Keepers' Diaries, February 2019

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

In the drier months the Umani Unit really comes into its own. Built in 2014 for vulnerable orphans needing a gentler environment, the source of the Umani Springs within the Kibwezi forest means that wild elephants and other animals seek refuge in the forest during this time more than ever, content under its protective canopy. 

01 February 2019

It was a cold and foggy morning as the orphans left the stockades for the browsing fields. Due to the fog, none of them wanted to head towards the Hills as there was very poor visibility and chose instead to browse on the lower flatlands. As the day progressed it got hotter to the point that the orphans ended up seeking refuge from the sun under the shade of the trees. 

When the two light-skinned orphans, Faraja and Jasiri, came to the waterhole they were thrilled to cool down in the muddy water and have a refreshing drink following the hot day in the forest. Sonje teamed up with Shukuru and Mwashoti for some mud bath fun, rolling around and swimming in the water. 

02 February 2019

Zongoloni and Quanza made their way towards the bushes stopping just before getting there, as they heard some screams coming from the forest. The Keepers and Lima Lima realised that the noise was coming from wild elephants who were busy enjoying pushing and strength testing games around the water springs area. Once the orphans got there, they found two crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks. 

In the early afternoon, after the orphans’ mud bath, some buffalos came and tried to pass through the middle of the orphan herd. Ziwa and Ngasha started blowing and trumpeting in an effort to scare the buffalos away but did not have much success in doing so until the Keepers came to assist them. The orphans then made their way to the forest to begin the afternoons browsing activities towards the Chyulu Hills. Once there, they came across some water holes where they enjoyed cooling off. It was a while before Shukuru wanted to come out of the water, and when she did so Faraja followed suit. 

03 February 2019

This morning Alamaya and Mwashoti were having a lot of fun playing pushing games with one another. Things got more serious when Alamaya tried to steal a branch that Mwashoti was peeling the bark from. Mwashoti made sure to stand his ground refusing to let Alamaya steal his tasty treat. Unfortunately, Alamaya would not back down and the Keepers had to intervene. 

Mwashoti seemed to be a bit upset with Alamaya and aired his grievances to Murera and Sonje. Murera was seen disciplining Alamaya in order to restore calm and peace between the two. 

04 February 2019

The elephants exited their night quarters making their way to the pellet feeding area. Shukuru remained near her stockade as she is given her supplements away from the others, to prevent them stealing her share. Lima Lima was seen approaching Shukuru in an effort to steal her food but was prevented from doing so by the Keepers. 

Today Ziwa seemed to take the lead of the boys in the group to the forest area. Faraja was the first to follow him with the rest of the boys joining in a few minutes later. Sonje took the lead of the females as well as little Mwashoti and they made their way to the Umani Hills for the morning browsing session. They came down at noon for their milk bottle, and waited at the milk feeding area for Murera, who was lagging behind, to come and join them there.

05 February 2019

During the night many wild elephants came to the stockades to visit the orphans and hung around the fence line which left Sonje a bit rattled as she could smell them and hear them rumbling but couldn’t see them or get to them. She greeted them in rumbles which resulted in the rest of the orphans trumpeting in greeting as well. The wild bulls in the group made their way to the stockade compound gate. Mwashoti was not happy with this development and made his feelings well known which had the Keepers coming out of their tents to investigate what had Mwashoti riled up and found four big bulls peering through the gate. 

As soon as it was light, the Keepers opened the stockades and let the orphans out. The orphan herd quickly downed their milk and supplements before exiting the compound in search of their wild friends who were nowhere to be seen. Murera started to head in the direction she thought the bulls had gone with Sonje following her but didn’t get far before turning to re-join the rest of the group and together with Zongoloni led them to the Hills. 

06 February 2019

It was very cool this morning as the orphans began their day. They chose to remain away from the hills as it was very foggy there, which would have had Murera and Mwashoti struggling to keep up due to their injuries. Lima Lima and Quanza took the lead of the orphan herd with Murera and Mwashoti, who were feeling stiff due to the cold, bringing up the rear. Lima Lima and Quanza soon started charging and bashing the trees, trumpeting loudly while doing so. This distraction allowed Murera and Mwashoti to stretch their legs so that they would be able to keep up with the rest of the group without much difficulty. 

