Keepers' Diaries, March 2018

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.

01 March 2018

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.

02 March 2018

Last night the stockades were very muddy and wet when the babies returned for the night. Zongoloni and Jasiri took the roles of leaders, getting everyone back while Murera, Sonje and Ziwa came in last. Ziwa is always happy to get to spend some time with Sonje and Murera as nowadays most of their attention is given to the younger boys. At the noon bottle feeding time the orphans had no interest in playing following their milk bottles, choosing instead to return to the browsing fields as soon as they had all had their share. Quanza was the first to leave, leading the way and showing the group where to go while they waited for the keepers to have their lunch so that they could move further afield. Lima Lima was not in the mood to wait for the keepers and started moving further away. This meant that the keepers had to abandon their lunch to follow Lima Lima and get her to rejoin the orphan herd. By the time they managed to get Lima Lima to turn around and head back the rest of the orphans had caught up with them and they headed off for the afternoons browsing activities.

03 March 2018

During the night the orphans were vigorously pushing the stockades walls making it hard for the keepers to sleep. Zongoloni and Quanza were the most aggressive in their pushing which resulted in the keepers coming out of their rooms to ensure that none of the gates had been pushed down or opened. They were all very happy to see that everything was ok and no damage had been done by the boisterous orphans under their care. It was a rather cold day today and none of the babies wanted to partake in the mud bath. In the forest there were streams of water everywhere which had the orphans slipping and sliding all over the place. When the babies arrived for their noon milk bottle, Ziwa screamed loudly which brought Lima Lima and Sonje running to see what had happened to cause him to make such a racket. On arrival they found that there was nothing wrong and Ziwa was just screaming to announce his arrival at the milk bottles.

04 March 2018

Murera and her friends left the stockades for the forest in a happy mood with Mwashoti stuck to Murera wanting to play with her tail as he followed her to the browsing fields. They stopped at the water trough for a drink before continuing on their way. Alamaya and Zongoloni started to fight over a piece of lucerne pellet that Alamaya found on the ground which Zongoloni wanted to take from him. The two started a pushing game which Murera quickly brought to an end so that the orphan herd make their way to the browsing grounds and begin the days browsing activities. The orphans heard some wild elephants on the other side of the forest and wanted to head in that direction but were prevented from doing so by the keepers who were worried that they could get hurt should they suddenly come across a herd of wild bulls.

05 March 2018

The Kibwezi forest is overflowing with water at the moment. A terrapin was seen floating in some run off. When Ziwa saw the terrapin he went to smell it to find out what it was and then seemed to want to kick it. Thankfully a keeper was nearby who prevented Ziwa from kicking the terrapin, moving Ziwa away from the area to leave the creature in peace. Zongoloni and Quanza were scared of the tiny terrapin and ran off afraid of having their feet nipped. The orphan herd made their way to the Umani Hills with Lima Lima and Alamaya heading off in a different direction as they went in search of branches on the slopes of the hills. The slippery hills made it difficult for Murera and Mwashoti to get any traction and make much movement as they kept slipping back. Murera and Sonje then communicated amongst themselves and decided that it was better for them and Mwashoti to remain at the base of the hill to browse. They happily fed on the soft branches that were flourishing following all the rain that has fallen the past week.

06 March 2018

As soon as the elephants woke up this morning they had their milk bottles after which the keepers opened the stockade doors for them to begin their day. Zongoloni walked to the hay stores where she tried to pick up a bale and run off with it but was unsuccessful in doing so as it was rather heavy. When she spotted the keepers she dropped the bale and ran off leaving the keepers to return the bale to the store. There was some drama at the loading bay near the gate as the orphans were heading out. Faraja saw his rival Ngasha approaching him and the two became engaged in a pushing match. Ngasha pushed Faraja down and tried to climb onto his back. Zongoloni was not happy to see what was going on and quickly moved in to separate the two so that the orphan herd could make their way to the browsing fields. On the way out Jasiri and Quanza started pushing which rabble roused the rest of the group who began charging at the bushes and anything that was close to them. Some sykes monkeys in the trees were not too happy about the charging around and tried to get away from the area as quickly as they could.

