Keepers' Diaries, July 2015

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The dry season has gripped the Kibwezi Forest now and rain is not expected until late October. Thankfully with the springs and forest there remains plenty of food for the orphans and their wild friends, in fact the forest becomes a haven for all the wild animals within the ecosystem during the dry months. The abundant acacia tortillis trees are dropping their seed pods now, a favourite food for elephants generally but something Lima Lima simply cannot resist. Her days now are focused on finding where the baboons are located as they dislodge the pods which are simply delectable and irresistible for our orphan babies. The Keepers do their bit locating additional pods further afield for them too, arriving with tantalizing sack loads!

01 July 2015

Balguda started to follow the babies who left to browse in the bushes immediately after getting their midday bottles. However he was under heavy protection from his adopted mothers Sonje and Murera. As soon as Balguda started to move away Sonje went on one side and Murera on the other, to put Balguda between them and so he would not to be disturbed by the rowdy babies. Quanza had the responsibility of leading the other orphans to the forest for more food and shade due to the hot weather. As they were moving to reach the shade, Ngasha and Zongoloni turned back to walk towards a natural waterhole to wallow for a second time, after finding the natural waterhole was dry. After they had finished they went for an enjoyable dust bath.

02 July 2015

The acacia pods are beginning to drop now, after a very long wait for the babies due to the long dry season which meant the trees did not produce the pods and the orphans could not get at them. The babies are now happy they can see pods being dropped down by the baboons, with bushbucks following them closely waiting for the dropped leftovers left by the elephants. Lima lima seems to be very happy whenever she sees baboons jumping on the acacia trees, knowing that the pods will fall and she and Quanza can take advantage. The keepers pushed the babies to go all the way to the grass fields and get some soft grass to enjoy, as in the bush they had been feeding on dry leaves and it was very hard for the babies to find soft branches. Today the crane birds came back after disappearing for sometime from the swampy area where they get more grasshoppers. They came back today with even more friends. When they arrived as the waterhole Zongoloni got scared when she heard them flying above her head and she ran back to the big herd to hide in between Murera and Sonje for security. Seeing Zongoloni run made all the babies panic and run to the keepers fearing what she might have seen. Sonje looked around to see if Balguda was by her side, but he was on the other side with Jasiri who was pushing with Lima lima in a strength testing game.

03 July 2015

Zongoloni was busy, whilst following the herd, selecting some of the dry grass and separating the soft from the dry to put into her mouth. While the other babies were walking very quickly running to the bushes, looking for what they could munch on, Murera was walking behind with the keepers providing maximum security to her baby Balguda. When the babies arrived at the feeding point to have their bottles Quanza was given the bottle and held it with her trunk like how Sonje used to do it with Jasiri. Soon she will start feeding on her own like the other orphans. This means less feeding work for the keepers but they still have to pick up the empty bottles!

04 July 2015

The orphans today went on a longer walk than usual. When they came out of the stockades Ngasha was the first one to show them the direction they would follow that day. After seeing Ngasha walk a different way, all the babies followed and continued walking with him. The walk continued as Balguda tried to keep away from his adopted mothers Sonje and Murea, trying to keep up with the long walks. Lima lima, now leading after Ngasha got tired, showed everyone where there were some very good soft branches to browse on. The feeding ended after buffaloes came from the thick forest mixing with the orphans. They had walked up to the Chyulu National Park and Kibwezi forests boundaries. It was very long walk back for the bottle feeding area and mudbath too. Murera and Sonje with their baby Balguda were not bothered walking all that long distances but the stomachs’ were now full, just leaving space for their milk bottles. The moment they reached to the waterhole and took their bottles, the babies looked very tired and decided to go and rest in the shade under the big trees.

