Keepers' Diaries, February 2015

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Like everywhere it is drying out in the Umani Forest, but compared to else where there is still plentiful food. The orphans have been more preoccupied with feeding and finding the tempting browse to complement their milk feeds, and reach for the high branches of the acacia trees, and dig up roots with their feet. Soft green grass is always a welcomed treat, but the buffaloes are competing for this too as the dry season grips. Towards the end of the month the acacias were beginning to flower and the orphans favourite food, acacia pods are beginning to drop.

01 February 2015

After their morning bottles the orphans ran out very quickly to find something to eat. Jasiri, Ngasha and Lima Lima walked behind their keepers, allowing them to choose the direction everyone would go today. They walked towards the browsing area near the Umani hill but it looked very dry with few green branches for the babies to enjoy. The hill has been invaded by the wild elephants from the Chyulu hills and Amboseli, as Umani is the only place left with plenty of water and some green foliage in this very dry month. Having browsed on the Umani hills the orphans walked slowly downhill towards the mud wallow. It was very hot and they were thirsty for milk and water. After her bottle Lima Lima felt itchy and scratched up against a post, trying to squash the ticks attached to her body, while she waited for the other orphans to come and have a mudbath with her. Quanza and the boys went to the dust bath where they had lots of fun. Jasiri got dust in his eye and rubbed it with his trunk. Sonje went over to him to find out what was wrong but could do nothing to help.

02 February 2015

Murera came out of her stockade in a playful mood. She rubbed her belly on the ground. Sonje was inspired by the fun Murera was having and began digging the ground with her tusks, stretching her neck as if she was doing her morning exercises. When the other babies saw their matriarchs in such a jovial mood they didn’t quite know how to react, but soon decided to join in the fun and games. They pushed at the trees, kicking and charging at everything that was in their way, turning stones upside down and even pushing some trees over. At midday all the babies lined up for their bottle feed, and then went quickly into the mudbath to wallow as it had been so hot in the bush. They spent a long time swimming and wallowing like hippos. Afterwards Jasiri, Faraja and Ngasha left the girls behind and went off without them. Lima Lima and Zongoloni did not like being left and decided to follow them. When they caught up Faraja rumbled something to Ngasha, as if complaining about the fact that they had been followed. Ngasha then realised that they had lost the keepers and the other elephants and started squealing in an effort to locate them.

03 February 2015

The plentiful supply of lucerne this morning was not enough to keep Lima Lima hanging about at the stockades. She was so hungry that she rushed off to get the best of the browse before the other orphans could join her, as if thinking there would not be enough to go around. The others soon joined her and they picked the soft green branches together. Zongoloni was with Lima Lima when Jasiri tried to join them. Zongoloni the became jealous and tried to push him away so that they could keep the soft green browse for themselves, however, Jasiri stood up for himself insisting they all browsed together. Quanza joined them then led them over to where the other boys, Ngasha and Faraja were feeding. As soon Zongoloni smelled the milk bottles, which were ready for the next feed, she rushed over to pick up her bottle and feed herself before wallowing in the water hole. Murera was standing in the field waiting to go for a wallow and Sonje joined her. The other babies were already in the water, Lima Lima and Zongoloni covered with so much mud that even their trunks could not be seen. A baby terapin and a crocodile also waited at the edge of the water for their turn to go in.

04 February 2015

Jasiri hurried to the grasslands looking for soft grass to eat today for a change. Unfortunately he did not find any as the buffaloes, which spend most of their nights close to the waterhole, had been there before him. Jasiri kept walking looking unsuccessfully for soft grass but only finding dry branches to chew. Lima Lima, Ngasha and Faraja also came looking for soft greens. Jasiri followed them so quickly that Ngasha thought he was coming to bite his tail, so he raced off. While out in the field feeding in an open area the babies became very agitated, raising up their trunks to smell the air. The keepers soon found out what was wrong as some buffaloes emerged from the bushes and came towards the water hole to drink. Ngasha and Lima Lima hurried to the keepers for safety and reassurance.

