Keepers' Diaries, November 2014

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The month of November has seen the Kibwezi Forest transformed into a garden of Eden thanks to the rains breaking. A profusion of vegetation, butterflies, dragon flies and wild flowers have made this month an extremely fun time for the orphaned elephants. Because of the transformed landscape there has now been plenty of time for frivolous games without the serious business of finding food dominating their days. They have this month spent time wallowing in the many waterholes scattered throughout the forest, and a favourite pass time is charging the many butterflies that have emerged since the rain. Each day the Umani Springs baby elephant orphans leave their night stockades in a jovial mood ready for fun and games.

01 November 2014

In the early morning hours, after the heavy rainfall last night, Murera got up for her morning bottles and rushed to lead the herd, not giving Lima lima a chance today. Lima lima on seeing her leaving raised her ears showing that there was something different taking place around them alerting us Keepers to the danger. The Keepers looked around cautiously and sure enough saw a huge buffalo. Lima lima looks after us all the time. The group then followed Murera out to the browsing fields so that they could all feast on the varying vegetation. The orphans thought that after the heavy rain last night, there might be green soft branches to enjoy, but the dry season had still not turned into the lush green season, though we know in just a few days everything will have changed. Murera came to the fallen tree and began her usual scratching. When continuing with their patrols the babies arrived at the muddy area and some acacia trees had fallen down which they enjoyed. The mud and the trees with their tasty branches were now available for them.

02 November 2014

Thanks to the rains the wet soil was smelling so good and was beckoning the babies to enjoy the change of season. The weather was very cold, but all of the orphans rolled and enjoyed the wet earth. Sonje decided to dig more soil for the other babies to have for dusting and rolling. We could feel their joy now that the rains have broken. They know Umani will turn into a feast with new tasty vegetation everywhere. The jovial Lima lima had a chance to mount the strong looking Quanza, but she was denied that chance when Quanza pushed her down to keep away the bad character. They got to the wet playground and it was good for them to have carefree time in the slippery earth. Lima lima and Zongoloni sensed something strange and raised their big ears up for the keepers to takes notice but despite looking hard we found nothing unusual. They continued with their daily patrols up to where they found some fallen trees and began playing in the thick thorny branches.

03 November 2014

All the orphans seemed to be very thirsty this morning and went straight to the waterhole for clean water immediately after they came out of the stables. After drinking water Zongoloni and Sonje spent time together but were soon joined by Murera. At that time Zongoloni drifted away to spend time on her own and kept her distance from the watchful eyes of the bigger mothers. Zongoloni went to the rock, rubbing her belly vigorously to get rid of ticks. The elephants had another muddy chance after their morning patrols in the Kibwezi forests and they started rolling in the muddy soil. This was a game they all enjoyed for a long time. Murera did not spend time scratching on the trees, but went looking for more water pools to wallow in an enjoy after her midday milk bottle.

04 November 2014

Quanza and Sonje, had their own game plan when they came out of their night stockades this morning. Sonje knew she was heavier than Quanza so she lay down so that Quanza could step on top of her. Zongoloni joined in the game and lay down so the younger orphans could step on her too. After seeing Zongoloni going down into the soil Murera began trying to convince the young Zongoloni to join her playing in the wet earth. Quanza came to Murera trying help Murera and together they joined Zongoloni in more fun and games. The orphans are extremely playful at the moment thanks to the rain and wet waterholes and mud everywhere. After covering a very large area on their daily patrols they got tired and again went to the natural waterhole for some more wallowing time where Murera and Sonje, with the help of Lima lima, began throwing mud covering their whole bodies, even their eyes which they could not see out of.

05 November 2014

It rained very heavily almost all night and when the babies came out to begin their day the earth was very wet making it very hard for the orphans to even walk. They were slipping and sliding everywhere. Instead of walking they decided to just roll on the wet earth, making their bodies muddy all over. They then spent time on the scratching stone due to their bodies feeling very itchy. When they were still on the rock Sonje raised one of her bad legs up for a scratch, causing her Keepers to giggle at courageous Sonje putting her bad leg high up in style. All the babies followed to do what they saw Murera and Sonje were doing at the scratching point. The young orphans were led by Lima lima, Quanza and Zongoloni out to feed for much of the day. Due to the mud they did not go too far as walking was challenging.