05 July 2015

As soon as he was let out of his stockade Ngasha immediately started following closely behind Zongoloni, trying to bring down some twigs and peel off the backs. When they arrived at the waterhole at midday all the orphans were very busy wallowing enjoying the mudbath. Some thought that it might be too cold but others were very joyful, rolling their bottoms in the mud before making their way for a dust bath. Murera stood in the middle and Sonje on the other side waiting for Balguda to come out from the crowd. Jasiri, Zongoloni and Faraja took off running away from the waterhole to the dusting soil and began drying themselves immediately. Quanza took off with some boys to the forest and Zongoloni followed, so all dusting games ended and everyone went back to the forest.

06 July 2015

When Sonje came out of her stockade and found her baby Balguda, she led everyone to the lucerne feeding corner for their breakfast. She was followed closely by Murera, keen to know where Sonje was going with Balguda (a favourite to all). When Murera saw Balguda quietly standing near Sonje, she went closer and then she lay down for Balguda to come over and play with her, like Sonje sometimes does. Faraja got jealous when he saw Balguda going to play with Murera and he went to Sonje because he could not jump on Murera’s back.

07 July 2015

A leopard came roaring from the trees surrounding the stockades. The noise coming from the trees made the orphans very scared. Lima lima thought there might be something wrong and raised up her trunk and on the other side of the stockades Murera and Sonje did the same. The keepers also came out to see if the leopard was within the compound or not, but they found the cat was very far and not even close to the elephants stockades. The keepers and babies were disturbed but were concerned for the safety some bush bucks that were feeding on left over lucerne. Since the dry season started, bush bucks and other antelopes come and enjoy the left over lucerne which has become a great place for leopards to ambush them. Buffalos also come in big numbers. The leopards may take advantage of that but they cannot harm the orphans because they are safe within the electric fence of their stockade.

08 July 2015

Today the orphans changed the direction of their walk from the stockades to the scratching rock area, looking for some lucerne and also trying to look for the scratching rocks for those that had itchy bodies! Sonje began with a dust bath and the returned back to the scratching rock. Zongoloni gave her the first chance to scratch then it was her turn to scratch. Zongoloni scratched herself around the rock, her body swinging nicely as if she were dancing on a stage. Murera rolled on her belly in the dust, doing some exercises in the soil as the other babies were busy picking some leftover lucerne from the ground. The babies then turned up for the waterhole where Ziwa was the star, showing the others his best wallowing moves. Lima lima took the responsibility as the mini matriarch to first test the water temperature and see if it was too cold. If it was too cold then none of the orphans would decide to bathe.

09 July 2015

After the bottle feeding time in the afternoon, Balguda stood waiting for Murera who was still finishing her bottle. Ziwa also decided to wait for the other boys Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri so that they walk together to go back to the forest. After the midday bottle feeding it was very hot weather and Faraja, Jasiri and Ngasha pushed everyone to the bushes for shade. As they continued with their day of patrolling in the forest the babies came across the water from the broken pipeline. Lima lima and Quanza led the other orphans to go and drink from the broken pipeline as the delicious spring fed waters are preferable to the now drying waterholes they come across while in the bush for the day. Of course at their water troughs the water if fresh from the spring.

10 July 2015

As Ngasha walked along a different path trying to open it up to reach some green twigs, he saw that the path was blocked with broken branches. He knew he was strong and instead of walking back he tried to remove them by pushing with his strong head. Murera, on the other side of the path, took Ziwa to help move the branches for Ngasha, leaving Balguda with Sonje. Sonje was very helpful to Balguda, pulling down for him some soft branches that he could not reach from the tall trees. Quanza chased Jasiri so he was not a part of their group consisting of Lima lima and Zongoloni. But Jasiri is Zongoloni’s roommate and he tried hard to decline as he wanted to be with Zongoloni. They thought Jasiri was going to take up the shade they were enjoying under the tree, but Jasiri just wanted somewhere to scratch and the only place was on that tree! He pressed on and made it on to the tree at last. The babies then began walking to the bottle feeding place. Some greedy ones like Lima lima, Zongoloni and Ngasha began feeling thirsty for milk and walked faster than everyone else. Murera was very much looking for her baby Balguda, whilst some continued on to the water hole to wallow because it was beginning to get hotter.

