Keepers' Diaries, December 2018

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The Umani Unit is our most recently built rehabilitation facility, and was created considering some of our more compromised elephant orphans, ones who have come to us with horrendous injuries that have left them unable to traverse vast distances in search of food in the dry seasons, so to ease them into a wild life, Umani is ideal. 

Situated within a forest forming part of the Chyulu Hills National Park, the orphans not only have plenty of food and water available throughout the year, but the all-important exposure to wild elephants, so vital in making a successful transition back into living a wild life in the fullness of time. 

This green season all the waterholes through Kibwezi Forest have been filled to the brim after the good November rains. Shukuru and Lima Lima have especially enjoyed wallowing and playing in these natural waterholes. There have been lots of wild elephants around in the forest too this month, and they too have enjoyed these natural water pools. Shukuru still comes down for her milk bottle and mud bath before the others, and even if the others try to join her, especially the bulls like Ngasha, she will move away, as she still remembers the time they all tried to climb on her and she wants to avoid that as much as possible! She doesn’t like being associated with the naughty pushy boys, being a nice quiet girl, and likes to avoid confrontation if at all possible. The Keepers think she is the quietest and kindest orphan so far, but that also has to do with the fact that Shukuru over the years has suffered from chronic ill health, making her weaker than the rest of her age-mates. Recently Shukuru has been thriving at Umani but took another turn for the worse this month. A course of antibiotics seemed to do the trick and she appears much better since.  

Like Sonje, Lima Lima is very good with Shukuru, but it does seem like she has been teaching her and some of the others her bad habits at the same time. At the beginning of the month, instead of leaving the Lucerne pellet feeding area to go out into the forest to browse, Lima Lima decided to walk back to the Lucerne store and push some of the Lucerne bails down to the ground to try and steal some extra. The Keepers found her and she took off knowing full well this was out of bounds. Only a few days later Alamaya did the same thing, and Lima Lima came running up behind him to assist him in his bad deed, scattering bails of Lucerne all over the place. And only a few days later Shukuru surprised all of the Keepers in the morning when they brought her her milk bottle, only to discover that she had managed to open her gate in the night and steal many bails of lucerne, scattering them everywhere! Shukuru knew she had done something wrong and looked so guilty when the Keepers walked up to her. They just called her name and she took off towards the gate, following her friends who had already walked out. 

Lima Lima’s greedy nature dictates many of her antics, and this is why she needs to be kept back until last at feeding times, or kept an eye on in the morning so she does not steal Shukuru’s Lucerne pellets. One day, when Murera did not feel like her noon milk bottle, Lima Lima tried her hardest to get the extra share, but this instead went to baby Mwashoti, who was very pleasantly surprised and happily accepted the extra share with joyful rumbles of content.

The orphans had a number of different experiences with the wild elephants about this month. The youngsters Mwashoti and Alamaya seem quite afraid of the big bulls and have not wanted to socialise with them, trumpeting their displeasure. The older orphan bulls however have wanted to mingle with their older counterparts and spend more time around them, but the wild bulls have not been particularly accommodating. One day Ziwa and Faraja colluded with Ngasha and decided to sneak away from the Keepers. They slipped off to where the wild elephants were and Ngasha tried to join a play-fight among the wild bulls. He quickly found himself on the floor however and Ziwa and Faraja didn’t stick around to help their friend! When he eventually got up he ran so fast back to where the other orphans were with the Keepers. It was an important learning curve for our poor Ngasha that day.

Despite being teenage boys and constantly engaged in one pushing game or another to test their strength, Ngasha, Ziwa, Faraja and Jasiri are not always just ‘naughty boys’. As the rains came to an end at the beginning of the month leaving the pathways slippery due to the last little showers, Murera and Sonje found it very uncomfortable to walk along those paths with their bad legs. Sometimes we saw them reversing backwards when they encountered a patch of mud that was too tricky for them to walk through. At one point, Jasiri and Ngasha joined Murera to help push Sonje from her bottom when she got stuck to see if that would help her negotiate the difficult path. The boys managed to push her out to the flat area, free from the slippery paths, where she re-joined her friends. She was very grateful to the young bulls, who are normally quite naughty, but will evidently still help their matriarch when she is in need. Alamaya is showing real fighting spirit these days too, and it is clear he doesn’t want anyone to underestimate him for being too young or small. 

One night, the Keepers were very surprised to see some mongooses inside the elephant’s stockades, running in and out under the fence line. The mongooses scared Quanza and Lima Lima who were uncomfortable with the little creatures running around their feet and making a lot of noise that they were not used to. Across the whole stockades the elephants were trumpeting loudly as some of them pushed on their walls trying to get out of their rooms. It was quite amusing to watch the elephants so frightened by a little mongoose, but the Keepers came out to reassure them nonetheless!

December 2018 day to day

01 Dec

Since the heavy rains in November there is a lot of nice fresh vegetation around for the orphan elephants. This means they can browse happily without having to walk long distances looking for enough vegetation. 

Today Murera, Mwashoti and Sonje just disappeared into the forest and the next time we saw them was mud bath time around 11am, when it is bottle feeding time as well, and they came running into the clearing. 

It was Lima Lima and Ziwa’s duty to lead them all back out again for the rest of the day. It began raining as the orphans were still browsing in the bushes along the Chyulu Hills. It was almost time to return back to the stockades and Mwashoti was struggling to find. It was raining very hard and there was a strong wind as well. Alamaya, with the help of Lima Lima, managed to trace the smell of the others and they found which way they had gone. 

Murera browsing

Ziwa after his milk bottle

Lima Lima