07 March 2018

This morning directives given by Sonje and Murera were ignored by the boys with only Mwashoti paying any heed and following the matriarchs who were trying to prevent the orphan herd from heading too far into the hills as they had picked up the scent of buffaloes there and were trying to avoid them as they know that buffaloes can be unpredictable. Thankfully the group then heeded their matriarchs with Lima Lima and Zongoloni being the first to rejoin Sonje, Mwashoti and the others. When orphans lined up for their noon bottle feed Faraja stood aside and waited for a keeper to lead him to the bottles. After the milk feeding was done Faraja again waited for the keeper to lead him to the water trough for a drink. As it was quite chilly none of the orphans wanted to wallow as the waterhole was quite cold. As such the orphan herd made their way to the bushes where they waited for the keepers to finish their lunch before heading back to the browsing fields for the rest of the day.

08 March 2018

Once the orphans had exited their stockades this morning they lined up at the supplement feeding area where they were given some Lucerne pellets. Some baboons were eyeing the supplements and tried to steal some but were chased away by Zongoloni who refused to let them have any of the orphan’s treats. At the browsing fields, Sonje made sure that Mwashoti and Alamaya stuck close to her and did not follow Ziwa and Faraja into the hills where there were some vultures up in the trees making a racket. The orphans were not happy about all the noise and quickly left following Quanza to a quieter area where they could browse in peace.

09 March 2018

The orphans were very noisy during the night, pushing at the stockade walls and gates and even trying to climb the walls which made the keepers wonder what had got them all worked up. Looking around the keepers spotted a leopard resting on the branch of a tree just outside the stockade fence line. Lina Lima and Quanza had smelt the leopard and were alerting the other orphans and the keepers to its presence. In the morning some of the boys, Jasiri and Ngasha together with Ziwa, walked out of the stockades but seemed to be quite worried that the leopard was still around and could be hiding somewhere. Thankfully this was not the case as the leopard had left the area at some point in the night. The orphans walked happily to Kenze area where they settled to browse in the forest there. When it started to rain, Mwashoti sought shelter with Murera and the orphans all took refuge under the trees.

10 March 2018

Sonje really walked today and kept moving through the forest, trying to follow the path of some wild elephants. We thought later that perhaps Sonje was looking for her boyfriend who she has not seen for some weeks. When she could not find the wild elephants, she stopped and relaxed under a tree, perhaps wondering where they had gone. The keepers struggled to called Sonje back to the herd; she kept ignoring their calls. Later Murera went to convince Sonje that she will see those wild elephants again and for now she should follow the others. Ziwa and Faraja also tried help Murera bring Sonje back to the herd. Quanza and Zongoloni were busy breaking some branches to eat with their feet before going to where keepers were, as they were preparing to lead the orphans for their midday bottle feeding. Today there was no dust bath as it was muddy all over the place due to the heavy rains, but the orphans chose to roll on some ant hills.

11 March 2018

The elephants found the paths in the forest very wet and slippery today. Murera, Mwashoti and Sonje had to walk very carefully so as not to hurt their bad legs. Unfortunately Mwashoti and Murera did slip over and the keepers had to help them get up. Mwashoti managed okay but Murera decided to start playing in the mud whilst she was on the ground, rubbing her bottom and tail in the mud. Ziwa and Ngasha avoided the wet paths where they found the grass was very wet and would make their feet cold. Ziwa moved to an entirely different area to avoid the muddy paths where Murera fell. There was no fun and games today at the waterhole. After the orphans had their milk bottles they all just walked back to the forest to browse again, waiting for the keepers to finish their lunch before they would walk further.