11 July 2015

Ngasha was trying so hard to lead the herd to the forest and no one could imagine that Murera and Sonje, as the older and bigger matriarchs, would ever follow him as a male leader. However they were not following Ngasha as their leader but actually following to ensure that Ngasha wouldn’t get lost! Lima lima, who would normally have been leading the group as the mini matriarch, lost her way in the bushes because she was too busy breaking big branches to feed on! After, all the orphans enjoyed a good dust bath, after splashing water on their feet.

12 July 2015

Sonje took off with the babies rushing to the forest very fast, so that her baby Balguda could have something to feed on and fill his belly. When the orphans came back to the waterhole, they were in a very joyous and playful mood, ready to roll in the mud. Some of the terrapins left the water fearing that orphans would squash them with their heavy feet! When they turned back to the dust bath point, Murera went up to her keeper as if she had something to share with him. Her keeper was also interested in inspecting Murera so as to know why she was coming to him. She might have had something on her mind! Jasiri looked around for somewhere he could rub his bottom. He got in a great position and was spotted sitting on his bottom and going around in circles having a great scratch, before walking away to the forest to look for some shade under the big trees.

13 July 2015

Lima lima was back taking the lead of the orphans as the mini matriarch, leading the other babies into the forest where they would get some fresh greens to feed on. Jasiri followed Lima lima with some friends to see where she was leading them to. Sonje and Quanza joined them from the other side of the forest as the babies were beginning to prepare for the midday bottle feed. After the midday feed Murera and Balguda were resting before making a decision to walk to the clean water from the water trough. They knew there would always been clean water in there for them to drink from.

14 July 2015

Balguda was not feeling well today. Murera and Sonje could sense that Balguda was not very well so from that moment they decided to take even more care of him than before. They took great effort comforting him and Balguda was very happy with his two mothers. Sometimes he would put his trunk on Sonje or Murera’s head, a sign of affection. Murera felt the hot weather and began walking to the waterhole. She left the baby boy Balguda with her friend Sonje to take care of him and they would change over when Murera returned from the waterhole. When Murera came to the dust bath, she stopped and instead went to straight to listen to her keeper.

15 July 2015

Balguda tried to hang his trunk on one of his mothers, Sonje’s, shoulder to rest. It seems he is feeling more tired and he cannot walk far without taking a break and resting near Sonje. Sonje called and rumbled to him. When she did this Balguda walked to her because the matriarchs know very well that is body is not well and they had to comfort him whenever necessary. Lima lima was not bothered by the rumbling and she continued to walk ahead with the other babies to the open area with lots of green vegetation for browsing. At the water hole the babies enjoyed their time wallowing as Sonje spent some time scratching nearby. Zongoloni rolled in the muddy water before Sonje came and was very busy swimming together with terrapins and baby crocodiles. The turtles soon left the water hole though, leaving the baby crocodiles jumping on Sonje’s back as she was busy enjoying her swim.

16 July 2015

Murera came out walking slowly. She went to the bushes to pick some acacia roots that were uprooted by the wild elephants the previous night. Murera continued walking as her keeper was in front of her and waited to speak with her. The keeper tried speaking with Murera but she answered him by loud rumbles from her trunk. Her keeper knew that Murera was not happy if she did not have Balguda by her side. She kept looking around to see if she could see him coming but Balguda was not visible. Murera followed their trails and caught up with Sonje and Balguda and then they all changed roles. Sonje went to the waterhole to swim and Murera took care of their baby Balguda, who enjoyed more comforting from his adopted mother. His condition remains of concern and we have reported all the details to Angela who arranged for two vets to come to assess Balguda.

