Keepers' Diaries, May 2018
Umani Springs Reintegration Unit
This month there was still rain at Umani, and the elephant paths turned into running streams with the open gassy glades saturated with water too. This proved heavy going for the three elephants with compromised legs, Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti who instinctively know that they have to proceed with great caution in these conditions. Later in the month the orphans welcomed slightly drier conditions, but still with the benefit of bountiful food, with the long grass so tall that it dwarfed the younger elephants making it difficult for the Keepers to keep tabs on them!
01 May 2018
Today was a big day for Ngasha who decided after a day of feeling his independence that it was to be his first night out. He first returned to the stockades, had his fill of milk and then before the stockade door was closed pushed his way out and headed out of the front gates back into the forest. He proceeded to browse in the bushes and the Keepers thought he wanted to join some wild elephants in the area. Then as darkness fell Ngasha realised he was a little boy still, he couldn’t handle the night-time on his own and was soon banging at the front gates of the Umani Springs compound demanding he be let back in. The Keepers delivered on his request and before long he was tucked up in his stockade next to Faraja and feeling secure once more. His arrival was met by shouting and trumpeting from the others as all were delighted to have him back in the fold. He too seemed very happy to be back, his night out experience alone had done a good job of frightening him it seems!
02 May 2018
With all the rain that has recently been falling the elephant paths became flowing waterways and the paths were virtually impassable. The grassy plains were saturated with water and it was dangerous walking for our little elephants with compromised legs, Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti. These three instinctively knew this, and would proceed very slowly. Sometimes they would fall and the Keepers would have to assist them in getting up in the slippery mud conditions. Then when it dried out and the pathways became easily passable and the grass dry it was clear the elephants were enjoying the dryer conditions once more.
Today a big bull elephant visited the orphans while they were outside browsing in the bushes, but he approached quietly to pursue Sonje and the keepers were not aware of his presence for a good long time the vegetation is so thick at the moment. Then a buffalo emerged from nowhere causing a Keeper to run and in his haste he fell, but Lima Lima was already there coming to his rescue, touching the keeper with her trunk to be sure all was fine. The buffalo actually had done nothing thankfully and disappeared. Once the Keeper was back to his feet together she and Keepers walked the babies to another location preferring with less action around them!
03 May 2018
Alamaya is thriving and growing fast and has recently changed character. He is not the little young boy, he is feeling big and bold and enjoys engaging in pushing games with his close friends Zongoloni and Lima Lima, and even attempted to push big boy Ziwa too. Mwashoti was left alone as he remained close to Murera and Sonje. They had drifted further up the Umani hill while all this pushing action initiated by Alamaya went on. Eventually Quanza came to separate the action between Alamaya and Zongoloni.
Today the buffalos came visiting the orphans but Lima Lima, sharp as ever, sensed their presence and quickly noted where the Keepers were and proceeded to scare the buffalo away, this got the baboons barking loudly on the top of the trees which scared some of the orphans. We often wonder what we would do without Lima Lima who guards us fiercely in the Kibwezi Forest.
04 May 2018
As the orphans left the confines of their stables this morning they walked onto the open plains that are now filled with waterholes. As they walked vervet monkeys walked next to them and their Keepers. Many little crocodiles had left the water and were inspecting who was coming their way, but when they saw the elephants they all scattered back to the waterholes. The elephants became scared of the running crocodiles!
Long and tall grasslands made it not possible to see far making it hard for us Keepers to see above their heads, and we trusted Lima Lima to guide us as we walked into the bushes. The orphans walked towards a herd of wild elephants resting under some big trees. On the way to the elephants Lima Lima scattered any buffalos in their path as she was in the front leading the elephant column. She gave the Keepers good warning of the wild elephants so we stayed back as she and Zongoloni and Ziwa spent time interacting with them.
05 May 2018
The elephants made up their mind to take a very different route today, a route the seldom choose to take. It was Ngasha who made his mind up to follow these pathways which wild elephants use to the water springs and then diverted towards the hills making many wrong turns along the way which confused Lima Lima and Murera. The eventually let Ziwa join Ngasha to go their own way without Murera Sonje, Zongoloni and the others to follow them either.
Ziwa later realised that no other orphans were with them and Ngasha whispered to Ziwa to help them know how to go back to where Murera and Sonje were with Mwashoti, and all rumbled. Quanza then made her way to them so that they all could come together for the mud bath time but today none wallowed in the mud bath but instead all the orphans walked back to the bushes after their milk bottles preferring to browse and feed at their own leisurely pace.
