Keepers' Diaries, March 2018

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

Due to the Umani Springs, which feed the waterholes and springs throughout Kibwezi Forest, the area remains an oasis amidst the dry Tsavo landscape throughout the year. When the rains arrive, however, this area truly comes to life! One can hardly walk along the paths as the vegetation is so thick with fresh shoots, flourishing bushes and creepers draping down from the trees. Delicate butterflies peacefully feed next to small ponds of water, collected in old elephant footprints, and when the orphans walk along paths to browse, they send a flurry of delicate butterflies up into the air.

Although this is a wonderful time for our orphans with regards to the variety of soft, fresh food to be found, it does come with the drawback of more insects to bother and bite them, as well the dispersal of their wild elephants friends now that all the water sources have been replenished across the wider area. Poor Alamaya is at the disadvantage of not having his tail to swipe away the insects bothering him from behind. Sonje, Murera and Mwashoti also find it difficult to navigate along the wet and slippery paths, as falling for them is more detrimental considering their bad legs and the difficulty they would have getting up. Murera did slip over one day, but chose to use the opportunity to roll around in the mud on the ground. The keepers can help Mwashoti up when he falls, but they are concerned about the two older girls as they would have much more difficulty assisting their bigger frames! Sonje had a close call one day as she almost slipped into a trench, but was saved by a tree she fell against. Murera and Mwashoti find it most difficult to walk uphill when the paths are wet and slippery, and the other greedy orphans like Lima Lima don’t seem to take this into consideration. Sometimes the keepers call the other orphans down to take a different route, when they can see that Murera and the others might struggle.

With the forest overflowing with water at the moment, the terrapins are also having a wonderful time. Ziwa spotted one floating along in some run-off one day and went to investigate. He smelt it and then for a moment he seemed to want to kick it! Luckily the keepers spotted his intentions and moved Ziwa away to leave the terrapin in peace. Zongoloni and Quanza seemed scared of the tiny creature, and kept well away from it.

The rainy days and plentiful water mean that the orphans find it very difficult to have a dust bath as they usually would after their midday milk bottles. In the absence of any hot and sunny weather, most days the orphans preferred to forgo their mud bath and, after their bottles, they chose to return to the edge of the forest and browse there, waiting for their Keepers to finish their lunch. Murera is starting to lose interest in her milk bottles, which is natural considering her age. When there are other more interesting options available, she will forego her bottles altogether. Some of the heavier rain storms have been felling trees in the night, including Murera’s favourite acacia trees. She and the other babies were delighted to have such easy access to this delicious tree, without having to struggle to pull its branches down to eat the leaves. She might be one of the first orphans to return to the wild from the Unit, as she is displaying signs of independence, but we are sure she will not leave completely for some time yet due to her love for the little boy Mwashoti.

Alamaya, who just turned four in January, likes to act like a grown up boy and test his strength on the others. Usually he plays with Zongoloni and Lima Lima but, one day, he decided to initiate a game with one of the big boys, Faraja. This wasn’t very sensible and Faraja floored him with one swipe, Alamaya having the added disadvantage of the ground being very slippery! The older girls were very angry with Faraja for hurting one of the babies, and while they were dealing with him, Alamaya walked ashamedly towards Mwashoti and Zongoloni. Although they felt sorry for him, they probably reminded him not to play with older bulls like Faraja, Ngasha and Jasiri; it was a valuable lesson for the young boy!

One night, the playful roommates Murera and Sonje and Zongoloni and Jasiri were pushing on the posts of the stockades in a rainstorm. In the morning the keepers were horrified to find that Murera and Sonje had almost completely knocked down one wall! They set about repairing the stockade immediately, but that night some of the orphans had to double up, with mixed results. Alamaya gave his room up to the two older girls which meant Mwashoti was very happy to have them as his new neighbours. Alamaya was not happy to be moved and neither were Zongoloni and Jasiri happy to move in with Lima Lima and Quanza for the night! They picked on their new roommates all night, with Jasiri performing his favourite technique of pulling the others tails. Lima Lima and Quanza did not have a very peaceful night, but luckily it was only a temporary arrangement!

March 2018 day to day

01 Mar

The rains have returned making Umani lovely and green which means that there is a lot of fresh vegetation for the orphans to feed on. As much as the babies enjoy the fresh browse they do not enjoy walking on the slippery mud as they find it difficult to do so. Murera and Mwashoti who are normally slower than the rest anyway, are even more so when it is wet. Ziwa and Ngasha began playing pushing games and Faraja came in to join them. They were having difficulty keeping their footing and Ngasha managed to knock both Ziwa and Faraja down. The two then began rolling around in the mud while the keepers watched. When the orphans were browsing in the hills today, Murera and Sonje separated themselves from the rest of the group taking Mwashoti and Lima Lima with them. Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti were all finding it very hard to climb the hills when they are wet and slippery. It was also raining off and on today which just made it harder for them so they chose to browse on flat ground.

Sonje lying down at mudbath

Orphans at the mudbath

Ziwa after a bit of a wallow