This month more wild elephants than usual have appeared in the forest, and Lima Lima in particular has been interested in their presence; but Murera not so who is fearful of possibly losing some of her group to the wild herds. Wild elephants, both bulls and females, have been visiting the orphans in their stockades this month under the cover of darkness. They seem extremely interested in our youngsters, and spend endless hours communicating with them. We have noticed that the wild elephants are becoming bolder, and more confident around the stockades despite the presence of the humans. They also enjoy the fresh spring water in the orphan’s water trough situated outside the stockade compound, as well as the soft dusting soil that is provided for the orphans’ enjoyment.
Whilst Murera’s injuries inhibit her being as playful with the youngsters as she would probably like, Sonje is always obliging, lying down to enable the youngsters to clamber all over her, something all the orphaned babies enjoy.
This month there have been myriads of beautiful butterflies flying around the elephants as they browse, which presents an idyllic image of a veritable Garden of Eden. The orphans enjoy trying to catch the butterflies and in turn the butterflies seem to enjoy evading the orphans, sometimes landing on their backs, which prompts the orphans to run through shrubbery to dislodge them. Butterfly chasing games take place throughout the day and unseasonable rain showers have kept the forest from drying out, providing endless puddles for the elephants to play in. Kibwezi Forest has always been known for its butterflies some of which are endemic, but this month due to the unseasonal rain, butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes have been particularly abundant, particularly the white variety who cluster at the edges of the mud wallow and fly up in clouds as the orphans approach.
This month Professor Judy Wakungu, the Cabinet Secretary from the Environmental Ministry, paid a visit to the Kibwezi Forest and met the orphaned elephants once again, having also visited them in January as well. Lima Lima did not disappoint, being particularly demonstrative wrapping her trunk around many of the delegates present. The midday feed takes place in a beautiful grassy glade not far from the Umani Springs lodge where a Salt Lick has been provided for the forest’s wild residents. Additional minerals are always more popular within a forest environment due to the leaching effect of rain, and the camera trap at night reveals the numerous wild visitors that come to benefit from the minerals which include wild elephant herds, numerous bushbuck, and a constant stream of buffalo, with the odd leopard also caught on camera.
One particularly misty morning this month when visibility was extremely limited, the orphans and their Keepers headed up Umani Hill and the Keepers were surprised to notice just how the orphans kept unusually so close to them at all times, since the elephants normally are very happy to go quite a distance from their Keepers in search of browse. As the mist lifted, it became evident that they were surrounded by a herd of buffalo also browsing on the hills and clearly the orphans were providing protection for their Keepers, understanding that the buffalos could pose a threat to their beloved human family. This protective instinct is very often noticeable.
Ziwa remains the cosseted favourite little baby boy of Murera and Sonje, enjoying the adoration and attention of two Mums. There was a day when Ziwa squealed from a ticket prompting both Murera and Sonje to hurry to him, only to find him beneath naughty boys Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri who were clambering on him and being overly rough in doing so. However, the moment they spotted Ziwa’s Mums, they took off in all different directions, fearful of the discipline that could be meted out for their actions. Murera helped Ziwa to his feet and patted him gently with her trunk while Sonje enveloped him in hers, showering him with love and comfort. Ziwa does get the brunt of some jealous behaviour every now and then from the other boys, but females Lima Lima, Quanza and Zongoloni are always at hand to reassure and comfort.
Chasing the resident crested cranes who live around the mud bath frequented by the orphans at midday is another favourite pastime for the youngsters but the birds have got used to the orphans and their Keepers and look on seemingly un-perturbed by antics such as trumpeting, water kicking and mock charges aimed at scaring them off. There was a day when the scent of a decaying carcass was detected by the elephants, all of whom had their trunks up testing the air. Vultures, many of whom nest within the Kibwezi Forest, were present on the air thermals at the time, and as they began to descend, the babies became unnerved.
On a particularly noisy night mid month, when animal calls of all descriptions filled the air, both the orphans and also the wild elephants became unsettled. Trumpeting could be heard throughout the forest along with hyena calls, the sawing sound of a nearby leopard and many other calls reverberated through the forest. Faraja and Ngasha, clearly agitated, took to knocking at their stockade door, while Murera and Sonje trumpeted and rumbled. The Keepers were up and about, calming the Umani herd down, when a hyena family strolled by in the flood lights, passing close to the Stockades in search of the leopard kill, which was a dead bushbuck wedged in the fork of a tall yellow fever acacia tree. By morning the orphans still remained fearful, particularly Ziwa and Zongoloni, who clung to their Keepers throughout the entire day.
Our two albino bulls, Jasiri and Faraja, instinctively shelter from the midday sun, and can often be seen resting at midday under the shade of large Fig or Newtonia trees which provide generous shade. The muddy mud bath is a favourite too, thick mud providing an important insect proof pack on their skin, while the moisture keeps them cool for longer. There are days when the mud settles to the bottom of the wallow and a clear layer of fresh spring water glasses over the top of some of their spring fed waterholes. At such times the elephants like to stir the mud up, kicking the water long and hard which also dislodges any resident reptiles. Most of their waterholes are also home to terrapins and baby crocodiles who, having vacated the main spring, choose to settle in smaller water ponds. Such inhabitants of the orphans' favourite spots are long suffering and know the routine, often choosing to head for the bush and wait rather than being flattened by a fat elephant bottom!
There was a day when a beautiful handsome wild bull strolled out from the forest into the grassy glade where the orphans were enjoying their mud wallow. He was intent on joining them but the orphans seemed nervous about his impending arrival and all stood up ready to vacate. Lima Lima and Zongoloni approached him, but Murera made sure she obstructed any of the others from getting too close. However, he chose to rest under the shade of a tree and watch them from a comfortable distance.
Head Keeper Phillip’s diary entries are filled with more tales from Umani for the month of February.