06 November 2014

Orphans came out running and trumpeting loudly into the bushes and running back to the safety of their Keepers. Clearly they were in a very jovial mood today. Quanza and Lima lima were very busy running and chasing butterflies, but the earth was still very wet and whenever they tried to run they just slipped down leaving the butterflies to fly higher. Quanza continued with her efforts running after them with loud trumpets. The orphans herd was directed by both Murera and Sonje who were making their own mud for wallowing to roll on to keep away the increased tsetse flies since the rains. Orphans turned to the bushes, looking for the soft greens to fill up their stomachs with, before going for the bottles at eleven am in the morning. Since the rain came back about three days ago, the orphans don’t go for the mud bath much because they roll on the natural waterholes throughout the forests.

07 November 2014

Zongoloni with Sonje were walking together without knowing the plan for the day. Sonje was very tricky and she separated Zongoloni to walk with her. They climbed up to the elephants loading bay but Zongoloni did not want to and Sonje eventually climbed alone to the top. Murera felt jealous and followed her but Murera with her injured leg was not able to climb to where Sonje was but instead remained down scratching on the wall. Zongoloni found a fallen tree and just begun scratching her bottom on it, forcing Lima lima and Quanza to join her as it looked so good. Sonje was the star, scratching in different styles, changing into different positions and also scratching while sat on the ground scratching tail and bottom. When they continued with their muddy patrols,there was a big dry tree they came across and surrounded while enjoying scratching on before walking in separate directions to browse on the greener soft shoots that were bursting out everywhere.

08 November 2014

When the elephants got out early in the morning Lima lima went straight to play rolling in the soil next to the stockades with Sonje also getting jealous and joining her on the other side of the scratching rock. Sonje finished scratching and then went to the soil dusting point where she took some chunk of soil to throw on her back. All the babies, Zongoloni, Quanza and the greedy Lima lima with their matriarchs were playing in the soil today. The rain began very early today before their mud bathing session but the orphans were happy with the rain when it started. It was a busy time for the orphans who were running up and down with loud trumpets looking for the good muddy places to roll in, but the keepers had a very hectic time looking for them fearing they could lose their direction. Because of their long noses and extraordinary smell they all played and came back to their human mothers for their evening bottles. They were led by Lima lima, leaving Murera very far behind so the keepers went to look for her. We found her breaking trees and charging, looking so big the keepers took cover, ready to run away fearing Murera was a wild elephant because she so very muddy and she was not looking like Murera.

09 November 2014

since the rainy season started Lima lima has started the day at the scratching rock before walking with the others to the forests. Murera went to the other side of the rock for a good position, waiting for the young Zongoloni to come next to her and join her scratching. The orphan girls were all enjoying a lovely muddy mud bath when a Hornbill came shouting loudly on the tree and again another shouted at a distance forcing Murera with the babies to run away. The keepers shouted to them; kwata, kwata, kwata and called their names to calm them down and eventually they returned to the Keepers all out of breath! Sonje came to bend branches for scratching her feet and bottom, killing all the hanging ticks on their soft skin areas. On the way to their midday bottles they came to a natural waterhole and begun throwing water on their bodies while walking to the milk point, after bottle feeding, all of the babies went ahead looking for the mudbath leaving Murera walking behind following them to where they were being taken by Lima lima. Murera likes to travel at her own pace and does not push herself unnecessarily. She is very happy here at Umani and has worked out her favourite routes and knows the area well.

10 November 2014

Quanza today has been enjoying the soft greens that have shot out recently due to the heavy rainfall that started a few days back. Sonje was looking very energetic trying her strength by pushing fallen logs. Murera had to walk slowly towards Sonje but the baboons were crossing over in front of her and Murera thought they were blocking her way. She was trying to scare them out of sight and charging at them, clearing the way for the bottle feeding time. The babies got to the dusting soil and found no dust but instead sticky soil because of rain and they had to dig it with their feet, creating more dust to help them throw on their bodies. Murera could not dig the sticky soil but waited for Sonje and the others to dig it for her but she was steadily taking control over the security and she was holding her trunk overhead smelling away if there was any danger around them.

11 November 2014

In the early hours of the morning while the babies where safely tucked into to their night stockades there was big rumblings outside made by two wild bulls. The keepers came from their night duty tent looking at what was taking place but we could not see them well in the dark. There were two big male bulls walking near the stockades and Murera and Sonje got the smell of the bulls and they all began communicating with them. Eventually our orphans got over excited. When we tried to calm them Lima lima continued with Quanza making very loud noises rumbling as if they were disturbed by the wild bulls and the Keepers tried calming them. It was that they were communicating talking about what we did not know but we think the wild bulls wanted to join them. We fear our orphans are still too young to be overnighting on their own out in the forest. When the bulls silently dissolved into the dark and disappeared it began to rain. Our orphans waited patiently until it stopped and the day broke. They could then face a lovely time in the mud, still interested in the scent of the wild bulls, but this they soon forgot about as they became more interested in browsing and playing and their beloved milk bottles.

