Keepers' Diaries, February 2018

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

With the atmosphere thick with humidity we felt the build-up of rain in February at Umani. Some days were almost too hot to bear and it was on such days we were extremely grateful that the Umani stockades were deliberately constructed under the shade of large acacia trees with plenty of respite from the sun. This is important for our two half brothers Faraja and Jasiri with their fair skin, as these two half albino elephants instinctively know that they need to shelter from the brutal midday sun and they certainly have plenty of places to do that within the Kibwezi Forest. All the orphans would rejoice in the mud bath after their midday milk bottles savouring the time they could wallow and splash cool wet mud on their bodies to provide a protective layer for their skin, but perhaps none more so than these two boys.

Sometimes there was a fight for space, especially if the bigger girls decided they wanted to monopolise things, and roll around covering every inch of their rotund bodies, or if some of the naughty boys wanted to wallow at the same time as young Alamaya and Mwashoti. One day Sonje and Ziwa were so hot they could not wait for the others to make their way to the mud bath so they walked to a water hole near Umani Springs; Ziwa had fully submerged himself in the water so that at first the Keepers did not even know he was there with Sonje, who was more delicately applying mud to her chest and behind her ears with her trunk. With the dry weather the orphans have been walking further afield and this has proved tiring for Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti at times, with their compromised limbs, and they are always relived to return to the stockades in the afternoon.

For a short while Lima Lima seemed off colour and was not her usual perky self, but it was not long before she seemed to improve and after a few days she was up to her usual tricks. At the noon feed one day she deliberately kicked over some milk bottles and knelt down to collect as much of her prize as she could. Murera had to chase her away from the rest of the herd so they could enjoy their milk in peace! Another morning she came running out of her night stockade only to head straight for the lucerne store where she grabbed a whole bale and ran off with it, with Faraja in hot pursuit to share her heist. The Keepers can never be angry with Lima Lima because she is so devoted and caring towards them, always signalling when another animal or wild elephant is close by, with their safety foremost in her mind at all times.

Ziwa is being pushed around by the other orphans a bit recently, but this might be because they have observed his belligerent behaviour of late and they are obviously cutting him down to size, unimpressed by his ‘too big for his boots’ attitude. Even quiet orphan Quanza has taken to pushing him away when she has had enough. He occasionally does not listen to the Keepers and the older matriarchs as well, and when he mounts on them it is a clear sign he is trying to assert his dominance within the group. Nothing can bypass the authority of the matriarchs however, and Murera especially still holds the reigns. There seems to be a difference between this kind of bolshiness and the general bullish behaviour of the other boys Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri. They are playful and naughty and instigate pushing games amongst all the other orphans, although they can get carried away with pushing the younger boys sometimes! We have noticed that the touching of each other’s tails definitely ignites a violent reaction, and seems to be an elephant insult of sorts, or maybe they are sensitive to Alamaya’s predicament with no tail and only a stump in its place having been mauled by predators.

There were a few interactions with wild elephants this month and the Keepers tried to stand back and allow them to socialise amongst themselves, afraid that their scent would scare the wild ones away. This was another time we felt Ziwa perhaps needed to work on his etiquette as on a few occasions he was pushed away by some of the wild elephants, whereas the girls Lima Lima and Zongoloni were accepted and allowed to mingle. Matriarch Murera is still apprehensive of these meetings and does not like to approach the wild elephants, preferring instead to look out for ‘her’ adopted babies Mwashoti and Alamaya, afraid that they might be stolen away by the wild family herds. The others are much more interested in socialising and Sonje particularly is captivated, predominantly on the lookout for her ‘boyfriend’ who she was very taken with last month, but who she failed to see this month.

February 2018 day to day

01 Feb

Jovial elephants came out of their rooms this morning. Jasiri and Ziwa competed for who could reach the lucerne feeding area before the others. Lima Lima followed closely behind them, running as fast as she could to be with them before Zongoloni and Quanza. When Alamaya and Sonje arrived at the lucerne area they found Mwashoti with Ngasha in separate corners, feeding and holding a big bunch of hay in the mouths. Ziwa and Faraja then wanted to head to the bushes as Ziwa wanted to chase some baboons that were around waiting for left over lucerne. At the midday feed today Murera walked in very slowly and seemed to be tired from the mornings walk. They had walked all over the forest since their early start in the morning, and Lima Lima had not given Murera a break. She knows when the bottles are ready and in place so she would not give anyone the option of walking slowly! Murera had to arrive at her own pace and walk in slower than the others.

Ziwa eating and dustbathing

Sweet Mwashoti

Murera browsing with Mwashoti