17 July 2015

Quanza was in the lead this morning, leading the orphans out to the forest after spending very good night in the stockades. Quanza, Zongoloni and Faraja were the leaders and the orphans walked very quickly to look for what they might eat to fill up their stomachs. The weather changed and it began to get warmer as the babies turned and went for their midday bottle feeding. Jasiri grabbed his bottle and held it upside down to make sure he had every last drop of milk. Zongoloni and Lima lima got to the water hole and began splashing their feet to test if the water was cold or not, before continuing into the water hole to enjoy the muddy bath. In the evening all the orphans were on their way walking back home. Ngasha looked to be thirsty as he was looking for the water troughs but he thought there was no clean water inside. He did not know that the other orphans were already drinking from the water troughs. When he arrived at the water troughs later he found that the water was not clean because the other babies had dumped their feet directly inside! Our Balguda is heading back to Nairobi tomorrow so the elephant moving truck arrived in the evening. Balguda will be loaded early in the morning and taken directly to Nairobi so that he can get intensive treatment and hopefully he will be back with us in not too long.

18 July 2015

Early in the morning Balguda was loaded onto the waiting truck and headed back to Nairobi. The others seemed fairly understanding about the circumstances with even Sonje and Murera instinctively understanding Balguda needed extra attention. When morning came and all the babies came out they hurried along being led by the greedy Lima lima and Zongoloni. They led them to the top of Umani Hills where they thought they might find plenty of vegetation and it might not be dry like other places down the hill. As they were greedily walking up the hill and nearly at the top a big group of buffaloes, who were still sleeping in the bushes, got up quickly to defend themselves. Lima lima was scared by their big number and she, with Ngasha and Zongoloni, turned the big herd back and ran towards the keepers. The keepers feared that they might be having wild elephants among them and the running continued to the bottom of the hill and the bottle feeding area! After feeding time Zongoloni went to drink water while Murera with the other orphans together walked back to their normal browsing areas.

19 July 2015

The big babies think that these days they are big enough and should not be worried to go without their human families around them. Walking behind or in front is something Murera and Sonje are thinking in their mind, but the fact remains that a baby is always a baby in front of their parents, so Murera and Sonje will remain to be babies in front of their keepers no matter how big they grow (the keepers will always refer to them as babies as well). The orphans were in a rush browsing today, looking for some dry, dropped leaves to keep up with as they continue with long patrols looking for greener vegetation within the Kibwezi forest. Zongoloni was the fastest to lead, followed by Lima lima and Quanza. Lima lima and Quanza thought that Zongoloni would clear the ground before them. It was turning hot and the orphans were getting warmer. Sonje whispered to Murera and Zongoloni so that they could walk to the water hole for a second round of wallowing, and cool the burning heat on their back.

20 July 2015

Faraja did not believe his big ears were open enough to hear and added his trunk to help him sense what the noise was all about. After raising his trunk he realised that it was baboons that were being very noisy in the bushes. But nobody knew what the noise was all about. The previous night a leopard was shouting too much in the forests and maybe Faraja still had the sound of the leopard screaming on his mind. The keepers also heard the baboons shouting in the trees and they only thought of their baby Murera who could not run fast through the forest. She was called by the keepers and appeared walking from the bushes going to her keeper wondering why she was being called. She rumbled very loudly to let her keeper know she was just okay hiding in the bushes enjoying the soft grass. At the mud bath the babies had a second chance to wallow again, with Ngasha carrying too much mud on his wrinkled body to help keep him cool for longer.

21 July 2015

The orphans have very long walks in the forest, sometimes meeting a few wild elephants that also roam in the forests for food. They are fearful of us approaching however, when they hear the keepers talking near the orphans. The orphans are still very new to Kibwezi Forest and when the wild elephants smell humans on the orphans they push them back because they wonder why the orphans have this smell on them. Sometimes they try and charge the babies then Lima lima, Murera and Sonje run back to their keepers. With time these wild elephants will become used to the orphans, like at Voi and Ithumba, and they will be more accepting. As the orphans continued with their daily patrol looking for food, they came upon a log that had been pushed down by the big bulls blocking their path and it was very hard for the babies to cross over it. It was very funny to see how Sonje was brave enough to try and climb over it, starting with one of her bad legs. Murera did not try though and just changed directions because of her leg was not like Sonje’s and she remembered the pain in her leg before it was healed – this was something she could not do.

