Keepers' Diaries, May 2017

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.

01 May 2017

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.

02 May 2017

Today a number of wild elephants made their way to the mudbath and from afar they watched the keepers as they were feeding the orphans. When Sonje smelt them from a distance, she wanted to find them, and putting her trunk down to the ground and smelling the scent of the males she followed the paths they had used. Jasiri and Faraja didn’t like Sonje’s plan to follow the wild elephants and continued to go their own way without the girls, feeling like they are big boys now and they can look after themselves without the matriarchs.

03 May 2017

Wild bulls, which are friends of Sonje, slept close to the stockades last night as they smelt the female orphans inside their night stockades. The presence of the wild bulls of course caused some of the baby boys a lot of anxiety. Alamaya during the night was very courageous and did not fear the wild bulls nearby, but Mwashoti was most certainly more scared and perhaps didn’t sleep as well as the others, although Alamaya did try to put his trunk through the posts of the wall trying to calm him down telling him there was nothing to fear. After a good day in the bush all the babies were looking satisfied with their browsing and turned back home to the stockades where they found their bottles waiting for them. When Lima Lima arrived, she gobbled her milk down very fast, then kicked down Quanza’s bottle before she was caught by the keepers and stopped from being naughty.

04 May 2017

Zongoloni with Ziwa together with the naughty boy, Faraja, found themselves lost when the matriarchs took a different route, not knowing which way they had gone there was quite a scuffle between them before the keepers pointed them in the right direction. Alamaya had a run in with Jasiri when Jasiri touched his tail stump knowing very well that Alamaya gets upset when any elephant does that. Alamaya screamed causing Zongoloni and Sonje to come running to see why Alamaya was unhappy. Alamaya made more noise, complaining to the matriarchs about Jasiri and his bullying. When Jasiri saw the matriarchs approaching he disappeared fast into the bushes not to be found by Sonje and Zongoloni.

05 May 2017

It began raining as soon as the babies left the stockades this morning, some of the orphans didn’t even fancy going for a walk as it was so wet and grey. As the orphans took a while to prepare themselves for the rain the Keepers took advantage of the extra time and went to get their rain boots and coats before the elephants started moving. Lima Lima tried to follow her favourite keeper, Amos, who also wanted to go for his rain boots, although she didn’t wait around for long and with Quanza they started to march off. Ready for a rainy day the keepers then gathered all the orphans together again, finding Mwashoti patiently waiting for them as they called all the babies’ names gathering them into one big herd.

06 May 2017

At the start of the day the babies decided to walk towards the Kenze baseline area, a place they had not been to for very longer time for browsing. When Lima Lima’s favourite keeper called her name, she responded so quickly dashing around to look for him, but on seeing that he was just checking on her she turned back and continued browsing. Alamaya stayed close to Lima Lima, whilst Mwashoti was far away enjoying the company of the big girls including Murera, Sonje together with Zongoloni. The big boys chose not to be with girls but formed their own herd. It soon began raining again after a short break and everyone looked for some cover under big trees. Only Mwashoti and Ziwa looked unaffected by the rain as they kept on browsing and didn’t wait for the keepers.

07 May 2017

All the elephants had a spring in their step this morning ready and raring for a big day of browsing. Like the day before it looked like the rain were on the way so the orphans were keen to start browsing before it got too wet. Sonje took the lead today heading towards the Chyulu hills to see what fresh vegetation was available that side of the forest, whilst secretly hoping to find some wild bulls. When Lima Lima, who was lagging behind, reached the group, she was happy that they hadn’t yet found any recent tracks or scents of wild elephants. Sonje kept putting her trunk to the ground trying to smell any urine or fresh dung, but today wasn’t a day for any wild elephant encounters. At the midday feeding time, all the babies arrived back for their bottles in good time, but all the babies declined any mud wallowing because it had turned very cold after a few rain showers.

08 May 2017

Many wild elephants came along this morning in family herds, some with young babies walking under their mothers for protection from any danger, especially from the human keepers who they thought were dangerous! When the herds saw Zongoloni getting closer to them one big female chased Zongoloni away telling her to stay with her human family. Zongoloni alongside Faraja who had followed behind, turned back quickly trumpeting loudly and running to the keepers. Watching Zongoloni getting chases caused Alamaya and Ziwa to also run and hide from the big bulls. Soon the wild elephants moved on and peace resumed amongst the orphans.

