wild bulls. The bulls did not like the keepers very much and were quite aloof, so the orphans did not really approach them and came back to the keepers to keep walking in the forest.
14 December 2017
Alamaya and Zongoloni were very playful today, even more than usual in the morning. They were so active Murera and Sonje pulled Mwashoti close to them as they did not want him to get caught up in Ziwa and Ngasha’s rough game. Ngasha pushed Ziwa very hard and he fell over in the bushes. After that he decided to take a step back from the vigorous games being played amongst the other boys!
A stick touched Mwashoti’s eye as they were pushing each other whilst playing in the thick bushes and the keepers ran to help him so he could carry on with his spirited games with Murera and Sonje. Alamaya continued pushing Zongoloni and Lima Lima as well. The females know he is a young boy and did not push him back, so Alamaya felt very strong and proud that he could push some of the bigger elephants around!
15 December 2017
This morning Sonje walked straight to a wooden post as they came out of their stockades, trying to scratch her left hind hip and leg. Some of the babies went to the elephant loading bay wall to scratch themselves, whilst the bulls Faraja and Jasiri were busy pushing each and enjoying some morning exercise.
Some wild elephants walked out from the bushes around the stockades and walked over to join the orphans. Sonje and Quanza looking worried about the wild friends joining them, but Lima Lima and Faraja were more interested and approached the wild elephants to greet them.
At the waterholes today none of the orphans went to drink water again, as they are finding plenty in the forest throughout the day. They didn’t even want to dust bath today; they just had their bottles and moved away as the keepers had their lunch under a tree. Murera and Sonje walked to the tree to wait for the keepers so they could escort them to the forest for the rest of the day, until it was time to head back to the stockades.
16 December 2017
All the elephants walked out of the stockade compound this morning looking very happy to begin their day of browsing; they did not know where to start as it lush and green in every direction. Some of the orphans decided to play on the grass and Jasiri tried to climb on Sonje who was on the ground. Ziwa joined in trying to climb on her as well, but they were all very heavy and Murera came over to help Sonje push them away. Mwashoti was waiting for the older boys to walk away so he could approach Sonje and have his turn climbing on her. Alamaya then got very jealous so he turned to Lima Lima.
At the mud bath all the babies assembled ready for their bottles. Alamaya and Zongoloni came running over so fast as if the bottles would be taken away. Mwashoti then came running in so fast he couldn’t apply his breaks very well and lost control, knocking over one of his bottles!
17 December 2017
Mwashoti received the foster parents staying at Umani Springs very warmly this morning. He gave low rumbles and put his trunk out to wave at them and say ‘jambo’. Faraja with Quanza then walked away to lead the rest of the orphans out for the day, walking towards the springs and avoiding getting their feet wet on the long green grass. Mwashoti followed Murera and tried to go under her belly like a wild elephant baby. Murera knew he was just acting like a baby would but after trying to suckle from her for some time she blocked his way with her leg.
18 December 2017
Lima Lima and Zongoloni led all the orphans up the hills today, looking for green vegetations. Jasiri and his tail-grabbing missions continue. As they were walking he grabbed Faraja’s tail which caused him to shout out and run into the bushes, avoiding his tail being bitten by Jasiri’s strong teeth. His cry for help was to get the keeper’s attention to help him detach from the naughty boy Jasiri, who was still holding his tail and when he pulled forward it hurt!
Wild elephants came to the mud bath time after the orphans milk feeding today. There was very large bull in the group with huge tusks; when he raised his head all the orphans took off running as they had never seen a bull so big, leaving only Ziwa and Zongoloni trying to reach the other elephants to play with them. Mwashoti sneaked past the bull through the bushes trying to reach the wild herd, and the keepers were worried he might be pushed around!
19 December 2017
Alamaya and Zongoloni teamed up with Lima Lima to rush out of the stockades into the forest to look for some nice fresh food to eat. Jasiri was pushing Faraja hard in the back, causing him to rush forward to avoid being poked, but he was unsure which way to go.