05 February 2015

Quanza led the babies to the slopes of the Umani hills, looking for some acacia trees that still had soft leaves to browse on. Ngasha had not realised this was the mission and dallied to play with Faraja, lying on the ground and rolling his belly in the soil. Not wanting to get lost, Ngasha stopped to wait for the keepers who were chatting nearby. When they reached the slopes of the Umani hills Jasiri decided to annoy Faraja before Faraja had a chance to antagonize him. Faraja turned on him and chased Jasiri down the slopes anticipating that Jasiri would try to grab and bite his tail. The chasing continued all the way to the milk feeding point where the keepers shouted at the two and they eventually stopped to drink their milk instead of fighting for each other’s tails. After wallowing the elephants were itchy and everyone rolled in the grass to dry off before rolling again in the dusting soil. The wallowing did not end there as the boys, led by Jasiri and Ngasha and escorted by Lima Lima so as not to get lost, sneaked back from the bush to wallow again. They became black with the sticky mud, looking rather like buffalos as they returned to the stockades following the keepers.

06 February 2015

Quanza had a lot of ticks attached to her hind legs and on her belly so she decided to scratch them off on a fallen tree. Ngasha, seeing how well the method worked, followed her example and scratched off the ticks that were hanging on his ears. We also spray the orphans if the ticks become very bad. At the milk feeding point near the waterhole two crested cranes have been hanging around whilst their young ones hide in the ground cover. The orphans were walking along beside the stream towards the mother birds which flew away. They then came upon the tiny grey baby bird shaking the bushes and jumping high, being unable to fly. It gave Lima Lima a big fright and she ran away with Ngasha to seek safety in numbers with the bigger elephants.

07 February 2015

The orphans heard the keepers clanging the buckets as they prepared the morning feed and they banged strongly on their gates anticipating a much sought after milk feed before beginning a new day. Ngasha and the greedy Lima Lima were climbing the walls they were so desperate for their milk. After milk these two were the first to leave, leading all the orphans into the bushes where they fed on roots, a good plan as often roots have medicinal value to the animals. When it was time for the next milk feed the vehicle bringing the bottles was delayed. The babies knew that it was feeding time and were waiting patiently at the feeding point, it is very interesting how cunningly they can tell the time. They did not want to wallow until they had had their milk for fear of missing out, so their waited patiently until the susuki with the bottles arrived. Ngasha and Zongoloni were happy to quickly drink their milk then run into the waterhole to wallow. Sonje and Murera were not so desperate to get in the water and took a few minutes scratching on a small post waiting for the babies to come out before they went in to take their turn at wallowing. Quanza suddenly dashed out of the water hole and Lima Lima looked around to see what the problem was. She alerted the keepers that something was in the bushes and when they looked they saw a bull elephant going to the waterhole to wallow. Lima Lima is always the barometer for the Keepers giving us ample warning of anything unusual.

08 February 2015

The gates were wide open for the orphans to leave their stables but Murera and Sonje were reluctant to leave and remained inside looking for some Lucerne to eat to boost their energy. The other orphans were full of beans and Jasiri, Ngasha, Zongoloni, Lima Lima and Quanza went running off behind the stockades to look for some green vegetation to eat after having their milk bottles. Murera and Sonje joined them later, trumpeting loudly to get everyone to come together. The others trumpeted back to let Murera and Sonje know where they were. The keepers heard the trumpeting getting further and further away and hurriedly followed after the babies fearing that the wild elephants might spirit them away, which could be dangerous for Murera with her limp. The wild elephants were also thinking that the trumpeting orphans were part of their group and started running to join them however, the keepers had managed to get there first and turn the orphans back towards the mudbath where their bottles were waiting. Murera did not want to go with the bull elephants. After having their bottles the orphans went straight into wallow as the weather was hot and so were they after their long run in the bushes.