06 May 2018
Misbehaving boy Ngasha with his naughty friend Faraja again came for their bottles in the evening in the stockades and then later Ngasha sneaked out but today he left with Ziwa and even more surprising now that he had company he did come back so both boys spent their first night out in the forests, all two boys enjoyed their night browsing the whole night and joined the other friends later in the morning for their morning bottles.
Murera received the boys with more rumbling and trumpeting loudly as they received the lost boys and stories were exchanged. For sure they had great adventures in the night encountering lots of wild animals.
07 May 2018
Murera and her babies Mwashoti and Alamaya made their way back to the stockade in the evening and today all looked very tired after a long day of patrols in the forest. when Lima Lima crossed the gate and saw her bottles lined up she adjusted her pace and immediately ran for them in order to get there first before Quanza so she might with any luck grab some more bottles by trying to steal Quanzas’s share but the keeper was very attentively watching her closely so that no baby would fail to get their fair share. Mwashoti grabbed his and drunk very patiently with Alamaya on the other side of the room, and then when some butterflies came into the stockades they both began trying to chase them by running to all corners but it was not easy for Alamaya or even Mwashoti to kick them using their feet or grab one using their trunks but it kept them entertained and trying for a good long time.
08 May 2018
Faraja after his fair share of milk bottles started to walk away to the bushes but not before he and Ziwa ambushed Lima Lima trying to mount her back. Lima Lima was not happy with the idea of boys mounting her back so instead she tricked them and lay down onto her belly denying them any chance for mounting. The crazy Ziwa just climbed on her while she was lying down instead and pushed all his hefty body weight onto Lima Lima’s back who then despite many attempts could not get up. Zongoloni went to her aid and pushed Ziwa off and soon the group were left in peace by the boisterous boys as they fed in the peaceful forest, with butterflies and dragon flies and nesting birds filling the area with colour and song. Umani Springs is a real paradise and never has it looked more beautiful than now.
09 May 2018
Many crocodiles came out from all directions on the dry lands all over the places around and near the lodge areas leaving keepers with a lot of worries because since the heavy rain started, many crocodiles came out from the water springs to the dry areas now that they have got more waterholes outside. Alamaya got their smell around the elephant’s swimming pool so changed direction leaving the crocodiles basking in the sun undisturbed.
10 May 2018
When rain stopped in the early morning Quanza with her friend Jasiri took off to lead the big herd out from the fields and walked the babies to the springs area making their way to the hills but Murera and Lima Lima changed the directions because they did not want to be led by none other than themselves. Mwashoti then separated to continue with Sonje Lima Lima and Murera so they all came back following the big girls eventually.
Some two buffalos appeared blocking their way out and all elephants under Murera‘s control had to listen to Murera. The Keepers got worried about the buffaloes putting the orphans at risk with them all mixed up together inside the bushes, so the keepers again began calling them to move away from the mix up of buffaloes. The orphans moved away leaving the buffalos alone in peace.
11 May 2018
In the bushes along Kenze Hills while Mwashoti was scratching his back on the rocks, some Rock Hyraxes turned up giving him a terrible fright which ensued into chaos with Mwashoti screaming and running down the hill, the others began following him, bashing bushes as they went, and this high excitement continued for a very long time with none of them really fully understanding the reason for the mayhem. Despite the Keepers calling trying to control proceedings none of the Orphans were listening and it took a good long time for normal behavior to resume.
At the time for the bottle feeding, Murera stepped up the speed to get to the bottle point, before Lima Lima could reach, but Murera later got some shrubs and took more time picking the shrubs around her forgetting about the milk bottles to later find that all of her bottles were drunk by the greedy Lima Lima who came for the second addition after seeing Murera appeared not so interested. As if this was not enough Lima Lima attempted to join Quanza but Quanza felt offended by her behavior of taking Murera’s bottle so chased Lima Lima away when she attempted to join them all under the shade.
12 May 2018
Wild elephants today visited in the morning making Sonje very happy welcoming them to the Orphan herd, as she stood as the receptionist at the entrance to their night stockades.
The wild herd were outside the stockades, but then moved so fast when they got the smell of the Keepers, Mwashoti came to the Keepers looking worried and running, as Lima Lima joined the Keepers to signal them to leave and to be alert not to be found off guard while the elephants were in the vicinity. Today Murera was trying to follow the bulls which is not normal for Murera as she more often than not is trying to avoid them usually. The wild herd later moved off into the hills and the orphans chose not to follow them.