It started raining again before the babies could get up to the Umani Hills. Sonje and Mwashoti looked for some cover but couldn’t find any around them. The keepers went to fetch their rain coats and when Mwashoti and Lima Lima saw they had some umbrellas there went to seek refuge with them; there was not very much space under the umbrella for a keeper and an elephant so it did not help them very much in the end.
20 December 2017
The bushes are growing very thick since the rainy season started last month, making it hard to see tiny Mwashoti and Alamaya, the babies of the group, in the tall grass. The keepers make sure to count all the orphans every now and then to make sure they are all still together.
At midday all the babies came for their milk bottles and a few wild herds followed them to come and see how they interacted with humans which they had been afraid of for so long. Some crane birds were flying around the feeding area and flying above the elephants. Ziwa tried to see what they were but wasn’t sure. Lima Lima came out from the bushes charging at them and trumpeting, causing them to take flight and fly away. The visiting wild friends walked slowly to the waterhole to drink and left when Sonje and Jasiri also walked away. The whole day was very cloudy and none of the elephants wanted to play in the mud or even dust bath, but they all concentrated on the fresh grass and grazing in the fields.
21 December 2017
All the orphans came out rushing to the scratching wall this morning, looking for a place to scratch their itchy bodies in the early morning hours. There was not enough space in the usual scratching spot, so some went looking for other options on the loading bay wall and the big trees around. Alamaya and Mwashoti turned to face each other trying to fight over one scratching space, but when Mwashoti saw it was becoming a more serious fight he decided to leave so as not to be pushed down by the strong Alamaya. Instead he went to Murera and Sonje and walked behind them.
Zongoloni and Ziwa were enjoying a pushing game when Jasiri came over with the aim of grabbing Zongoloni’s tail. Zongoloni turned around swiftly however, stopping Jasiri from putting her tail in his mouth; she is good fighter and able to stand up for herself against the boys.
22 December 2017
It was very cloudy today after the rain in the night so the orphans were in a very dull mood when they went out to start their day. The grass was very wet and the paths were full of water. Mwashoti and Murera walked together but very slowly, so as not to fall over and hurt their legs. The keepers called Lima Lima to lead up front, and she led them to the base of the Kenze Hills looking for the best branches to eat.
Some buffalos came along and became mixed up with the babies while they were grazing down the hill. Some of them got scared and raised their ears to try and scare the buffalos away. Lima Lima walked back to the keepers to report about the buffalos and make sure they were aware of the danger.
23 December 2017
Sonje walked to the forests with some of the orphans following her. Jasiri was eagerly waiting for Sonje to lie down as she normally does so that he could climb on her and roll down her back. Sonje eventually lay down and Jasiri immediately jumped on her. Mwashoti and Alamaya joined in but she could not carry them all on her back; Jasiri pushed the little boys aside to give way to him. Murera felt bad that Jasiri pushed her little favourable babies away and she went to push Jasiri away. Ziwa came over to help when he heard Jasiri shouting but upon finding that it was Murera there was nothing they could do as she is the matriarch.
24 December 2017
The whole forest is green and lush which makes it difficult for the orphans to decide where to browse. Murera and Sonje look so big in the forest these days sometimes they think they are wild elephants browsing with the orphans! Ziwa is the most eager to stay at the front, leading the others to look for fresh green grass but keen to be the first one to reach a new browsing area. Sometimes the keepers shout his name loudly to get him to return to his friends, and walk together as one herd.
When the orphans arrived at the bottle feeding area at midday, Mwashoti and Alamaya were very thirsty and eager for their bottles. All the bottles were still in the car however, waiting for the keepers to offload them for the orphans. Lima Lima and Zongoloni came to the side of the car and grabbed one bottle each, holding them like Jasiri and Zongoloni do, as well as Alamaya and Mwashoti these days!