09 February 2015

In the early morning, before the orphans left the stockade area, Jasiri came out and found some soft branches to pick as he was waiting for the others. All around there were the footprints and dung of the wild elephants who had visited the orphans in their night stockades as is the routine most nights. The wild elephants are getting more use to the Keepers and are less frightened at night. Sonje came out, smelled the dung and followed the trail of the wild elephants. Jasiri demonstrated to Lima Lima how the wild elephants had walked from the stockades to the bushes and tried to persuade her that they should follow them. The other babies also wanted to follow the wild bulls, just as Jasiri and Lima Lima were doing, so the whole big group went off with the keepers bringing up the rear. Ngasha and Quanza were ready to warn the keepers when they got close to the wild bull so they could all retreat quickly if he was not friendly. The orphans came back to the waterhole feeling very hot and went straight in to wallow. A crocodile and some teripins were standing on the edge of the water hole as the orphans drank water. Faraja and Ngasha spotted the crocodile and Ngasha tried to grab him with his trunk but then had second thoughts and just scared the croc away by blowing water at it. The crocodile was just as scared of Ngasha and his trunk and quickly disappeared.

10 February 2015

Zongoloni and Ngasha ran out of their stockades, straight after having their milk, into the forest to feed as they were very hungry and could not bear to wait for their friends. Ngasha started breaking branches and putting them into his mouth but some of the bigger ones were rather hard for a small elephant to chew. Jasiri was much more sensible and only selected the soft branches that were easy to chew. He went deep into the bush to find the soft greens. At midday bottle feeding time all the babies came running for their milk and also to wallow as the weather was very hot. After wallowing, Murera and Sonje were left behind at the waterhole whilst Lima Lima took the babies away to the dusting soil to dry off and repel the flying insects that were annoying them. The keepers accompanied the babies into the bush but after a short time Faraja and Quanza led them back to the waterhole for a second round of wallowing before returning to the stockades.

11 February 2015

In the early morning Sonje led the babies out, going far away from their usual browsing area as the buffaloes had already been foraging there, and the grass was very dry. Lima Lima fed diligently on the soft grass they came across in the bushes. They continued feeding, heading towards the quarry area near the Umani hills, looking for more soft greens and stagnant water to wallow in as they were very hot. Murera was trying to keep the babies near her but they were not so keen as often she bullies them and pushes them with her big tusks when they get close to her. Quanza avoided Murera and followed Sonje to the other side of the forest. Black backed hornbills were calling from the trees on the Umani hills. Faraja and Jasiri did not recognise the sound and rushed away in fright. Two female bushbucks also took fright and got mixed up with the running elephants, also sending Ngasha into a panic so he stayed close to the keepers for the rest of the day.

12 February 2015

As the weather is so hot and dry there is not so much green vegetation available for the orphans to eat and they spend more time eating lucerne at the stockades before they leave for the forest. Today Sonje encouragde them to leave and get to the forest before it was too hot. Eventually she gave up trying to persuade them and went to a scratching tree where she scratched with her legs crossed and managed to dislodge many ticks. When the orphans arrived for their milk bottles Murera was going so fast you could hardly tell she was limping. She was very keen to have her milk quickly and get into the water to wallow. Ngasha and the other boys left mudbath and went to soil dust, with Faraja, the tail grabber, still trying to get hold of Jasiri’s tail. Jasiri is wise to his tricks now and makes sure to stay out of Faraja’s way. At one time in the afternoon Ngasha got very scared as he could not see the keepers. He squealed for them and Lima Lima came running to find out what the problem was. Ngasha was running in the wrong direction, away from the keepers, so she quickly chased after him and brought him back. When it was time to return to the stockades for the evening Zongoloni accompanied her adopted mother Sonje as she was fearful of Murera who was following behind.

13 February 2015

Ngasha was enjoying the lucerne so much this morning that he did not want to leave the stockades and pestered the keepers for more. Sonje ate her Lucerne but found it rather dry so went to drink some water to ease her parched throat. After that she went to rub and roll in the dusting soil. The other orphans joined her there and Jasiri climbed on top of Ngasha as he was rolling in the dust. Zongoloni went over to protect Ngasha as she thought Jasiri was too heavy for him. The rest of the day was spent browsing and resting under the shade of the giant Newtonia trees. Now that it is getting dryer the orphans are enjoying their supplement of lucerne. In the wet season with an abundance of lilies (their favourite) their Lucerne is fast forgotten about.