22 July 2015

As the orphans were on their long morning walk, Murera was left behind as she was trying to follow the trails and smell of some wild elephant, those that were browsing around from the Chyulu Hills National Park. Most of these elephants were bull elephants and it seemed Murera was trying to see if she could find a boyfriend! Unfortunately these wild elephants took off quickly to join the family herds who were not far away and had young babies with them. When Murera saw them running away she also decided to walk back to her herd that she is the matriarch of and also join her human family who she trusts so much. As Murera was heading to where the other babies were wallowing, she found Lima lima in trouble with Faraja who was pushing her out of the small waterhole, struggling for more space for his big belly. Lima lima had her right to wallow in the natural mud hole but Faraja, who had grown much stronger, was trying to overpower her. Lima lima screamed for help from her matriarchs which forced Sonje and Murera to intervene very quickly. Faraja was duly disciplined and put firmly in his place.

23 July 2015

It was a very cloudy day and the babies were trying to avoid the waterhole due to the cold weather. Instead Zongoloni and Jasiri showed them a good place for dusting soil, which would be good to prevent the tsetse flies from stinging them hard on their backs. This changed the colour of the elephants to brown and not grey as they normally are. They blew big dust over their heads and on their backs too. Sonje was doing it in a wonderful way, blowing big dust using her strong trunk and kicking some hard earth to break it into small pieces. Zongoloni and Jasiri left the dusting point, leading the big herd to the forest to pick up some dry leaves that they had seen dropping in the wind. As the babies continued on their patrol they stopped for awhile after seeing a broken pipeline with clean water spilling out from it. Faraja kneeled down putting his trunk down trying to reach the clean water directly from the pipes straight to his mouth.

24 July 2015

When Murera arrived for the midday bottle feed she looked relaxed but her keeper thought she was still remembering the wild elephant she got close to before it ran away. The human smell and sound of people talking made him worried, as the elephants there are not used to humans yet. Lima lima and Quanza were the first orphans to notice the wild bull walking over to Murera and Sonje. When the wild bull left, Quanza got a chance to sharpen her small tusks on a fallen tree to try. Lima lima was watching and wanted to try and to what Quanza was doing as well; she also started to sharpen her tiny tusks to be ready for big trees or fights with the naughty boys, Ngasha, Jasiri and Faraja. These naughty boys sometimes push the girls using their slightly longer tusks which are very sharp. The keepers began calling their babies by name and Lima lima and Quanza were the first to come out from the forest looking what the keepers were calling them for. They found it was not really for anything but to start walking back to the stockades because it was beginning to get late and dark. Lima lima appeared to be trying to run after the keeper who was leading them. She is very bright and wanted to lead even the keeper who was leading them. Perhaps she thought he did not know the way or he was walking too slowly and they were thirsty for milk waiting them at the stockades.

25 July 2015

The rampant movement of the wild elephants, mostly the bulls, continued around the forest since the wild bulls realised that among the whole of Murera’s orphan herd there was no dominant male elephant, only Jasiri who is still very young. He seems to be the most dominant bull but he is still a young boy who is overpowered by big females that don’t listen to him. Lima lima was moving about the forest trying to follow the wild elephant and bring them closer to the orphan herd. The wild elephants were also very curious when they heard noises in the forests. Lima lima continued to follow them closely, trying to bring them to the orphans, but the wild bull elephants were not fully trusting Sonje and Murera because their keepers were still close by. In the evening when the orphans headed back home with their human family, Murera and Sonje found a fallen tree that was pushed down and blocking the way. The Keepers thought Murera and Sonje would not be able to jump over, but when Murera reached that place she was the first one to cross over and as the keepers watched how Sonje would cross the log, she also did it very nicely. Their loving keepers cheered loudly they were so happy to see Murera cross it without difficulty.