12 November 2014

Quanza with Murera cooperating very closely for leadership in the morning immediately the orphans came out from their night stockades to begin their day. The elephants came out but it was raining heavily which slowed the keepers who were waiting for it to stop. We put on our raincoats and followed our babies as he headed out in the driving rain. Zongoloni and Quanza continued to play the push and pushy game trying out their strength. Sonje was busy showing the other orphans the new soft grass that was sprouting everywhere and all the babies came to the grasslands browsing on the new fresh grass once the rain had stopped.

13 November 2014

It was like a happy family get together party on a round table as the babies feasted together in a circle. The emphasis is now on enjoying the delicious new menu available in the forest. Our babies are tasting food they have never had before because since they have been at Umani it has never been as green as it is now. It began raining again and the orphans headed deep into the forest still browsing but enjoying the cover of the giant trees to keep them partially dry.

14 November 2014

When the day began, Murera started her day to soft branches filling up her empty stomach after the long rainy night. Zongoloni was playful and looking very happy as she was following her best friend Quanza who was browsing closer to Sonje. All the babies went together up to the Umani hills, looking for more soft greens, but before reaching to the peak of the hill a bushbuck barked and ran away, and Lima lima ran to the Keepers for help Murera and Sonje rumbled for Quanza to keep her cool and for the Keepers to come and calm the situation. Murera got to the babies who were running to the keepers to calm down and she together with the Keepers managed to regain calm.

15 November 2014

Sonje took off leading out for the start of the day. Lima lima followed her closely trying to sneak in front to lead from the stockades but was blocked to remain behind them. Murera and Zongoloni were playing near nearby until Murera with her long tusks warned Zongoloni and punished her by pushing her away with her long tusks. It is important the orphans behave well and not misbehave, but to toe the line listening to the older elephants while browsing in the forests. Keepers did not want them to go in the same direction as the previous day and the keepers tried to change their direction but Lima lima and Quanza ran away avoiding the keepers. It forced the keepers to listen to their decisions and follow the orphans to where they wanted to go but not to the hills. Lima lima got the natural mud bath, and rolled and rolled till she looked very muddy and then she went to a scratching tree that was lying down and began scratching her legs.

16 November 2014

Quanza with Murera continued straight to the forests for early morning browsing on the new green grass with Lima lima very playfully trying to chase away the butterflies. She could not get the flying butterflies and she missed one and fell to her knees. The loud trumpets were heard strongly from the bushes as the other orphans tried to help Lima lima catch butterflies but all failed to get the insects, and went back to charging games with Lima lima to keep her company. Sonje got tired running in the bushes and stopped, going to a fallen tree to scratch away the ticks which have increased with the rains. As she was scratching her legs she heard the baboons shouting loudly, she lifted her trunk to smell, while she was raising her trunk high above her head she saw the bushbucks in the company of a troop of the baboons coming her way, and immediately the babies stopped browsing and ran to their human Keepers for help. In the browsing fields, it is a joy to watch them feast on all the delicious new vegetation.

17 November 2014

Today when Quanza was coming out of her night stockade she came out running to all corners looking for a partner to play with and her target was Zongoloni but Zongoloni was not in the mood today. She then set her sights on Lima lima who was a little more willing. The keepers led the babies to the forest today from where they could start their day, but Sonje and Murera declined and showed their direction of choice. The keepers followed them peacefully, because we know you cannot force an elephant to do what they don't want to and they know things that we don’t, so we figured Sonje and Murera must have good reasons to not follow us this morning. Their choice was to go to the Quarry area that was with lots of water for wallowing, there was a pool of water at the Quarry the elephants got to the water pool hurriedly to stop the biting insects that have increased because of the the new vegetation.

18 November 2014

Lima lima was very disturbed in the night when the rain stopped, She was jumping up on her stockade poles and making lots of noise in the night Lima lima was right; when we came to investigate we assumed that it was wild elephants but it was not instead we found a leopard high in an acacia tree close to the stockades feasting on a bushbuck that it had killed. Lima lima is always so good at alerting us to things, most of the time for our own protection, but on this occasion she was frightened herself, not confident with a leopards scent. When babies came out in the following morning, all the orphans seemed to have settled well forgetting about the leopard last night; even Lima lima was very calm and playful in the bushes. The time came for the orphans to scratch, Quanza led the babies out for the day patrols as the other babies were busy competing on the fallen tree to have their share of time on the scratching tree. Murera walked a bit showing the soft grass around them before walking for the bottles, where Murera was led by the keeper to comfort Zongoloni who was pushed away by the greedy Lima lima and Sonje because of misbehaving badly to them.