14 February 2015

Jasiri felt very hungry when he got up in the morning and wasted no time going out to the bush and eating soft green branches on the way. Everyone got together at the waterhole for their midday feed and a cooling wallow. Afterwards Sonje, with her adopted baby Zongoloni, took the lead and went to the dusting soil where Murera had a lovely time rolling and dusting with her belly rubbing in the soil. As they were dusting Zongoloni took fright and ran away fast. Unfortunately she got caught in some loose hanging grass and fell down on her knees. Lima Lima came running to comfort her with Faraja and Ngasha close behind trying to find out what the problem was.

15 February 2015

Last night about 15 wild elephants, with their young ones sheltering under the mothers bellies, came to visit the stockades. They wanted to visit the orphans but were kept at bay by the electric fence. The orphans looked at them through the fence. Murera and Sonje were keen to go and join them but the little males, Ngasha, Jasiri and Faraja were not happy and made a big noise to attract the keepers’ attention. When the keepers came Ngasha held tightly on to their dust coats so that he would not have to go off with the wild bulls. When Jasiri came out in the morning he ran all about looking for Ngasha and Faraja as he thought they might have been taken by the wild elephants. He was happy to finally find them browsing with the keepers and the other babies with Murera standing guard behind. At the waterhole near the lodge a red hornbill made a loud noise which scared the babies and they ran off in all directions. The keepers had to set an example and stood still calling the babies to come back to them.

16 February 2015

Lima Lima led the orphans out very quickly in the morning, as she tried to rush and find her favourite keeper, Amos. As soon as she found him she was reassured that he was not hiding from her and she then went off to try and follow the trails of the wild elephants that had left their dung on the paths through the bushes. Ngasha screamed loudly when he was in the thick bush and could not see the other orphans. Zongoloni went looking for him and found him kicking down trees and trumpeting very loudly to attract the keepers’ attention and get them to come to him. At the waterhole the orphans had great games rolling in the dust to dry their bodies after the mudbath. Ngasha mounted the big boy Jasiri but he was not impressed and rolled upside down forcing the keepers to intervene to stop him from injuring Ngasha.

17 February 2015

It is now one month since the three boys, Ngasha, Jasiri and Faraja, relocated to the Kibwezi Forest. Faraja looks very strong and the other boys are also fat and happy. Today Faraja was full of beans and strongly charged some oncoming bushbucks defending his territory. After milk and soil dusting the babies continued on with their usual patrols through the forest looking for soft greens. Faraja found some sweet branches, which were rather large, and he struggled to eat them. The acacia trees are beginning to flower with bees buzzing all around the nectar. The elephants wait eagerly for the pods to ripen and fall to the ground as they are a great favourite. A few pods have already dropped and when Lima Lima finds them she searches diligently in case there are any more around. At the dusting soil Murera had a great time playing, happily lying on the ground and raising her head up towards the sky. When the orphans left for the bush with the keepers it was very hot and Sonje and her baby Zongoloni did not want to leave as they preferred swimming in the mudbath.

18 February 2015

Lima Lima walked round the scratching rock looking for the best place to scratch her itchy belly. When she found it she started swinging around as if she was having a disco dance. Faraja started a pushing game with young Zongoloni but, as he is bigger and stronger, Zongoloni got pushed into a corner forcing her adopted mother Sonje to come and bail her out. On the other side of the stockades Faraja’s friend Jasiri played mounting games with mama Sonje who was soil bathing on the ground. Lima Lima came running out from the bushes, going to whisper something to Ngasha and putting her trunk directly into his mouth. After that the babies proceeded to the bushes to browse and relax in the shade of the big trees. When they arrived at the waterhole in the evening the babies were very happy. Ngasha and Zongoloni walked together and jumped into the water hole to swim as it was very hot, before making their way back to the stockades.

19 February 2015

Last night the wild elephants and their young ones visited the stockades again to drink at the waterhole. One baby wild elephant was squashed against the wall and squealed loudly causing Murera to also squeal and almost break the gate down to get to the crying baby. Sonje also responded with loud trumpeting prompting the keepers to come and see what was wrong. The baby and her mother departed very quickly on smelling the keepers. When the orphans came out in the early morning and went to the waterhole they found it had been emptied by the wild elephants in the night. The keepers had to refill the trough so that the orphans could drink. Murera and Ngasha waited for the keepers to lead them through the bushes towards Umani hills. They then all continued walking around the hills until it was time for their midday milk. After wallowing and playing in the dust the boys, led by Faraja and Jasiri with Zongoloni in tow, took off for the bushes. The weather got so hot that it forced Lima Lima and Quanza to lead the orphans back to the drinking water near the side of the water hole where the baby crocodiles live. The orphans are now getting used to the baby crocodiles and are no longer scared of them.

