Keepers' Diaries, November 2015

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The rains had definitely arrived for the orphans this month and it did not take long for the forest to flourish and bloom again. The elephants were delighted when they emerged from their stockades to wet grass in the morning of the 1st, picking up stray branches that had fallen in the storm on which to munch. The mudwallow is always, of course, a great attraction on hot days, when elephant activity unsettles the resident terrapins enormously. The bountiful rains have made it somewhat difficult for the orphans to make their way around the forest on the slippery paths, sometimes slipping and falling to the ground! Lima Lima - a character that relishes teasing other animals has proved a great source of entertainment for the Keepers as she attempts to chase the butterflies which have emerged in abundance since the onset of rain. She often slips and falls over in the process, leaving the butterflies victoriously fluttering around her head and flailing trunk!

01 November 2015

After a long dry season, the rains have finally come. They arrived last night which made the orphans so happy in the early morning when they came out of their stockades. Murera was in the bushes trying to bring down some branches brought down by the windy storms. She could get them quite easily and without using much power. The other babies were with Sonje and Lima Lima, looking for some soft grass but were not knowing which path to follow because there was many paths of the wild elephants, making them confused of which way to follow; but Lima Lima was bright and chose the best shortcut to Sonje .The paths were very slippery following the heavy rain last night. The orphans found it not easy to walk fast as they used to during the dry weather. It was very slippery and sometimes some of them would slip or fall. When the time for the mudbath came, Ziwa and Jasiri were at the front and very eagerly waiting for their bottles. The boys tried to lead the girls for few minutes before Lima Lima took over leading them to the bottle feeding ground.

02 November 2015

The babies came out with Ziwa talking to his lovely mothers, Sonje and Murera, before they started walking to the bushes. The other babies were walking so quickly that Murera and Sonje could not keep up with them, but the keepers stopped the other orphans for a bit so that the limping girls could catch up with them and they could proceed as one group. Sonje found some very good rocks on her way and it was nice for her to step on them and look over the others, standing tall on the stepping rocks as she continued browsing on the greens that were beginning to shoot providing welcomed new tastes for the orphans and wild animals of Kibwezi Forest. Two crested crown birds came, making a noise on the top of the tree shouting to each, but the orphans were unfamiliar with their shrieks and panicked; Murera ran away to join the other babies who had already disappeared into the forests fearing the shouting crested crane birds in the tree.

03 November 2015

In the early morning, before the babies started to walk out to the bush, Sonje saw Ziwa walking towards her she stopped knowing very well that Ziwa had some reports to give her. Ziwa arrived he greeted her with very big rumbling and his tail raised high, perhaps reporting to her that Jasiri and Ngasha had just knocked him using their tusks. Jasiri was found quenching his thirst at the waterhole, and the other baby’s very busy scratching their bottoms on the scratching rocks near the stockades. Jasiri then turned around and started trying to mount on Sonje who was playing down on the ground. It then turned into a pushing game but he found Sonje very heavy and hard to push as she was stronger than him. Because Sonje was too strong for him and he could not push any more, the game came to and end.

04 November 2015

At the mudbath, when all the orphans had finished with their milk bottles, all the boys took off leading the other orphans to the scratching trees that were near them. Some of the other babies walked away with Sonje and Murera, to go and roll and play on the dusting soil. After having some fun all the babies converged, from the water hole, dusting soil and scratching trees, and settled into a straight line to browse whilst making their way home.

05 November 2015

Sonje started to walk away to the forest trying to look her baby boy Ziwa, who left her company in favour of the naughty and pushy boys. Sonje did not like this too much, fearing Ziwa might be pushed badly them. The orphans were in a very playful mood, charging any wild animal that came across their path. Ziwa was chasing some bushbucks that were trying to walk to the waterhole, trumpeting loudly with full charge from the other babies who supported him. They were running fast, trying hard to catch the bushbucks that were around. The big trumpets in the forests scared the rangers who were on their daily patrols in the bush, and they ran away fearing that there might have been wild elephants around! The trumpets were so strong and loud, they did not know our young orphans could trumpet like that. Most of the trumpeting was coming from the bigger girls Lima Lima, Sonje and Murera.

06 November 2015

Jasiri found himself left alone from the bushes without his close friends near him; after realizing that he was left behind alone, he began walking out from the thickest bushes trying to look for his friends. By a stroke of luck he came across Sonje who was playing, rolling on the ground, rubbing her belly. Jasiri, on seeing Sonje rolling down on the ground, went jumping on Sonje’s back. Sonje was not happy this boisterous behavior while she was playing, so she got up and started to chase Jasiri away. When she caught him it turned into a pushing game, with Jasiri trying to test out his strength. As usual however Sonje seemed to be very much the stronger. Space was then made for Zongoloni to come and play with her, as she turned her back on Jasiri signaling to him to move on and to pester someone elsewhere

07 November 2015

Murera was very busy on a good scratching tree, before following the others out to the forest. Lima Lima went her separate way trying to see if she would get some favour from the keepers to help cut some green grass and they obliged. She then walked away looking for Zongoloni who was enjoying some soft grass which the elephants of Umani are relishing at the moment. Quanza found some soft acacia leaves which she gently plucked avoiding the thorns. The babies then came back to the browsing field, where they found a wild elephant walking towards them, going for a drink at the waterhole. The wild bull stopped a short distance away, trying to interact with the babies so that they might be friends. He stopped advancing however after realising that the babies were not alone but walking with their human family. The wild elephants still are not fully use to the Keepers here. The orphans continued to go for their wallowing purpose and the wild big bull elephant left into the thick forest.