09 May 2017

In the early morning hours, the orphans came together with wild elephants again. The keepers kept their distance so as not to scare away the wild herd, allowing the orphans to make new wild friends and interact with them. The wild females caused some upsets because they were so protective over their young babies; the wild babies wanting to play with the orphans and the mothers not allowing it. A wild baby tried again to play with her age mate Mwashoti, but Mwashoti was soon pushed back hard by the wild elephants, and he turned back afraid running to Murera. Zongoloni and Quanza got closer trying to defend their young friends from being pushed around, but Murera soon stepped in and stopped any further arguments between them all because she was afraid one of the orphans might get hurt! The keepers were glad Murera was there to step in and help.

10 May 2017

Browsing started early on Umani hills today, with some of the orphans trying to climb up the hills leaving Murera with a few of the babies, like Mwashoti, as well as Sonje, who were not keen to climb today. The Keepers tried to show them a different way to go so that all the orphans could stay together but Jasiri and Ngasha did not listen to the keepers and kept going up the hill until they stumbled into some buffalos and became scared and ran back. Lima Lima kept a close eye on milk feeding time, bringing the young babies Alamaya and Mwashoti together with Ziwa so she could try and get to the milk first. After they all had their milk, Lima Lima led Zongoloni back to the forest while Ziwa remained with Ngasha and Faraja who waited for the rest of the orphans.

11 May 2017

Rains interrupted the morning program for the orphans as it was very slippery outside the stockades, making Mwashoti not want to go outside. Murera waited for him patiently as well as some of the other orphans who were also slow this morning. Zongoloni was the first to go out running to play in the mud rolling on her belly to cover herself whilst making a lot of noise which attracted the other orphans. Sonje was very slow today, so Murera decided to leave her behind and started to walk quicker to catch-up with the others. On seeing Murera speed up, Sonje got upset and tried to catch-up, reaching out her trunk to tell Murera that she didn’t want to be left behind. Murera then slowed down and stayed with her friend.

12 May 2017

At feeding time, Lima Lima quickly noticed that the vehicle which was bringing the milk bottles was coming. Before the car had even stopped Lima Lima had already arrived with some of the babies, who all crowded round the car eager to get their milk, making it hard for the keepers to offload the bottles. Lima Lima did not wait and grabbed her bottle from the vehicle while the other babies were patiently waiting. Alamaya and Mwashoti somehow annoyed each other and began fighting on their own until the keepers stopped them, not knowing what had caused the argument. When the feeding was over all the big boys did not want to go for the mudbath, instead they went back to the browsing fields leaving only the girls splashing muddy water on their bodies.

13 May 2017

Murera was keen to get out of the stockades this morning and she used her tusks to push the gate open after waiting for the keeper who was still feeding Quanza. Murera didn’t want to be delayed in picking up Mwashoti from his cage to start the day. When she reached Mwashoti, they went straight to the lucerne store naughtily grabbing two bundles before the keeper spotted her and started to shout a telling off. She knew she had been naughty and soon dropped the Lucerne and waited for the keepers to hand it out. Sonje was found scratching her back at the loading bay with Jasiri and Ngasha rubbing their bellies on the rock near the waterhole. Lima Lima with Faraja and Ngasha also joined the playing team, doing exercises before they all walked to the water springs for clean water then headed to Umani hills for more branches to browse on.

14 May 2017

Wild elephants began trumpeting loudly very early today scaring the keepers who were walking with the orphans in the bush and didn’t hear them approach. When Sonje heard the trumpeting, she became excited and eager to see them, and together with Faraja and Ziwa they took off towards the bulls. Faraja and Ziwa soon got jealous and began fighting with the wild elephant bulls as they were getting too close to Sonje. Whilst this tussling was going on Murera herded Mwashoti and Alamaya together, protecting them, as the others tried to get Sonje away from the wild bulls. Later on, as the young boys were playing and pushing each other, some army ants got on their feet and started biting them, all the babies ran away looking for keepers to help them take the biting ants off their legs. Mwashoti was happy when one of the keepers was removing the ants, putting his trunk on the keeper’s shoulder and saying thank you.

15 May 2017

This morning the big girls Murera, Sonje and Lima Lima decided to move the orphans to the far end of the browsing fields called the Kentraco area, which is bordering the forests of the Chyulu hills, where there are fresher branches and is also where they heard the calls of some wild elephants earlier on. Mostly it was Sonje who was the one leading the babies, but on their journey, they walked into some buffaloes which caused a fright making the babies scatter in different directions, before the keepers herded them together again and they continued on. Sadly, by the time they got there the wild elephants had already moved on.