Once at the hills the orphans became very playful with the boys engaging one another in pushing and strength testing games. Alamaya took on Ziwa, who is bigger than him, but despite this Ziwa was happy to allow the youngster to push and play with him. However, when Alamaya got too pushy Ziwa walked away. Alamaya then turned his attention to his good friend Mwashoti, and the two enjoyed playing together. 

07 February 2019

Mwashoti, Sonje and Murera walked together to the stockade compound gate after finishing their morning milk bottles. Sonje proceeded to show Mwashoti some pellets which Mwashoti enjoyed picking up with his trunk and eating before following the two older girls to the forest. 

The morning was spent browsing on the Umani Hills. There was a lone buffalo grazing near Quanza and Lima Lima which upset them a bit. Lima Lima charged towards the buffalo in an effort to keep it away from the orphan herd and the Keepers so as to ensure their safety as buffalos can be unpredictable and dangerous. 

08 February 2019

At the noon mud bath, the orphans all came running in for their milk bottle. Shukuru managed to be the first to arrive at the bottle feeding area, somehow managing to beat her other friends Ziwa and Alamaya. She quickly picked up her bottle, moving away with it to give room for the other orphans to come in for their share. Once she was done, she discarded her bottle and made her way to the water hole. 

Once Mwashoti and Alamaya had finished their milk feed, they headed to the mud bath to join Shukuru but found she had already moved to the dust bath where she was enjoying a soil bathing session. 

09 February 2019

This morning while making their way to the browsing fields, Lima Lima and her friends were trumpeting loudly, which had the Keepers who were walking behind the orphans wondering what the problem was. They saw Ziwa walking towards Lima Lima in an effort to see what could have upset her and saw that Lima Lima was actually alerting them to the fact that there was a wild bull elephant as well as two buffalos around the corner making their way towards the orphan herd. Lima Lima and the Keepers together with Shukuru, Sonje and the rest of the orphans changed direction and took a different route so as to allow the bull and buffalos to continue on their merry way.  

10 February 2019

This morning the orphans headed towards the Kenze Hills to browse as they have found that there have been many wild elephants in this area lately as they were driven back to this area from the nearby community lands. This influx of elephants means that the Keepers especially need to be careful when walking in the forest so as to ensure their own safety as well as that of their orphan babies. Lima Lima is especially good about keeping a close eye on the goings on around her, alerting the Keepers to the presence of wild elephants and any other wildlife. She is turning out to be a very caring and competent mini-matriarch of the Umani orphan herd. 

11 February 2019

There was a lot of activity at the water hole today, as it was visited by the orphans, wild elephants and buffalos all of whom wanted to cool off in the muddy waters. At one point the mud bath became quite congested and there was a queue of animals waiting their turn. When the orphans arrived at the mud bath, following their milk bottle, Shukuru got a fright when she tried to go into the water and saw a buffalo in there watching her. She quickly turned around and made her way to the dust bath. Lima Lima witnessed all of this and got Ziwa and two other boys to help her chase the other animals away from the water hole so that the orphans could enjoy a mud bath in peace. Jasiri and Faraja especially needed to cool off as it is extremely hot at the moment and with their light skin, they are really feeling the affects of the sun. 

12 February 2019

Shukuru had been busy this morning peeling the bark from an acacia tree and had some in her mouth which Mwashoti came and took from her before she could finish enjoying the fruits of her labour. Shukuru is a very mild-mannered elephant and didn’t get angry or retaliate in any way and was happy to allow Mwashoti to enjoy her piece of bark. Sonje and Murera, however, were not happy to see what Mwashoti had done and approached him. When Mwashoti saw them coming he walked away as he knew he was going to be reprimanded for his actions. 

At the dust bath, Zongoloni tried to prevent naughty Ziwa from pushing Alamaya but was unsuccessful as by the time she intervened Ziwa had already pushed Alamaya to the ground. Alamaya screamed for help and all the older girls together with Lima Lima came rushing to his aid. Lima Lima and Zongoloni were the first to arrive and take care of their adopted baby Alamaya who they both feel very close to and are extremely protective of him. Once peace was restored the orphans were able to complete their dust bath before resuming their browsing activities. 