26 July 2015

Sonje is the most loving mother to all the young orphans within the Murera family. All the babies watch Sonje closely and whenever they see her going down on the ground to dust roll or sometimes just scratching or browsing at something in particular, they will do the same. Most babies run to Sonje for comfort as Murera is not friendly to some of the boys since her adopted baby boy Balguda went back to the nursery for more treatment. Sonje was playing with the boys, lying down for the boys to jump over her back. Faraja jumped first, before Jasiri and Ngasha came squeezing their way onto Sonje’s back. The boys were actually too heavy for her though and when she felt the weight was too heavy she started chasing them, pushing them very hard with the strong tusks she has.

27 July 2015

In the early morning when the orphans were let out by their keepers to begin their new day, Jasiri and Ngasha faced off showing each other who was tougher than who. Jasiri with his full strength seemed to be winning over Ngasha who was a light weight compared to Jasiri. Ngasha tried pressing hard to see if Jasiri would go down, but nothing. Ngasha had to look for more options and he decided to go up the hill so that Jasiri was forced to be on the slope! When Quanza saw them vigorously pushing harder and harder, she turned around and charges Jasiri trying to scare him to leave Ngasha alone. Quanza realised that Jasiri was stronger and could harm Ngasha and wanted to separate them, so they stopped fighting and all walked away into the forest to browse instead.

28 July 2015

Sonje and Murera began their day well with very good signals to the keepers, they were blowing air very loudly and trumpeting that went on for a very long time. The other young babies got the signal and joined in along with their matriarchs with loud trumpets and charging around the forest. Even Murera could not be believed how she was kicking and charging around the trees. All this activity left the keepers with very broad, smiling faces; they were happy to see Murera doing so well in the Umani forests with her little babies getting greater support from Sonje her friend. Lima lima then went over to Murera with some small kicks which did not make Murera happy and she had to give Lima lima a very strong warning of her bad behaviour, blowing dust in her face. She then pushed Lima lima away using her big trunk and followed her with very big rumblings that went through to the other orphans who responded to the warning from Murera.

29 July 2015

The upcoming matriarch Lima lima took over the leadership from the overall matriarch, Murera, leading the whole group to the stockade loading bay wall for the body scratch. Lima lima knew well that Murera and Sonje would follow her and Murera who is the oldest female followed Lima lima perfectly knowing that the young girl has good leadership skills. They went to the dusting soil area where they could get enough soft dust to help them keep off the stinging flies which disturbed them so much and they could not keep away with just their swinging tails. Zongoloni with her friend Lima lima continued going much deeper into the forest where they could meet up with the wild elephants with young babies with them. Lima lima was trying to walk away with the young baby girl who came to know them, but the herd reacted quickly and stopped Lima lima and Zongoloni from walking off with their young baby girl. The baby was so tiny she was still walking under her mother’s belly for the maximum security from strangers. Lima lima wanted to bring the new baby to the keepers to see their young friend, but the family denied her the chance and keepers just saw a baby running away screaming running to her family that was waiting for her in the bushes nearby.

30 July 2015

The fighting began as soon as the babies arrived at the waterhole outside their gate entrance. Jasiri and Ngasha disagreed on who was to draw water from the waterhole first. Ngasha wanted to be the first so the fighting started from there, with Jasiri pushing Ngasha back so hard using his strong small tusks. Ngasha declined to be forced backwards by Jasiri and continued to face him head on. When the babies arrived at the mud bath for their bottle feed at midday, Lima lima led the herd to the water trough for some clean water. Then some followed Zongoloni and Quanza to the side of the waterhole. Jasiri, after finishing his fight with Ngasha, stood by the waterhole blowing water over Zongoloni and over her face. Sonje decide to go for the dusting soil for more dust to help her chase away the tsetse flies on her body so that she felt better. Her body colour changed to the brown colour of the dusting soil so for the rest of the day Sonje looked brown instead of the grey like the others.

31 July 2015

The orphans came out from their stockades after a good long night and were now ready to tackle the new day looking for fresh vegetation for browsing. When they reached the gate the orphans went straight to the dusting point to get some good, soft dusting soil while other babies were itchy and went to scratch on the rocks to get rid of some of the ticks on their bodies.