12 March 2018

As soon as they finished their bottles this morning, Alamaya and his friend Lima Lima lead the other babies out to the forest. It was raining very hard which made it challenging for the keepers to follow the orphans. The rain went on for a long time and Murera and Sonje slipped as they tried to walk along the path. Eventually Sonje lost her balance and fell. This left Murera and Mwashoti wondering how they would walk up the hill and not fall over too!

13 March 2018

After bottle feeding today some antelopes were chasing each other around the bushes. This worried Jasiri and Ngasha who were browsing around where the antelopes were running around. One male antelope was chasing another away from the female herd, breaking the peace that the elephants were trying to enjoy as they broke up branches to fill up their empty stomachs in the morning. It is very hard for the orphans to enjoy a dust bath at the moment as due to all the heavy rain there is just water everywhere! Even their mud baths have been diluted with water, so these days they just come for their bottle at midday and head back out to the forest to browse. In the evening some of the orphans took different routes home and they split up into three groups. Alamaya was with his friend and roommate Mwashoti who arrived first to have their bottles, followed by Murera and later Lima Lima arrived with the last group with Quanza walking at the back.

14 March 2018

Because of the long rains we have not seen many wild elephants recently, and it continues to rain so we do not expect to see them any time soon. We see a lot of leopard at the moment, walking around looking for bushbucks and baboons around the water springs. Faraja came to fight over a stick being eaten by Ngasha, but Faraja pushed back, fighting hard for the right to his stick. Neither of the boys was ready to back down, and the fighting continued until Zongoloni and Quanza decided to separate them. Lima Lima and Jasiri wanted to walk up the Umani Hill in the morning, but the big girls Murera and Sonje did not want to as it was a hard walk for their bad legs. It seemed like Lima Lima did not value that Sonje with Mwashoti and Murera had bad legs and could not walk over to the hills, but in the end the orphans walked along a path they could all manage.

15 March 2018

Murera seemed uninterested in having her bottles at the midday feed today. This was after noticing an acacia tree that had fallen down after a windy and stormy night. Acacia is Murera’s favourite food and instead of having her bottle she just escorted Mwashoti and the others to that area, before turning and heading for the fallen tree. Murera assumes she is big girl these days and is becoming more independent of the keepers. She likes to decide which way she is going to go and does not like to be controlled by the keepers. She might return to the wild sometime soon, maybe this year or next, but for now she takes care of her baby Mwashoti and would not leave him.

16 March 2018

Sonje and Mwashoti went to Alamaya to greet him in the morning and they seemed to inquire how every baby had spent their night. Alamaya received Mwashoti and Sonje by his gate and rumbled loudly welcoming them. His happy rumble indicated to Sonje that all was well and the night was good despite the heavy rain which made the rooms very wet and slippery. All the orphans were then ready to head out and browse, amidst a very rainy morning again. We saw the elephant orphans whisking their tails a lot which meant the tsetse flies must be bothering them. We felt sorry for Alamaya as he has lost his tail and so he cannot keep the flies away from his hind. He went to some nearby bushes to help keep the flies away but he went to wrong place as the forest is very green now and the flies like to hide in the plants, so Alamaya chose a bad place to keep away from them!

17 March 2018

In the forest today some sykes monkeys stopped in the tops of some trees and turned to look down at Ziwa and Faraja scratching their backs on the same trees. When Faraja realised that the monkeys were watching, he began trying to push down the tree so that the monkeys would fall down so he could chase them, but it didn’t work. Sonje came over and Murera helped Faraja push on the big tree as well, but the monkeys just ran away, leaving the elephants to eat in peace. In the forest the walks continued as babies climbed the hills to get to the fresh greens shooting before any other wild animal could get there first. Ziwa moved with Faraja and Ngasha ahead of all the others. The keepers just followed behind because in the rain Ngasha and Faraja walk like crazy, looking for fresh branches and sometimes following the paths of wild elephant’s to see if they can find some friends to play with.