13 February 2019

When the orphans were making their way to the browsing fields, Ziwa and Ngasha engaged in a strength testing pushing game which caught the attention of the other boys who started playing amongst themselves. Faraja interrupted Ziwa and Ngasha’s game leaving the girls to deal with Alamaya and Mwashoti while Shukuru sought shelter from the sun under the trees. Unfortunately, one of the boys was pushed hard to the ground which made him shout out. It was Ziwa, but Sonje thought some wild bull elephants were around and she started looking for them. Lima Lima and Quanza tried to help Ziwa get up, and then he ran away from Jasiri who pushed him down. 

When it was time for mud bath, Ziwa did not come for the bottle feeding, instead his bottle was taken to him by the Keepers, who sympathised with him as he was staying away from the herd so as not to be targeted by Jasiri.

14 February 2019

A big bull elephant was hiding behind the bushes a few meters away from Ngasha and Faraja’s stockade, but no one knew he was there except Ngasha who didn’t signal to the others and the Keepers like Lima Lima normally does. At the stockade entrance when all the orphans were going out for the day, the bull elephant showed up. He was so tall compared to the dependent orphans! Lima Lima went with Zongoloni to seemingly ask him questions about why he was waiting outside, but Sonje and Murera intervened, rumbling very loudly and preventing any questions being asked by any of the others. The bull wild elephant was very shy however, and after smelling the Keepers and seeing them come closer he raised his head and then took off into the bushes. Some of the older boys followed him for a bit, but then came back to join the others. When they came back after escorting the visitor, Alamaya and Mwashoti were in a very excitable mood. 

15 February 2019

All the orphans were ready for the morning browse along the Umani Hills. Mwashoti and Alamaya were very playful as well, which is not their routine, but this morning they were very jovial. They were pushing each and rolling down on their bellies and climbing on each other.

At the waterhole after bottle feeding time, Shukuru walked straight to the mud bath to cool herself as it was a very hot day. The albino friends Jasiri and Faraja then followed her but as usual, Shukuru walked away from them as she did not want them to join her and become too boisterous. Murera and Sonje walked together with Shukuru, but they are her friends who don’t give her any problems, and defend her should any trouble-makers come around! Shukuru has come along so well since coming to the Umani stockades and her health as improved immensely. 

16 February 2019

It was a very hot day today with every one feeling hot, even the Keepers had a tough day while everyone looked for water to swim in to cool down. The elephants kept visiting the waterhole to get some mud to throw on their bodies to cool down. Shukuru and Mwashoti rolled over again and again in the mud, having so much fun in the cool and refreshing mud.

Shukuru made another attempt to return to the mud bath again later, this time with Alamaya behind her. The Keepers didn’t realise they had gone to the mud bath again, and they began looking for her all around. As usual sweet Lima Lima with her usual nature of being a very thoughtful girl, took the Keepers to where Alamaya and Shukuru were taking their time in the mud bath! It was time for the orphans to continue browsing in the forest, but they did not go far because it was almost time for them to return home for the evening.

17 February 2019

Wild elephants visited the stockade water trough very early today before their normal arrival time. The orphans began trumpeting very loudly making us get up and see what was going on with them. They were all trumpeting and pushing on the posts of their rooms as they knew wild elephants were drinking at their waterhole outside the gate. When the wild elephants left into the forest again, next some bushbucks arrived to have some water as well. By bad luck one bushbuck jumped into the water trough because she could not reach the water level from outside, but she got stuck inside due to her hooves and it being very slippery, until the Keepers came to help her get out. We got her out and she ran back into the forest to join her friends.

18 February 2019

A group of big wild elephants came to greet the orphans today. They roamed around trying to mix and enjoy the company of the orphans who very happily received them. Only Murera who is the matriarch of the herd was not happy to welcome them, and she made Mwashoti keep very far away from the bulls too. Late the wild elephants left, walking along the path to the water springs.

At the waterhole it as very hot due to the dry weather, which forced all the babies to run to the waterhole to drink and roll around in the thickest mud to relieve their burning bodies. This was especially comforting to Faraja and Jasiri and their light skin! Shukuru stayed away from the overcrowded waterhole, giving her friends their own time, so that she got her own space later on without any one pushing her around.