20 February 2015

The happy orphans came out of their night stockades and immediately went to play on the dusting soil. When Murera saw Sonje rolling down in the soil she went to climb on her back. Sonje was quite happy, even though Murera is heavy, as she knows Murera will be careful due to her compromised leg. The young boys, Faraja and Jasiri and Ngasha took advantage when they saw Sonje on the ground and crept up using Murera for cover until they could climb on her unannounced. When Sonje got up the young boys ran away and Sonje did not retaliate but just blew some dust onto her back with her trunk to scare away the stinging flies. Faraja and Ngasha went off together looking for some soft green branches to pick and eat. There were only some very small green shoots, as there had been just one night of rain, and the orphans had to use their feet to kick at them so as to be able to pick them up. Sometimes Lima Lima leads the babies to the springs area where there are lots of soft greens for the babies to feed on.

21 February 2015

Quanza is the most laid back of the orphans, she rarely exhibits any rough pushing behaviour. Today when she came out of her stockade with Lima Lima, Lima Lima left her behind and ran ahead to lead the orphans. Quanza started to trumpet loudly disturbing the other orphans near her and encouraging them to run all around the bushes with her. Ngasha ran more than anyone else, looking desperately for the keepers who were waiting near the waterhole for them to calm down. After all the running around, the orphans went to quench their thirst at the water trough. Then they continued walking to the dust bath area. Faraja found a nice position and sat on the ground enjoying the dust bath, with the warm soil covering his back he looked very happy. His friend Jasiri was happily dusting next to him using his trunk to hold a stick and scratch his chest.

22 February 2015

Jasiri and Faraja love each other like brothers even though they merely both have albino genes and come from the same area. Despite their mutual affection Jasiri sometimes mistreats Faraja, probably because he’s jealous when Faraja is friendly with any of the female elephants. Lima Lima loves all the baby elephants and will be friendly to all the little boys, but Jasiri gets so jealous that he goes and grabs Faraja’s tail to try and make him run away. In the early morning the babies had a very happy time, playing and rolling in the dusting soil before walking away to the forests. Today the keepers walked them around the Umani hills forest and up to the sun-downer point where there is an amazing view of the Chyulu hills. They then came down the slopes of the Umani hills to the waterhole where Jasiri splashed his feet to check whether it was warm enough to go in and wallow. He decided splashing was enough and went off to scratch on a tree with his friend Faraja following closely behind. Quanza, Zongoloni and Murera were busy having a dust bath, rolling on their bottoms and bellies in the warm soil. Lima Lima then took charge and persuaded the others to follow the keepers to a browsing area with good shade until the weather cooled down.

23 February 2015

In the early morning Faraja and Ngasha had their lucerne and went straight to the water hole to drink. Later the wild elephants came to eat the lucerne that had been left behind on the ground by the orphans. Murera ran out to soil dust before taking the whole group of orphans off to the bushes to browse. Ngasha led the way in for bottle feeding, with Jasiri bringing up the rear as they went to the waterhole. When the orphans went to the springs to drink the clear water they could hear the wild elephants trumpeting loudly in the thick forests nearby. Murera was resting under the trees waiting for the others but she moved quickly off to find them when she heard the wild elephants, fearing that the wild ones would distress the babies. Sonje and Zongoloni were keeping close to the keepers but Lima Lima was trying to walk towards the wild elephants. Quanza blocked Lima Lima’s way and pushed her to go back to the others, who were waiting close to Murera and the keepers, waiting to go back into the shade of the forest.