16 May 2017

The morning began very well with all babies looking forward to their day browsing. Zongoloni and Lima Lima were in a playful mood as they pushed each other, trying their strength. These playful activities continued for a while until the naughty boys joined them. Alamaya came behind Zongoloni then pushed Zongoloni down from behind but Zongoloni did not mind or get worried, instead she just put her trunk round his back, knowing Alamaya is a baby and just playing.

17 May 2017

Sonje and Alamaya teamed up with Ziwa and Jasiri as they walked a good distance through Umani forest towards the Chyulu hills, looking for the best vegetation before heading back to get their milk bottles. The orphans on their journey came across wild female elephants with babies, who were trying to join up with them. While Lima Lima and Zongoloni welcomed the little ones to join them, Mwashoti and Alamaya did not welcome them and they felt very jealous so they tried to push them away, back to their herd and mothers. Sonje again tried to join the wild herd, but when she realised that it was bottle feeding time she couldn’t resist the call of her milk and went running back to join the other orphans.

18 May 2017

Some friendly bushbucks came around the stockades this morning, looking to see how they could get into the stockades and get some of the yummy hay they could smell in the stores. When Lima Lima saw them from her stockade she screamed and trumpeted loudly trying to scare them away. The naughty young boy Alamaya wasn’t bothered about the bushbucks and continued to play with Ziwa interlocking their trunks, but Ziwa was too rough and he pushed him down to the ground leaving Alamaya screaming before Sonje came running to help him up.

19 May 2017

Murera gathered her young babies together this morning and with Sonje as the babysitter they started their daily browsing. Zongoloni and Lima Lima decided not to help look after the little ones and hurried away up Umani Hill. The big boys were led by Jasiri who teamed up with Ziwa, another greedy boy who is always good at long walks in the forests to get the best vegetation. When Lima Lima and Ngasha did not follow them to the hillside they didn’t stop but carried on and soon saw what was stopping them from following; there was a buffalo watching them, getting ready to charge them. The orphans made a hasty retreat back towards the keepers.

20 May 2017

Today feeding time was very confusing for some of the elephants, as they couldn’t tell what the time was due to the very dark cloudy weather. Reading the time from the sun is very difficult when its cloudy even Lima Lima and Zongoloni who are always good at telling when it is feeding time, were also confuse, arriving late for their milk bottles which they never do. At the waterhole, a few wild elephants and some buffaloes came to drink but unfortunately, they saw the keepers and ran away. So, the orphans drank alone and while Mwashoti was getting ready to drink, he splashed himself a little but felt how cold it was and decided he wasn’t that thirsty after all.

21 May 2017

Crested Cranes, which are large birds who always lay their eggs around the mudbath, came again and Lima Lima while running for her milk bottles accidently 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 decided to walk around to get to the keepers and the milk bottles. During the night, a leopard was heard calling near the stockade and as it got closer and louder the orphans got nervous with Zongoloni warning the others to beware of the big cat!

22 May 2017

A group of wild elephants appeared again this morning, wanting to escort Murera and Sonje with their babies to the forest for the new day. Some of the orphans began complaining as they did not want to join the wild elephants. Ziwa and Ngasha ran away avoiding the big wild elephant’s sharp tusks whilst Murera took Mwashoti and Alamaya far away from the wild herd to keep them safe. The Keepers called the young boys back trying to encourage them to make friends with the wild elephants, but Murura was being stubborn and didn’t want to let the babies go.

23 May 2017

This morning Jasiri was in a naughty mood, he saw the tractor approaching with fresh greens and started to run alongside trying to grab some branches. When he turned back following the keepers’ calls, Faraja joined him with loud trumpeting calling the orphans to join them and charge around together excited over the fresh greens. But Sonje and Murera blocked all the running babies not letting them join the trumpeting boys. Later on, when the orphans came to through the bushes from the hills they stumbled upon some bushbucks who were with two baboons, Alamaya and Mwashoti didn’t seem bothered by their wild friends and pushed their way deeper inside the forest leaving the keepers with only Murera who was worried about the babies going off on their own, but was soon relieved to see them hurrying back after they decided they didn’t feel that brave.

24 May 2017

It was a long walk to the forests today as Jasiri and Faraja were the leaders and they took their time as they slowly ambled along finding the best browse to feed their stomachs. Alamaya and Mwashoti were getting along well when Ziwa turned jealous and pushed Mwashoti. The Keepers reacted when they saw Ziwa trying to disturb the little boys, and Ziwa noticing that he had been seen being naughty ran away to the hills so he wouldn’t get told off. Sonje and Zongoloni blew their trumpets as a way of communicating with Mwashoti and Alamaya telling them to run to them and leave the boys behind. When Lima Lima went was browsing in some thick bushes he found a big python rolled up under the grass. The python was near the waterhole hunting for dikdiks and other small antelopes. Lima Lima with the help of Zongoloni ran away warning the keepers and the other elephants to keep away from the area with the scary python. The keepers knew something was wrong and soon discovered what Lima Lima had warned them about.