19 February 2019

The elephants walked straight to the forest this morning, rushing out to find what they could eat in the forest after coming out of their rooms after a good nights rest. Sonje and Lima Lima tried to persuade the babies to follow them but unfortunately all the big boys had contrary ideas and didn’t want to just follow the females. They wanted to go their own way and only the little boys Alamaya and Mwashoti listened to the girls, as the big boys walked their own path.

When Murera got to the hills, she stopped all the boys who had decided to go their own way from following her. Murera now wanted the boys who defied her not to be a part of their group as they browsed on the hills, even though they wanted to re-join her. When Zongoloni saw Murera pushing Ziwa and Ngasha away, she moved quickly to try and persuade Murera to forgive them and accept them back to the herd for the rest of the day. Quanza went to Lima Lima and they held their trunks together as they made a show of being good friends. When Mwashoti wanted to interlock trunks with Quanza, he found his trunk he was too small and in the end Quanza dropped his and walked away to browse.

20 February 2019

The day began with a lot of cloud overhead, making the environment cool and fresh, showing signs of the impending rains due in March. Perhaps it will start to rain any day now as it certainly looks like rain. In the Umani Hills this morning it was very cold and foggy, and none of the orphans wanted to be on the hills. A few of the boys walked uphill, leaving Murera and Sonje with Mwashoti on the slopes as they could not climb the hills due to their bad legs. Shukuru also browsed at her own pace while Sonje followed her closely, trying to communicate to her not to go to far from the other orphans. Shukuru was not interested in listening but instead she just moved her own way towards the waterhole, leaving the Keepers behind as she walked with Alamaya and then Ziwa to the waterhole to wallow. Some light rain began to fall before the elephants could get back to the stockades, but it was almost time to go home anyway. Lima Lima and Zongoloni walked around signalling to all the babies to get ready and run back home before the rain fell heavily. Murera was happy with this decision and she joined Lima Lima and Zongoloni to lead all the orphans back home for the evening.

21 February 2019

After the rain yesterday, fierce army ants were around almost everywhere on the ground; there were almost no paths without the biting ants! Some were inside Murera and Sonje’s rooms, and when it approached the middle of the night the army ants began disturbing the elephants inside their rooms, and the Keepers were not left out either; they invaded their sleeping tents and began dropping onto the Keepers from the ceiling - no one was safe!

When all the elephants came out in the early morning after having their bottles at the gate entrance, it was not possible to walk out in any direction. When they tried, Mwashoti and Alamaya detected the army ants by the gate and none of them would walk through. The Keepers had to put some insect spray on the army ants to disperse them, and give way out to the orphans so they could walk out easily. Only Faraja and Jasiri got caught as Jasiri put his trunk on the ants and then some ants stuck on his trunk, biting him. He walked into the forest blowing his nose hard, causing loud trumpeting sounds from the bushes.

22 February 2019

Ngasha grabbed his bottle to hold it by himself without the help of the Keepers. After grabbing the bottle he took the nipple off from the bottle so that he could just drink freely without delay. He finished the milk so fast and then dropped the bottle on the ground before his friends could finish theirs. Only Alamaya had finished his and walked over to disturb Mwashoti, demanding some of his share, but Mwashoti was not bothered in any way and walked to Murera to defend him.

As the orphans browsed along the Chyulu Hills some klipspringers stopped on the rocks looking for the orphans down below. Shukuru was trying to scare them by trumpeting at them, but the klipspringers did not run away. In the end Shukuru just walked off and left them relaxing on their rocks.

23 February 2019

When the babies came out ready for their new day of browsing, Murera and Sonje were in a very good mood, very happy and friendly even to the troublesome boys like Ziwa and Ngasha, who sometimes try to lead the orphans in a different direction in the morning before the matriarchs have decided. Today Sonje and Murera were in a good mood and just relaxed, allowing the boys to lead the orphans towards the Umani Hills and along the hill circuit to look for fresh vegetation. In the end the older boys were happy to be led by the females as well. 