13 May 2018
At the waterhole today all the Elephants joined in at the swimming pool competing to swim, as Sonje first took Mwashoti and placed her trunk inside the waterhole trying feel how hot or cold the water was before they went into full swimming mode given how deep the swimming pool is with all the rain. Zongoloni was the big star with Sonje guarding Mwashoti next to her side teaching him how he would swim along with big elephants if they would be crossing rivers in the wild.
After the swimming, Keepers called Alamaya, Ziwa and Ngasha, Jasiri and Faraja but Alamaya and Ziwa remained having a good time feeding on acacia leaves, Faraja with Ziwa teamed up running back to see Murera with the baboons and monkeys getting excited in the trees.
14 May 2018
The speed with which Quanza took off for the hills, running to Murera was very worrying to the Keepers as everyone stood up wondering what on earth was going on, suspecting that maybe it was wild elephants in the forests, or buffaloes but we found none of the animals around, and only saw antelopes running away fast. Later it was Lima Lima who helped the Keepers find out what was making them all so skittish. It turned out to be a Leopard on in the branches of a big tree with a kill of big Bushbuck hanging in the branches. Under the tree were two Hyenas waiting to get some dropped meat or bones from the carcass.
The Orphans moved to a totally different direction, having no desire to hang around with hungry Hyenas. Sonje wanted to take all the babies up the hill side but the boys had a different idea and were not interested in going up into the hills today so in the end the boys peeled off on their own leaving the girls with the two baby boys, Alamaya and Mwashoti to continue on their way onto the high ground.
15 May 2018
The Elephants had very a hectic night last night due to Bush Babies screaming in the trees, and this in turn unsettled some of the babies.
Zongoloni and Jasiri kept pushing on their stockade bars trying to escape. Eventually Ziwa managed to push down his gate and run into the night, which left the the Keepers awake to see how he would cope. Predictably, with the baboons joining in the noise, shouting too into the night, it all proved too much for him and he was soon back wanting to be let back into the stockades, the Keepers opened up the gate to let him inside once more. Mwashoti then put his long trunk out smelling Ziwa and made big rumblings welcoming Ziwa back to his room.
16 May 2018
Since Mwashoti arrived at Umani Springs, he has continued to grow into a very polite and handsome boy, ever cool and calm, never making trouble. Sometimes Alamaya tries to cause trouble for him but Mwahsoti stands calm with lots of confidence thanks to his constant mothers Murera and Sonje who greatly care for him. Mwashoti remains a very lovely boy who gives his foster parents a warm welcome whenever they visit the Umani unit. The orphans at the Umani Unit always look fat and healthy thanks to the abundance of vegetation all year. Today Zongoloni ran so fast to the 11am milk feed, that even though Alamaya tried to blocked her Zongoloni pushed Alamaya by the side to get to the bottles. As soon as Zongoloni got her bottle, she held on to it real tight, before Jasiri arrived. Despite the hurry to get to her bottle, Zongoloni never grabs her friends bottles, she just picks her one bottle and leaves, unlike our greedy girl Lima Lima.
17 May 2018
Playful elephants made their way out in the morning with Zongoloni leading all the babies to the water trough close to the stockades, and then Ziwa went to have his fill of drinking water but as Ngasha came to drink Ziwa gave him a firm push, when Zongoloni and Quanza saw this happening they both turned against Ziwa pushing him away from the water so that he could be disciplined.
Later Sonje walked past Ziwa blocking his way as she and her friend Murera did not want the little elephants to walk through the thickest wet bushes, Alamaya followed with Mwashoti but then a fight between the two little bulls broke out, fighting for Murera and Sonje because Mwashoti did not want Alamaya to be with his closest mother Sonje neither Murera but go instead to his adopted mom Lima Lima. The fighting boys continued to fight but soon Lima Lima stepped in and separated them stopping the nonsense because after all they all belong to one family now.
18 May 2018
The jealous Faraja and Ngasha fought today to show who was the stronger between them. Faraja showed Ngasha how strong he was but Ngasha seemed much stronger too until Ziwa came to Faraja’s aid at which point Ngasha realised it was time to walk away as the winner before the momentum changed.
In the forests along the Umani Hills as the Orphans enjoyed their morning, some very big wild bull Elephants caught scent of the Orphans and arrived to greet the babies, who happened to be with one Keeper. The Keeper was not aware that the wild bulls were approaching, but Lima Lima sensing this was by the Keepers' side in a flash to inform him to move away from danger. The Keeper, who understood what Lima Lima was trying to do, moved to a safer area. This is why all the Keepers love Lima Lima so much because she understands the dynamics so well. We hope it is a very long time before Lima Lima becomes independent and goes wild as she is so caring of the Keepers welfare, and the young orphans. She really is a very special and lovely young girl taking care of the Orphans and their Guardians.