24 February 2015

Whilst the others were still having their breakfast, and before the keepers were ready to leave the stockades, Jasiri and Faraja walked out into the thickest bush. Ngasha was next out followed by Zongoloni and Quanza. The two girls realized that Jasiri and Faraja were still not familiar with the area and might get lost, rather like Ngasha often does when he ends up screaming and Lima Lima has to go and find him. Jasiri and Faraja are trying to show that they are brave boys with nothing to fear, and that they are capable of becoming dominant bulls in the future. The weather became very hot and the babies headed towards the water hole. There was a baby crocodile in the water swimming but the orphans could not wait to get in. Quanza stepped in on top of the baby crocodile, causing it to run out, which scared the other orphans as they did not know what the tiny running thing was.

25 February 2015

Faraja took the lead in the morning when the babies went out to the forest. Quanza was not happy about this as the boys should know that it is the duty of Lima Lima or any of the girls to lead, but not the new young boys. She ran over to take the lead, pushing Faraja and Jasiri aside in the process. Lima Lima led Ngasha to follow Quanza who was heading up the rest of the herd behind the keepers. The orphans all got together at the browsing area, breaking off the dry leaves and grass by kicking it with their feet. For the second time in the day the orphans felt very hot and went back to the mudbath to wallow. The keepers joked that if it was a little less muddy they would also have gone in to swim with the elephants. After wallowing the keepers got the babies together and lined them up ready to go back to the stockades for their last bottle of the day. Lima Lima and Ngasha were very thirsty for their milk and ran in like marathon runners, Lima Lima as always taking first place. The babies also enjoyed the lucerne that had been laid out for them.

26 February 2015

Ngasha was too lazy to use his trunk to harvest the dry grass and decided to use his feet instead, kicking until he could easily pick it up with his trunk. He led the boys, Faraja and Jasiri to the waterhole accompanied by Zongoloni who was happy to let them go as she realized realised they were heading off to get their milk. As they neared the milk feeding point Zongoloni dashed in front to get her milk, drinking it very fast as she can feed herself, and then getting into the water to wallow as the boys were still busy drinking. In the wallow Sonje completely immersed herself, splashing muddy water all over her body covering it with mud and changing her colour to dark brown like the buffaloes. Behind Sonje Murera and Zongoloni were also benefiting from Sonje’s spray.

27 February 2015

Today was Lima Lima’s third birthday and everyone was in a celebratory mood. All the elephants and keepers had been looking forward to this day. Even the keepers had a feast. The babies came out of the stockades and went to drink water with Lima Lima making big trumpeting noises to tell everyone that it was her birthday. She took control of the herd in soil dusting, blowing dust and throwing it onto the orphan’s backs, scaring off the stinging tsetse flies and other insects. When the time came to walk off to the forest to browse Faraja and Ngasha walked closely behind Lima Lima, giving her lots of respect. Murera, Sonje and her adopted baby Zongoloni followed slowly behind; communicating with the others to make sure they did not get too far ahead as the keepers were also behind. On the way to the mudbath the orphans came across the broken pipeline with lots of water flowing out of it. They were very thirsty and Murera and Lima Lima stopped everyone to drink there before continuing on to have their milk bottles. Lima Lima was given two extra bottles as a special treat for her birthday, but being so greedy she probably expects that she will now receive this every day!

28 February 2015

After their morning bottles the orphans ran out very quickly to find something to eat with Quanza leading the way. The orphans went deep into the forest and Faraja spent some time scratching his stomach on a dead tree as he tried to climb over it. Zongoloni waited for Faraja as he struggled to get over the log, anxious to make sure he wouldn’t get lost. However, he seemed content to take his time, perhaps to prove to Zongoloni that he was a big boy and wasn’t worried about being left alone. Eventually, however he joined Quanza, Zongoloni and the rest of the orphans. After browsing in the forest for most of the morning, the orphans walked in single file towards the mudbath for their midday bottle feed. It was a hot day, so they all drank quickly and then went to wallow in the mudbath. In the afternoon the orphans were led to the slopes of the Umani hills where they spent time looking for soft acacia leaves. However, as it was so hot, they soon returned to the mudbath for a wallow where Jasiri took the opportunity to scratch his behind on the ground. After having bathing the orphans left the mudbath and went to soil dust before returning to the stockades for the evening.