Along the hill circuit the orphans came across a big troop of baboons who were coming down out of the trees having slept up there during the night. All of a sudden there was a great hullabaloo as the baboons started chasing a leopard. It was very interesting to see a big group of baboons chasing away a leopard, who would certainly pray on them. The lonely leopard had a difficult time escaping, and the orphans were very worried about what was going on as well, as the baboons were making such a noise and crashing around. When Lima Lima passed the information to them that it was baboons chasing a leopard away from the area, the whole herd started to move away from the area.

24 February 2019

All the orphans enjoyed a very peaceful night in their rooms and none had any problems. It was the Keepers who couldn’t sleep as they came out in the night to try and find out who was snoring! They found Mwashoti and Alamaya in a deep sleep enjoying their night having finished all the greens that were given to them in their room. Lima Lima is a very light sleeper, and she realised we were walking around as she heard our footsteps outside the gate. She got up quickly and even scared a Keeper who was by the gate. Lima Lima thought she might be being given another bottle of milk at night, and she rumbled very loudly which woke the other babies up as well to see what was going on. The Keepers saw nothing going on whilst on patrol, so went back to their tent.

Shukuru was the number one swimmer at the mud bath today. All the orphans arrived for their milk bottles and when they were done, Shukuru took them to the waterhole to wallow in the mud. They all enjoyed the water pool, splashing mud on their bodies until their whole bodies were fully covered in a thick layer of mud, which was especially good for Jasiri and Faraja and their light skin. 

25 February 2019

All the orphans walked along the path towards the Kenze Hills to see what there was to eat there today. Ngasha and Ziwa were not interested in walking upfront, and instead stayed back with Sonje to see which way she wanted to go. They continued to walk along the path to the Kenze Hills where they came across some baboons again in large numbers. They came down from the trees and scared the orphans who split into two groups leaving Murera to lead only Mwashoti and Shukuru and the others all ran away with Lima Lima. The babies kept running and Ziwa crossed through the forests where he came across some antelopes grazing. He scared the antelopes too and Ziwa lost which way the others had gone. We eventually heard him trumpeting very away from where the Keepers and other orphans were; they even though it was some wild elephants but we soon realised it was Ziwa searching for everyone else. Lima Lima heard his trumpeting and put her trunk up to smell. Lima Lima went and found him and brought him to the group so all the orphans could go for their bottles and to have a mud bath.

26 February 2019

All the elephants were very ready to get to the Chyulu Hills to find some fresh vegetation to browse on. Murera and Sonje led them to the hills and Shukuru followed behind. Faraja and Ngasha followed the two females when Sonje rumbled to all the orphans. They walked back to see why Sonje was rumbling but she was signalling them to follow her to the hills.

At mud bath time, all the orphans came but Shukuru was the first to arrive for her bottles, then walk to the waterhole to wallow before Ziwa could join her. Some large crane birds came to wait beside the waterhole, and made a lot of noise, which scared the babies and Shukuru decided to leave the water hole. Lima Lima was not happy with the noisy birds either and she trumpeted behind them trying to chase them away from the waterhole so the orphans could enjoy wallowing there. 

27 February 2019

A tractor took some water to the waterholes which were running a little dry after the wild elephants and buffalos came and finished all the water. When Lima Lima saw the tractor from the bushes, she took off running towards the tractor and as she knew there would be fresh water, and she started drinking straight from the tap. All the other elephants followed to see what Lima Lima was doing behind the tractor; when Ziwa came and found Lima Lima drinking water directly from the tractor, he also joined her and suddenly all the trunks were all over the tractor trying to get the delicious fresh water.

28 February 2019

The elephants came out of their rooms this morning all looking forward to get to the bushes. They visited the water springs to drink first before proceeding to the hills. On the slopes of the Umani Hills they came across some buffalos grazing but when they saw the elephant orphans approaching they disappeared into the forest, leaving Murera and Mwashoti wondering which direction to go. After a short while, the Keepers approached them, and when they heard their names being called, Mwashoti replied by yelling so the Keepers would come and find him.

At the afternoon at around three o’clock, all the elephants felt very hot and everyone looked for shade. Shukuru felt the shade was not good enough, and instead decided to lead all the orphans back to the waterhole to wallow. Mwashoti had a very nice swimming session and all the orphans were competing to show off to the Keepers who the best swimmers were. Alamaya and Mwashoti played in the mud bath very joyfully.