25 December 2017
As today was Christmas Day, the keepers prepared a pile of delicious acacia pods for all the orphans, which they had collected and saved specifically for the orphans today. It was a joyous moment for all the babies who were very surprised to receive pods after their usual milk feed, as the keepers too celebrated with their own very nice feast sent from Nairobi to celebrate the day. The orphans waited for the keepers in the shade as the keepers finished their lunch feast under the trees as well. The orphans were not very concerned with their browsing activities in the forest today as they remained full from their acacia pod breakfast treat! Later in the day Murera and Sonje slowly walked back home, leading the others back for another night in the stockades.
26 December 2017
Today the orphans woke up ready to look for some branches to fill their stomachs. Alamaya was trying to uproot some hard grass with his toes by kicking it very hard whilst holding the tops with his trunk. When they walked towards the springs some crocodiles jumped into the water when they saw the elephants and keepers coming. Lima Lima charged towards where they had jumped in, flapping her ears. Once amongst the thick bushes the orphans got down to business and began browsing. Some antelopes walked closely alongside Alamaya but Mwashoti did not like them and blew a very loud trumpet to chase them away!
27 December 2017
The orphans all came rushing in for their midday milk bottles today and the keepers had to direct the greedy ones like Lima Lima towards their own bottles, so they did not take more than their share!
On the way to the Chyulu Hills later on, the orphans found the path some wild elephants had taken. Zongoloni tried to follow them with Lima Lima and Ziwa. They came across a very big bull who turned around to look at how tiny the orphans were. Ziwa walked up to him but got pushed back with very strong tusk to the ground. Lima Lima and Zongoloni were scared and ran away back to the keepers as these bulls were obviously not familiar with the smell of the keepers and did not want them to get too close.
28 December 2017
After their lovely treat on Christmas Day the orphans thought it should be Christmas every day as they would like to eat the delicious pods as much as possible. The keepers had kept that treat for them for over 3 months! Lima Lima knew there were some left over in the milk car, just a very few where they had been stored, and she walked along next to it wondering if she would be able to get any. The keepers monitored her carefully to make sure she would not try to steal any milk that was not hers either! Murera and Sonje came along at last and charged at her for being so greedy.
At the stockades when all the babies arrived for their bed time, some wild bulls followed them all the way up to the gate and wanted to come inside, but they feared the keepers, and stopped before the reached the compound entrance.
29 December 2017
The elephants came out of their rooms after enjoying their night and playing among themselves, waiting for the new day to come. Lima Lima was tirelessly pushing at her gates and wooden walls, trying to get out as she could see the keepers preparing their morning bottles. Quanza was blocking greedy Lima Lima so she would not obstruct the keepers from being able to feed all the babies.
As the orphans walked towards the Umani Hills, some buffaloes came out of the bushes to join them, walking behind the group. A male bush buck crossed Alamaya and Mwashoti’s path and the boys ran after him, trumpeting as they chased him away. Lima Lima and Zongoloni joined in as they felt it was a good game and also that the bush buck had interrupted their peaceful time browsing.
30 December 2017
At the mud bath after their bottle feeding, Lima Lima, Zongoloni, Ziwa and Ngasha walked to splash water on their bodies. They left Mwashoti and Alamaya to hang back with Murera and the keepers who were having their lunch under the trees. As Lima Lima came back to dust herself she found the fresh carcass of a bush buck lying on the ground. She found the smell and came up to the keepers who were sitting, to show them that something was not right. When they followed her they found the carcass, which had most likely been eaten by a leopard, and they carried it away into the bushes so that it would not obstruct the orphans from dusting themselves there.
When it was time to return to the stockades for bed the evening, all the orphans came running in like they were in a marathon, that of course except for Murera and Sonje who came in slowly for their own bottles.
31 December 2017
The babies were eagerly awaiting their milk bottles to close the year 2017 this morning. They were wondering if perhaps they would receive any extra treats today but the Keepers did not have anything except some extra seed pods which they distributed to the all the orphans, with an extra bottle of milk to special babies Alamaya and Mwashoti. The orphans were very happy and even Quanza, the shy girl, had a lovely smile on her face. Murera and other older girls did not want to walk a lot looking for food today so it was just a relaxing and lovely day to end 2017 and welcome in the New Year.