18 March 2018

Zongoloni and Quanza were not listening to the keepers as they tried to call them for them, instead Zongoloni just kept walking with Alamaya towards where Lima Lima was browsing, on top of the Umani Hills. Some wild elephants trumpeted just nearby to where the orphans where, in the direction of Sonje and Jasiri. When the big boy Jasiri realised the trumpet was nearby he raised his trunk high above his head, trying to locate where the elephants were. Lima Lima tried to ignore the call but later Quanza and Ziwa persuaded her to go with the boys to see their friends. Sonje and Murera were not bothered to walk there with their keepers. We were surprised that Sonje did not want to go as she had been looking for the wild elephants for some time. At mud bath time, Murera did not want her bottle again and she went to the bushes while her friends had their bottles. Later in the evening Murera led all the babies back to stockades.

19 March 2018

The elephants had a nice opportunity to browse around the Chyulus today, and some of their wild friends were also heard on top of the hills. Faraja, Ngasha and Jasiri teamed up to greet the big bull elephant that was throwing some mud on his head under a big acacia tree. Mwashoti kept close to Murera and Sonje’s bellies to feel protected from Ziwa who was misbehaving and he did not want to get pushed by him. The orphans did not go to the mud bath area for their bottles today as they had walked very far and Lima Lima forgot to remind the other orphans that it was feeding time! When they heard the truck carrying their bottles Alamaya and Mwashoti went to try and block the road for them to be fed first, but the keepers came out from the bushes and made sure they stood safely to the side. Murera and Sonje came in slowly later to get their bottles waiting for them.

20 March 2018

The orphans were in a very independent mood today and all chose to browse on their own and in their own direction. Murera was the most serious about her independence and left Sonje with the responsibility of caring for Mwashoti. They were all very busy browsing and the orphans were not ready to come back home. Sometimes they have to be convinced to come back, and sometimes they come willingly. Ziwa again tried to lock out himself to not come back into the stockades, but when the keepers locked him outside he didn’t like it and tried to come back in. During the day he leads the other deep into the bushes with Ngasha and Faraja, but when the keepers locked him outside this afternoon he screamed to be allowed back in. Ngasha and Faraja began fighting in their cage and they pushed each other very hard until they turned to Ziwa and broke down the partition so that they could get Ziwa to join them in the fight. They pushed Ziwa down and the two naughty boys jumped on his back for a ride.

21 March 2018

Alamaya came out pushing Zongoloni trying to get her attention to play with him. Quanza joined them in the middle trying to separate them to stop their fighting. It wasn’t really a fight though, just good morning greeting between friends. Sonje later changed the direction which Zongoloni and Alamaya were heading to different one towards the Chyulu Hills, where Sonje knew there were good greens to feed on. When they reached the hills, some of the orphans started to shout, calling Murera to know which way they were going. Murera and Mwashoti were finding it hard to walk up the hill because it was very muddy and slippery. The keepers stopped too as they knew it was not good for Murera to go up the hill, and they called the other orphans who were shouting for Murera to come down. It was now their turn to come for Murera and the young boy Mwashoti!

22 March 2018

The elephants were not very playful today as it was very cloudy and this sometimes just makes them moody and they don’t want to play. Ziwa walked slowly behind Faraja and tried to hold Faraja‘s tail. Faraja turned around to see what Ziwa was trying to do with his tail and thought he might put it in his mouth the chew like Jasiri used to do in the past. Ziwa dropped Faraja’s tail without doing anything however and walked away with Zongoloni. Alamaya found some sticks on the path as he was walking along looking for Lima Lima. He picked one up with his trunk and drew lines with the stick on the ground. It looked like Alamaya was drawing a map of the pathways for the other orphans to follow so they would not get lost! Sonje and Mwashoti after awhile began trumpeting and charging around, chasing after butterflies that were dancing in front of them.