19 May 2018
The bushbuck have become so habituated and friendly that this evening they were walking around within the stockades interacting with the Orphans. Before the Trust got the management of Kibwezi Forest the bush meat threat in this area was very bad, almost wiping out the bushbuck population altogether. Now the forest is fully fenced on the three sides, open on the fourth boundary to the Chyulu Hills National Park the wildlife has increased tenfold. The Trust has managed the forest for ten years now and it really has grown to become a paradise. Ziwa didn’t much like the bushbuck getting into his stockade and bellowed causing the male bushbuck to walk out peacefully thinking better of it.
In the morning all the babies came out following the pathways on which the wild elephants walked through that evening obviously hoping to join up with them but they had gone too far while the orphans were still in their stockades. Sonje was looking for her boyfriend who has been absent during the rains.
20 May 2018
Heavyweight boy Alamaya likes to push all the big elephants if they are in front of him. He does the same with the bigger elephants like Lima Lima and Zongoloni too, who are his closest friends, but also not immune to his many games. The fact that they might be bigger and older than him, and therefore stronger, doesn't stop Alamaya from pushing them. He got bolder when Ziwa showed him how to push and run away to avoid the discipline. The girls were tolerant today and Alamaya was left happy after declaring himself the winner. The bigger boys Jasiri and Faraja, Ngasha know not to be too rough with him given that he still very much one of the younger babies at Umani and therefore has preferential treatment from the protective females.
21 May 2018
The Orphans decided to take the path leading to the Hills, where some wild elephant friends, from the previous night, were heard trumpeting in the forest. For Faraja and Ziwa in particular, this was a must to satisfy their curiosity. Faraja got a bit of a fright, when a bull with very long tusks, emerged from the bushes. Faraja called out to Ziwa and Ngasha, to support him, but the boys decided against it, given how big and strong the wild bull was, in comparison to them.
Sonje, Murera and Mwashoti did not bother joining the struggling young boys due to their leg disabilities and left the teenage boys to test their strengths with the wild bulls. They know these pushing games can continue for quite some time and that it was a good way for the boys to make new friends.
At the waterhole, after the mid-day bottle feed, the babies were not interested in wallowing at their normal mud-bath because most of them had had their fill at the various waterholes and mud baths along the way. Umani is full of them at the moment.
22 May 2018
Ziwa is jealous of Mwashoti having taken over his position as favourite boy and of Mwashoti's closeness to Murera. Murera watched Ziwa trying to engage Mwashoti by pushing him and biting Mwashoti's tail. Ziwa got some stern shoves from Murera, to understand that enough is enough and this behaviour will not be tolerated, so Ziwa moved on to play with the bulls leaving the big girls looking after their babies.
Ngasha with Jasiri came holding trunks as they faced Zongoloni and Quanza, the two boys wanted to mount Zongoloni or Quanza, but the two girls saw their trick before and moved away to the forests disappearing not to be seen for a couple of hours.
23 May 2018
There was much trumpeting going on in the forest today which made the orphans rather excitable. They began to charge and trumpet back to their wild friends. Ziwa did not exercise caution and instead went heading off into the bushes with his proud big friend Jasiri, both seemingly thinking they were big enough for a big encounter with wild friends.
At the water springs Alamaya and Mwashoti followed each other very closely but without knowing some crocodiles’ were enjoying the sunrays just by the side of the springs. When Mwashoti almost stood on one, he got a great shock when he saw the crocodile’s tail move. They both took off in the opposite direction leaving the crocodile very disturbed too, slithering towards the safety of the spring. Murera went to see what was happening at the water springs but on arrival her and Sonje found the area all clear, the crocodiles having moved back into the safety of the water. The group headed merrily on their way up onto the Umani Hill to enjoy the acacia trees and the vegetation there.
24 May 2018
The orphans and keepers were happy to see a wild herd coming to visit the orphans this morning at the stockades before they left for the forest and the browsing fields. As soon as the orphans exited their night quarters Alamaya and Lima Lima spotted their wild friend and went up to greet him.
Faraja got in the way and blocked Alamaya and Lima Lima from getting to the wild herd and the two sought assistance from Zongoloni who called on Sonje and the two were able to get Faraja out of the way so that the youngsters could have access to their wild friends. Alamaya enjoyed a strength testing game with a young wild calf before its mother called it away when she saw Jasiri approaching. Jasiri has become rather rambunctious in his adolescence and acts like he is bigger than he actually is.