19 November 2014

The weather today was extremely wet and the elephants were very happy; they love the extra muddy mud baths throughout the forest. They were rolling and rolling on the wet earth in the morning, celebrating mud in the bushes wherever they were walking. Murera came to the greener side of the forests looking for the soft branches that were shooting out. Murera was so playfully rolling around and if you didnt know her you would have mistaken her for one of the wild elephants because after rolling she was bush bashing with big trumpets. The keepers kept distance thinking she was not Murera after awhile, Sonje went closer to Murera and the keepers could now believe it was her. It is lovely to see how happy she is after all her troubles early in her life. Before they could come out from the bushes for the bottles , Murera found big footprints of the wild bull elephants and they began following the trails. Lima lima was not ready to follow because of her greedy character as she knew it was about the bottle time. Sonje, Quanza and Zongoloni were following the trails but soon worked out that they needed to return otherwise Lima lima would surely finish their milk share. Zongoloni was the last to be fed by the keeper, but Lima lima was waiting on standby in case some milk was left over!

20 November 2014

Lima lima and the keeper could not be separated from where the keeper was going, she was like a sniffer dog, and she was making every step following the keeper from behind. Sonje came walking slowly with Quanza patrolling the fields full of greens with Murera majestically flapping her big ears, when she almost reaching where the other babies were playing on the rocky side of the Kibwezi forests, she arrived and started throwing dust on her back, trying to keep away the biting and flying insects that had increased since the rainy seasons started. Zongoloni went to the big rock to rub her belly on. While Lima lima, Quanza, Zongoloni and Sonje were crossing over trying to climb up the rock, Murera remained behind because she could not climb to where the other elephants were. Sonje continued climbing the rock up to its peak, Sonje went to where the keepers were resting after she finished scratching on the big flat rocks in the bushes. Murera was impressed by the warm flat rock; she went down raising her head high up looking at the sky showing how long the tusks were

21 November 2014

The babies opened up their day looking very happy and jovial, and going around trumpeting. Murera was busy putting dust on her babies an then rolling around in the earth. After setting the babies into the mood of play she was giving them a chance to play on their own as babies because Murera knew she was old enough not play like the young baby elephants. Sonje got up quick and took over to lead the orphans away to the browsing fields, with Lima lima trying to make some noisy trumpets behind following the keeper. Lima lima was tricky and making loud trumpets with the intent of disturbing the Keeper she was walking slowly behind! The orphans came to the palm trees, where they got very sweet soft branches and leaves of the palms but while enjoying the food a tortoise came out trying to move away from the elephants feet fearing for his life. Quanza sensed that the tiny thing was moving and alerted the other orphans, Zongoloni came out following Lima lima running away from the running tortoise but accidentally kicked the tortoise over turning him upside down. Of course the Keepers came to his aid turning him back onto his feet so he could continue on his way.

22 November 2014

When the babies came out from their stockades the Keepers led the babies out into the forest. We headed to the side of the quarry where buffaloes normally graze. Murera and Sonje did not like the place, and took another way leading to the Umani hills to browse. the hornbills shouted and shouted causing the big echo from the hill freaking the babies out. Zongoloni started by raising up her ears signalling to the other babies to collectively come and join them run away looking for keepers support. The hornbills continued to shout causing the babies to come to their Keepers for reassurance. The settled down and then headed to the waterhole for a swim. Lima lima was busy rubbing her itchy bottom and Murera scaring away the on coming bushbucks as they settled in for a good relaxed time.

23 November 2014

The rain that rained last night made it easy for the orphans to slide down to the wet earth making them start wallowing on mud. Lima lima lay in the cold mud as if going to sleep, it was like she was remembering her Nursery days waiting for her night blanket to be placed on here. When Lima lima got up she went to the scratching rock to get rid of the excess mud and ticks. She did a good job of scratching the whole of her body. Orphans went to the dusting soil near the stockades, and had a good dusting there lasting almost one hour on the dusting point, before patrolling to the greener pastures within the Kibwezi forests that is now greener than ever bringing a variety of vegetations for the baby elephants, babies like Quanza, Lima lima and Zongoloni feeling satisfied early in the day.