23 March 2018

A wild elephant bull appeared close to the stockades in the morning before the orphans came out for a new day. The keepers thought he was Sonje’s boyfriend but when they looked closer they found he was very junior, and not Sonje’s old friend. Sonje stopped to look at the bull and even walked up to him to greet him, but the bull was fearful and walked away. Lima Lima and the keepers continued walking towards Umani Hill around the hill circuit, when a buffalo came charging out. This one rogue buffalo did not listen to the yelling keepers and even the orphans who were trumpeting loudly trying to scare this buffalo away. Jasiri and Faraja blocked the buffalo from getting to close to the keepers and eventually the buffalo walked off. The keepers found their way out with Mwashoti and Murera and led the orphans away from that area that might have more buffalos within.

24 March 2018

Ziwa and Faraja found it very hard to play today where the soil was very wet and slippery. This made it hard for Ziwa to take up a defensive position against his opponent Faraja. Faraja managed to push Ziwa on the ground, which Ziwa did not expect because he believes himself to be a very strong boy and no elephant can push him around. He was not in luck today however and Ziwa was left very confused about what happened! Maybe this will bring him a bit more humility and he will not be so self assured. Sonje became victim to the wet earth again as she almost slipped and fell into a ditch, but a tree that was close to where she slipped prevented her from falling. The keepers were very glad she had not fallen over as they would have struggled to help an elephant of her size. During the night some hyenas made a noise all around the fence-line, scaring the orphans in their rooms fearing the hyenas might jump into the compound. This would be impossible as the fence is electrical and no wild animal could get inside, but the sound of the hyenas still made the orphans nervous!

25 March 2018

Alamaya is fond of playing with elephants older than him like Zongoloni and Lima Lima, but today he bit off more than he could chew when he initiated a game with the big boy Faraja. Faraja just turned around pushed him down, and the little but strong Alamaya went down very easily because it was so slippery and he could not stand strong on the ground. Sonje, Murera and Lima Lima were very annoyed with Faraja for pushing one of the babies down and all the big girls looked for him to discipline him. When Faraja saw Sonje and Lima Lima running after him he went further into the forest to hide. Alamaya later walked to Mwashoti and Zongoloni and his friends felt sorry for him, but we imagined they warned him not to play with just anyone thinking that they would play with him like Zongoloni and Lima Lima. It was a valuable lesson for him!

26 March 2018

The orphans looked very scared running back to the keepers from the bushes when some sykes monkeys started screaming loudly and facing where the orphans were browsing. The keepers were apprehensive as they could not see what the elephants were running away from, and the monkeys were making a lot of noise in the trees. When Lima Lima arrived next to the keepers they looked very carefully into the trees and finally saw a leopard hanging his belly over a branch and relaxing in the top of a tree. The keepers and their elephants walked away and left the leopard to relax in the tree. Murera led her boy Mwashoti away and they seemed to be breathing heavily after being scared by the shouting monkeys. They stayed close to the keepers. Later on the orphans arrived for their midday feed but they were scattered, arriving from different directions. They did not all come in one straight line like they usually do, as they had all gone in different directions when they were scared by the monkeys and the leopards, and then had started browsing where they ended up. They all enjoyed their midday feed and then settled down to browse again.

27 March 2018

After the long chilly night inside stockades, the orphans came out to celebrate the new day by walking to get new soft branches to feed their empty stomachs. After having their morning bottles, Mwashoti and Alamaya demanded for more extra bottles. They had never done something like that before and we were surprised to see Alamaya and his humble friend Mwashoti standing firm demanding more bottles. The keepers had no option other than to prepare two extra bottles to give to the young boys, as they pleaded with the keepers so much. Being the youngest boys in the Murera family we had to give them what they wanted so that they felt happy in the morning – what spoilt elephants! The orphans walked and browsed peacefully through the forest, selecting soft branches to eat. The naughty boys Faraja, Ngasha and Ziwa led some of the others to a different place where the girls were not walking, forcing Lima Lima, Quanza and Zongoloni to go and bring them back and warn them not to walk so fast. Murera did not leave Mwashoti and she kept walking close to him, bringing him almost under her belly to be sure all was well with him.