25 May 2018
The herd came out bouncing their heads ready for the new day. Sadly at the gate a terrapin who was trying to get into the fence had suffered and electrical shock that obviously stunned it and then Zongoloni in her eagerness to join the others crushed it without knowing while rushing after Murera and Sonje. It was very unusual as normally elephants are very aware of what is underfoot.
The heavy rains have now ceased giving way for the bushes to start drying and easier for the orphans to walk through the wet bushes in the morning, but tall grass still presents a challenge with the morning dew which has Mwashoti and Murera preferring to walk on the duty path versus the greass. Ngasha and friends don't seem to be bothered by the wet tall grass and move freely without any problems.
26 May 2018
The babies exited the stockades after their 6am feed, also after having forced the Keepers to feed them some lucerne pellets. Zongoloni and Lima Lima made this very clear to Keepers, as they started to push on the doors.
The playful Zongoloni headed to the scratching wall at the loading bay and started scratching her neck, dropping some ticks that were hanging on her, then Sonje turned up rolling down for Alamaya to climb on her back but all the orphans climbed up onto her making Sonje carry all babies on her back but they were too heavy on her and she could not even try to get up. Murera had to come to help her push the bigger ones aside and just leaving little boys Alamaya and Mwashoti to be with Sonje for playing games.
27 May 2018
The long rains have finally stopped but has turned all the vegetation very green and bushy and all the grass is so tall, that little boys like Alamaya and Mwashoti are hidden by it, making it impossible for them to be seen. The Keepers have a tough time keeping tracks of them but the Orphans enjoy it immensely as they now have more grass to feed on and enjoy eating all the lilies and other little flowers, shrubs and creepers.
Today the Keepers decided it was time to spray the Orphans to keep off the ticks.
28 May 2018
Ziwa did not want stay around this morning and immediately headed off deep into the forest leaving Sonje with Quanza still keeping the young boys around , after some rumbling was heard from the bushes we saw Sonje ,Zongoloni follow each other one after the other directly to where Ziwa had gone through the paths leading towards the Chyulu hills ,it was Ziwa with Ngasha who called them and they responded with Quanza walking away with all the remaining herd leaving keepers standing with clients watching how the orphans communicate and decide on the rhythm for the day. Here at Umani and the other relocation units it is the elephants that decide where they go and the Keepers follow. The roles are very different compared to the Nursery where those sorts of decisions are made by the Keepers when the babies are infants. Now with the independence growing they know what we Keepers cannot sense. Where the wild elephants are, where the best food is, and what they are feeling like on that particular day.
Later in the day pushing games between the boys Jasiri and Faraja and Ngasha continued and this lasted a long time, with the boys never tiring of testing their strength. They are brushing up on their skills for the wild bulls that pass through who offer more of a challenge for them as mostly they are much bigger.
29 May 2018
Alamaya and Mwashoti became very playful after they had their midday feed, pushing each other. The orphans were totally black in colour today having wallowed in very dark clay somewhere in the forest. The keepers watched on as the pushing games became more enthusiastic worried about Mwashoti’s injured leg and not wanting the game to get out of control. A keeper called Alamaya who just walked away anticipating a treat or two and everything became peaceful again. Alamaya wandered off into the forest with friends leaving Mwashoti with the big girls feeding on the grass in the open glade.
In the middle of the forest the Rock Hyrax again freaked the orphans out jumping on the rocks just when they were not expecting it, and there was screaming and running and trumpeting again, similar chaos to the other day. Later they gathered themselves and settled down embarrassed at having been so distressed by something so small.
30 May 2018
Murera and Sonje today surprised keepers so much when they got out for the new day. Murera was going down placing her tusks down in the ground digging deep into the soil and sharpening her tusks, later we again saw Sonje doing the same. Later a wild bull elephant came along showing great interest in both girls. It was Sonje whom the bulls chose and the running battle started with Sonje running away from the bull elephant and later she fell down on the side of her bad leg which made us feel very sorry for her but then we saw Sonje gather herself and soon all was ok. Later the bull wandered off and things resumed to normal.
31 May 2018
The elephants were up early and Lima Lima tried to steal a bale of lucerne but later discovered it was hay that she had stole instead. Having opened it with her feet and then leaving it, the Keepers were left with the job of cleaning up after her. The Orphans went on to scratch on a rock and take their fill of fresh water. Bushbucks were everywhere this morning and the orphans later started chasing them in the bushes. After a peaceful morning of feeding fighting erupted from the two young boys Mwashoti and Alamaya. Murera ambled over to watch over proceedings protectively watching that the game was fair, ever mindful of Mwashoti’s disadvantage. She let the games continue as long as they were playing fair, but made sure she remained close at hand.