25 May 2017

Murera and Sonje stayed close to their keepers, possible because they felt nervous after yesterday’s incident when they saw the big python in the bushes. So when the wild bulls came along to meet Sonje, they both ignored the bulls and remained with the keepers, but Jasiri was interested in going with them but soon turned away after eyeing their very long tusks and getting scared. At mudbath time, the Keepers lined up with the bottles of milk waiting for the babies to come. Lima Lima and her team arrived suddenly, running fast, whilst behind them was Alamaya and Mwashoti who were waiting to follow their keepers to the milk instead of greedily running for them.

26 May 2017

The orphans had a good morning at the waterhole and the dust bath whilst some of them were charging around and breaking down trees with their feet. Lima Lima suddenly let out loud trumpeting, calling for the keepers to be alert, having realised that buffaloes were within the bushes. Lima Lima is always very good at warning the others about dangerous wild animals around and not only buffaloes or wild elephants, but even predators. Zongoloni and Faraja started to go on their way for the morning out to browse but they soon came back because they heard some wild elephants calling, so instead they charged around the stockades and ran after bushbucks before the keepers lead them all out for the day.

27 May 2017

The orphans had a good morning at the waterhole and the dust bath whilst some of them were charging around and breaking down trees with their feet. Lima Lima suddenly let out loud trumpeting, calling for the keepers to be alert, having realised that buffaloes were within the bushes. Lima Lima is always very good at warning the others about dangerous wild animals around and not only buffaloes or wild elephants, but even predators. Zongoloni and Faraja started to go on their way for the morning out to browse but they soon came back because they heard some wild elephants calling, so instead they charged around the stockades and ran after bushbucks before the keepers lead them all out for the day.

28 May 2017

The orphans got up in the morning and went to meet some visitors who were making a film about their stories. Sonje was the first to come running out of the stockades towards Mwashoti, trying to stop Mwashoti from playing with Alamaya which the visitors were enjoying watching, probably because she wanted to be in the photos herself. While out of the stockades, all the orphans walked to the scratching stones and enjoyed a dustbath before beginning their day in the bushes. As they walked away, Murera stayed back trying to get the attention of the visitors. Jasiri then started trumpeting as he ran around kicking when Faraja and Ngasha joined him, all the noise made a bushbuck with her baby run away from their hiding spot.

29 May 2017

Lima Lima consulted Sonje and Quanza before making her way out of the gates, telling all the orphans where they were going to go this morning, but because some wild elephants were breaking branches around the stockades some of the orphans were fearing going out further. Ziwa started making lots of noise from the bushes so the Keepers called Ziwa back as well as Ngasha but they didn’t listen. Jasiri then took off with Faraja and Zongoloni heading to the bushes in a different direction to the wild elephants, but the wild elephants followed the orphans and confronted some of the boys. There was quite a scene before the keepers gathered all the orphans together again and got them walking in a peaceful direction towards good browsing.

30 May 2017

Wild elephants were fighting with each other around the stockade area today, and the keepers and orphans got stranded unable to get passed the wild elephants to the forest. The big elephants were fighting over the girls at the stockades, arguing between themselves which one got to approach the girls once they came out of the stockades. The orphan family waited for things to calm down and some of the bulls moved away leaving one male quietly waiting. Sonje was the first one out of the stockade, not afraid of the wild bulls. Some of the orphans went to waterhole near the stockades and drank water as Sonje was with the bull, but Mwashoti and Zongoloni ran away. In the swampy area along the wetlands there are many wild elephants who like to go swimming. Lima Lima pushed herself into the waterhole trying to swim like the wild elephants, then all the orphans joined her including Murera who showed us some good swimming skills. Some ibis birds then surrounded the place and then started to squawk, scaring the elephants and making them come out of the swamp.

31 May 2017

When the keepers opened the gates in the morning, immediately all the orphans rushed out and met up with two wild elephants. They headed to the water springs area, forcing the keepers to quickly rush behind them to make sure Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti were not having problems and that all the orphans were all safe. After getting their bottles at the midday feeding point, the keepers took their lunch under the trees as they normally do whilst the babies played around. Then Zongoloni and Lima Lima, separated themselves from the other big matriarchs and headed to the Kibwezi forest’s wetland area, where there is lots of flowing water. Wild elephants and the orphans alike love to come swimming in this special area.