24 November 2014

The water trough near the orphans stockades was full of wild bull elephants during the night wild elephants came from the Chyulu Hills National Park to come and inspect the orphan babies. When they sensed the Keepers they dissolved back into the forest. Sonje and Murera joined them responding in loud rumbles and appeared to want to join them. When the orphans came out the following day, they found big footprints and big elephants dung and Limalima and Quanza were following their trails looking for them but the matriarch Murera by morning was not interested on following the trails and chose to walk behind the Keepers with the other little ones following. When reaching on the browsing fields, Murera chose to be feeding on the grasslands alone while the other babies were taking time by wallowing in the swampy area that was flooded with water. Then came the time for the dusting moment, all of the orphaned elephants gathered together trying to dust their bodies everyone was squeezing for a space to roll on next to where Murera was taking her time kneeling down rubbing her big belly on the ground.

25 November 2014

Quanza got to the bushes and found good tree waiting her for scratch, she began her scratching on it, but the tree fell down because it was not very strong to sustain her body weight, she went down falling on the ground on the sideways of her bottom, Limalima followed her looking for the soft branches and started filling up her stomachs with the sweet leaves and roots of the fallen trees. All babies took a break looking very curiously within the bushes, the trees were shaking like the trees were moving but it was very windy. Quanza got scared running away collecting other babies but Murera was not shaken wisely knowing that it was just the wind creating the stir. When Quanza came back to Murera she found Murera chewing soft branches and began snatching it from Murera’s mouth. She was shown how to behave and not misbehave, and Murera pushed her with her tusks and causing her to move away to Zongoloni.

26 November 2014

When the babies got out in the morning for their normal activities they looked happy and playful. Mostly Zongoloni and Quanza were trying to play with the keepers who were pushing the lucernes in the wheelbarrow it was as if they want to lend a hand to help push the wheelbarrow. After feeding on the lucerne the babies were shown the way by the young Zongoloni and Lima lima of where to go and browse. Before reaching where they would browse the babies found wet earth on the way and started to play. Some were digging more soil with their tiny tusks others were just lolling around in the mud. Quanza was taking a lying down position next to Murera, knowing if she was next to Murera she was safe from being bullied by the other babies. Murera is really becoming a wonderful matriarch to all the babies, keeping control.

27 November 2014

It was a very happy moment for the orphans when they came out from their night stockades, looking forward to the browsing time in the bushes. There was fresh earth brought in for the repair work being done in the area. Sonje could not resist and plucked herself in the middle of the dry earth. The wallowing time came after taking the bottles, Zongoloni with the help of Murera and Sonje took the babies for a mud bath. Sonje then did some twisting of her ears which was amazing making their shape completely different, almost a if they were broken. It was a historical moment when a very big wild bull was coming to view the babies in the middle of the day. Everbody was worried about how big the bull was when walking. He was gigantic. The Keepers were shaken about what would happen with their limping Murera, but the bull was not having bad intentions to the orphans he was coming to make new friendship. He then sensed the Keepers and moved away. The wild elephants are definitely becoming bolder.

28 November 2014

Murera made her way deep inside very the very thick green bushes, and when she was coming back to the keepers she looked different, like a wild elephant coming towards them. The keepers could not believe their eyes to find she was their baby Murera. She looked really grown up like wild elephant. Sonje also followed Murera out deep into the undergrowth and then followed Quanza to the swampy area , drinking the rainwater along the way. Limalima with Zongoloni went to the dusting point rolling and rubbing their big belies on the warm soil. The dust is like sun cream to them. While the dusting continued, Lima lima sat down on the ground feeling the warmth of the soft soil. Murera was amazing when she too sat in the soil and then lifted her head thawing back her truck to show off every last bit of ivory she had in an effort to show the keepers how long and strong her tusks had become.

29 November 2014

The weather changed to become very hot forcing the babies to look for any alternative to go into the water as early as ten am, cooling their bodies. Lima lima and Sonje were wallowing like hippos with only trunks raised up above their heads to tell they were elephants. With the waterhole so full of water the babies can really swim now and they love this. After the wallowing, Murera and Quanza came out first going for the day with their keepers walking curiously thinking of the wild bull that visited last time. Murera came to the edge of the Quarry area where she got into a good position to go down to relax and play, throwing some soil on her back, and Lima lima got a scratching acacia tree enjoying to get rid of her itches.

30 November 2014

Again another hot day had the babies heading under the forest canopy early. Wild lilies have sprung everywhere and the elephants are really enjoying this new delicacy. They headed to the waterholes early for some swimming. There was evidence of the wild elephants having visited the salt licks. The orphans are curious of their wild friends but still very dependent on their human family, not confident enough to take the plunge to join their wild friends. Clouds were building and it felt like more rain was coming our way. The babies have really been able to enjoy their new green season.