Keepers' Diaries, May 2017

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Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

It was quite a wet month for the elephant orphans and keepers living in the Kibwezi Forest. Due to the rains and the dull, chilly weather there were a few mornings where the orphans were not too eager to go out for the day, especially Mwashoti, but all it usually took was a few games in the slippery mud with the keepers wearing their wellington boots and raincoats, to give all the babies a bit more energy and get them ready for a day of browsing in the forest. Because of the good rains, vegetation was fresh and plentiful and the orphans have had their fill on some of the best greenery on offer. Some days they have walked far sniffing out the best food, journeying to corners of the forest where they haven’t been in quite some time. Travelling a good distance for browsing whilst the weather is grey and overcast can confuse the orphans, making them late for their midday milk feeding. Normally the orphans, especially Lima Lima and Zongoloni, are very aware of the location of the sun in the sky, reading the shadows like a clock to make sure they get their milk as soon as its ready, but when its cloudy these senses are dulled and they have been very upset to find out they have been late for their much-loved milk.

It was quite a wet month for the elephant orphans and keepers living in the Kibwezi Forest. Due to the rains and the dull, chilly weather there were a few mornings where the orphans were not too eager to go out for the day, especially Mwashoti, but all it usually took was a few games in the slippery mud with the keepers wearing their wellington boots and raincoats, to give all the babies a bit more energy and get them ready for a day of browsing in the forest. Because of the good rains, vegetation was fresh and plentiful and the orphans have had their fill on some of the best greenery on offer. Some days they have walked far sniffing out the best food, journeying to corners of the forest where they haven’t been in quite some time. Travelling a good distance for browsing whilst the weather is grey and overcast can confuse the orphans, making them late for their midday milk feeding. Normally the orphans, especially Lima Lima and Zongoloni, are very aware of the location of the sun in the sky, reading the shadows like a clock to make sure they get their milk as soon as its ready, but when its cloudy these senses are dulled and they have been very upset to find out they have been late for their much-loved milk.

During these adventures in the bush they have had a number of exciting encounters with other wild denizens of the forest including regular interactions with wild elephant families and especially elephant bulls, which are normally further away and as such too far away from the orphan girls to meet, especially Sonje, who is the keenest to make friends, whilst Murera has no interest at all in spending time with them. Other encounters included several run-ins with buffaloes, who like to hide in the thick bush and appear at the very last-minute scaring the orphan herd and their keepers. Another frightening episode for the orphans during the month was when Lima Lima found a big python laying curled up under a tree; Lima Lima did a good job of warning the others especially her beloved keepers to stay away from the area. Less scary meetings are with the resident bushbuck and antelope which like to stay close to the stockades in the hope of getting a taste of some yummy lucerne left over by the orphans. Lucerne is a favourite staple of the orphans’ diet and Murera is particularly fond of it. One morning during the month Murera must have been feeling in a naughty mood because after collecting Mwashoti from his stockade, she led him straight to the lucerne store whilst the keepers weren’t looking and stealthily grabbed two big bundles of lucerne one for each of them. As they sneakily carried it off and started munching a keeper spotted them and gave Murera a stern telling off. She knew she had been naughty and soon dropped the lucerne sheepishly, waiting instead for the keepers to hand it out.

Towards the end of the month, the huge wild bull elephant Osama came to visit the orphans. Osama was the big bull who many months back decided to hit the elephant trailer while the team were out cutting fresh greens for the elephants. Lima Lima was again the first to try and warn the keepers to be aware of the big wild elephant bull’s presence, but the keepers weren’t paying attention and didn’t get the message in time and they suddenly walked upon Osama with the other orphans and got quite a fright, especially given Osama’s reputation. The keepers backed off quickly and waited for Osama, who remained calm, to go on his way after playing with the orphans for a little while. Thankfully he has calmed down enormously these days, better understanding the strange routines of the Kibwezi Forest and the orphaned elephants with their two legged human family. During most wild elephant encounters Sonje gets very excited whilst some of the other orphans also enjoy meeting new wild friends, including Faraja and Ziwa, who are normally the first to approach wild herds. Although this might be because the boys get jealous of wild males cavorting with Sonje, as on many encounters it ends with the orphan boys picking fights with the wild elephant bulls.

Other funny incidents during the month included Lima Lima’s encounter with a Crested Crane on its nest. These large noisy birds have taken to laying their eggs around the mud bath, so when Lima Lima came running one afternoon for her milk bottle she accidentally ran into one of the birds on its nest. Lima Lima tried to push the bird out of the way but the bird wouldn’t move from its eggs and started to get angry, there was quite an argument until Lima Lima stubbornly walked around the nest to get to the keepers and the milk bottles. Jasiri has also been in a naughty mood recently, as one day when he saw the tractor approaching with fresh greens he started to run alongside it trying to grab some of the fresh branches. The keepers soon noticed his behaviour and called for him to stop, but he had already grabbed a good bundle of branches and was feasting away; Faraja soon joined him with loud trumpeting, calling the other orphans to join them. As good mini matriarchs Sonje and Murera tried to stop all the babies from joining the naughty boys, whilst the keepers gave the boys a stern talking to.

May 2017 day to day

01 May

As soon as they were let out of their stockades in the early morning hours after a quiet night, Lima Lima immediately started misbehaving. As one of the keepers was preparing the milk bottles for all the orphans she was making a lot of noise and dashing around. When feeding time came Lima Lima gobbled down her share then went to try and grab Quanza’s milk, but Quanza was not going to be pushed around that easily and she knocked Lima Lima down to the ground. Getting up quickly Lima Lima didn’t stop there and she then knocked around the empty milk buckets the keepers were carrying, causing a nuisance. Zongoloni and Sonje watched from the side-line as the keepers disciplined Lima Lima for her mischievous behaviour with a good verbal telling off.

Zongoloni walking to bottle feeding time

Mwashoti and Alamaya being comforted by Sonje

Jasiri separating from Sonje after bottle feeding

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