28 March 2018

Quanza took over leading from Lima Lima this morning when all the babies were walking out. Some of the boys stopped to scratch their bodies on the loading wall, to remove some insects and scratch the itchy part of their bodies. Jasiri and Ngasha turned to each other fighting for the scratching space but neither one was ready to give way. Ngasha pushed Jasiri a little distance away and brought in his bottom back to the wall to scratch. The two girls Zongoloni and Lima Lima took Alamaya to play; Alamaya was pushing Zongoloni very hard from behind and later he tried to climb on Lima Lima. This was naughty but being a baby, Lima Lima just let him enjoy his fun knowing that Alamaya was just playing around. Mwashoti felt jealousy of Alamaya and came to push him down for riding on Lima Lima’s back.

29 March 2018

The playful roommates Murera and Sonje and their two neighbours, Zongoloni and Jasiri played in their rooms while it was raining last night, and Murera and Sonje nearly pushed their wall down! The keepers came out in the morning to see the posts were almost on the ground and they let the orphans out immediately so they could begin some repair work. In the evening Murera and Sonje had to be changed to another room so the work on theirs could be finished. Alamaya gave his room up to Sonje and Murera and he switched to another empty room just next to his normal room. This left Mwashoti with Murera and Sonje now staying on the other side of his room! Alamaya was not very happy to be moved away from his normal room. Zongoloni and Jasiri were also affected as they joined Lima Lima and Quanza. Zongoloni arrived and was not very happy about sharing rooms with Quanza and Lima Lima and both were bullied by Zongoloni and Jasiri, the latter who enjoyed pulling their tails. This meant Lima Lima and Quanza didn’t have a very good night due to the congestion in their room last night!

30 March 2018

The rains have caused a lot of damage to the big yellow acacia trees within the Kibwezi forest. Many trees are falling down and the elephants are very much enjoying the branches which are now easily accessible, and they don’t have to pull the branches down to eat them! This makes it very easy for Mwashoti, Murera and Sonje to also eat the leaves despite their bad legs. As the babies were still at the fallen trees celebrating the fresh branches, they heard a commotion from the nearby and another tree came crashing down close to where they were eating. Quanza and Lima Lima ran away as they thought a tree might even fall on them. The keepers thought this might be a possibility and they all decided to move away from the area. When it was time to return back to the stockades, Alamaya and Ziwa went their separate way from where the orphans were with Sonje and Murera collecting all the babies to turn up and be ready for home but Alamaya and his friend was not visible by the matriarchs, Limalima started to signal keepers and showing that some of the babies were not among them, keepers gad to walk round looking for Alamaya with Ziwa later after Murera and Limalima blew some trumpets around the bushes were heard them blowing back in response as they ran so fast coming to join the orphans.

31 March 2018

The elephants came home after a very long day browsing in the forest, enjoying fresh new grass. Some of the babies were looking very tired after the long walk, and others were happily arriving for their bottles. Mwashoti and Murera seemed most affected by the long walk across the lava rocks which made their feet tired. When, Mwashoti arrived in his night stockade he seemed very happy to relax and later just went down to sleep on the dust hill under his roof to relax his feet. Murera being an older elephant did not sleep but just continued eating the branches in her room. Alamaya went to get his friend Mwashoti and touched his head with his trunk through the partition to try and wake him up. Mwashoti thought he was waking him up to fight with him and he came up fighting. He pushed the wall very hard aiming to get Alamaya’s trunk stuck on the bars separating their rooms, but Alamaya swiftly turned away from the wall so that the feisty Mwashoti could not hurt him. Mwashoti then turned to eat some of his branches and found Alamaya had picked some out of his room and pulled them through to his side, leaving him without very much!