08 November 2015

As the babies were walking on their long day of patrols looking for what to feed on, they were unaware of the crocodile who was busking in the sun and sensed the animals before the keepers and the elephants knew he was even there; he had already jumped into the water springs before the elephants were upon him, to avoid being stepped on. The elephants did not know what it was but only heard the splash of water. Jasiri with Ngasha were most scared of the strange sound from the water, and ran away but stopped only for scratching purposes as they came across some good scratching trees lying on the ground for them to scratch on.

09 November 2015

Ngasha looked so happy to get some of the soft, new grass that they had not been able to get for a very longer period during the dry season. He kept following the grass to fresher pastures as he his roommate Faraja followed him with Jasiri and Murera struggling behind. When the orphans arrived for the midday activities, bottle feeding and mud wallowing, the babies were so quick and arrived before the keepers. They had to stop and wait for their keeper’s to catch up. Jasiri and Zongoloni decided not to wait and they knew their bottles were waiting for them on the ground, so they continued to pick up the bottles and the lazy ones who could not pick up their bottles had to wait for the keepers to come to feed them. After the midday activities, all the elephants headed to the forest for the last part of the day before dark.

10 November 2015

Murera came across to her favourite tree branch and was trying to put some soft and new leaves in her mouth. But the tree was very tall and forced Murera to stretch out her trunk more than she could just to get the branch. Zongoloni and Sonje together with Ziwa were behind Murera, also trying to break some branches down with those soft leaves. It was very wonderful moment for the orphans to get their favourite soft branches to feed on. The orphans were again lucky later in the day to meet the two wild bulls that visited them last week. It was funny to see the babies hurry away from their wild friends; they were so shocked by their huge size that they hurried back to their human families who were watching from a distance away to give the elephants their meeting space. Maybe Jasiri, Ngasha and Faraja do not know they will be this size too one day!

11 November 2015

Jasiri and Murera had very busy time in the forests looking for the trails of the wild elephants that passed there earlier in the day. Jasiri wanted them to continue looking for wild bulls but Murera told him he was still very young and not yet ready to go off with their wild friends, and it was better come back home. As they walked down to the waterhole for bottle feeding, at the water trough they found a terrapin showing his head out from the water. Sonje spotted the terrapin’s head and began kicking the water for the turtles to come out, but they were very clever and knew that if they came out from the water it might be the end, and if they remained in the water they stood less chance of being squashed by those great feet. Sonje eventually left for the dust bath and peace returned for the turtles in the water. The other babies followed, moving from the waterhole to the dusting point. They all had a good dust bath and left at their own pleasure, walking into the forest and browsing whilst the keepers enjoyed their bush lunch under the trees.

12 November 2015

Jasiri was very happy to be out in the bushes in the early morning; he got nice, green pasture to forage on while Zongoloni also seemed satisfied in the early hours but stood throwing some soil on her back instead, to keep off the tsetse flies that were quite a lot since the rain began. Sonje and the other babies had some good fun. All the babies were playing, mounting on Sonje’s back and Sonje was so happy with the babies to be messing around. Murera chose to be far away, and the keepers monitored her movements. Sonje is a very good and humble mother to all the babies. She knows she is very tall and the babies could not climb on her, so she decided to go down on the ground so that the small orphans could climb on her back more easily and to enjoy the game. When the orphans went to the waterhole for a mudbath, all babies there had a happy time playing. Lima Lima was trying to show everyone her wallowing tactics, rolling and rolling until she got stuck in the mud, forcing her to scream for help from the keepers. The keepers arrived and pulled her out from the water hole where she got stuck.

13 November 2015

Soft vegetation is beginning to sprout for the orphans to feed on after a long time of feeding on the driest branches; now the branches are green enough for the babies to rejoice. Whenever they see green grass they follow it and eat it all up, barely leaving any of the ground at all. Sonje and the other babies saw some baboons on their way to the forest. Ngasha started raising his big ears trying to scare them off because they were very noisy and causing a disturbance to the babies. Sonje changed the direction for the orphans to go another way. As they were walking slowly waiting for Murera to catch up, they came across where two squirrels were running away from a porcupine. They had never seen a porcupine since coming to Umani and started running around in fear, each elephant going their own way and leaving only Ngasha with the keepers. At the waterhole at the mudbath time, Sonje was the star, showing the other young elephants how best to roll in the mud. This left Ngasha with another show, where he was sitting down on his bottom and rubbing it to scratch of the ticks that might be there, he seemed to really enjoy this good scratch!

14 November 2015

Sonje left some of the elephants together with her baby boy Ziwa to enjoy the company of Murera. She found some wild animal scent coming from the forest in the opposite direction from where the orphans with their keepers were relaxing, and they did not know why Sonje began charging and trumpeting so loudly in the bushes. But Sonje was right, she was trying to put the message out to the keepers that they should be alert and careful, there were buffaloes surrounding them without them knowing! Sonje was taking care of the keepers mostly because the buffaloes would not harm the elephants. She has very good signalling ability, more than Lima lima and Ngasha, who when they sense danger only run quickly to the keepers instead of trying to scare the danger away. At the waterhole, all the babies were very jovial and happy to go wallowing in the mud. Some of the babies, like Ngasha, had a very good time in the waterhole, putting his belly and chest on the wet mud floor and feeling its warmth.

15 November 2015

The Kibwezi forest is now beginning to be very green and the Umani elephants look so happy to be in the forest since the rain started a couple of weeks ago. All the elephants are trying hard to reach the greener grass before the other one. The baby girl Lima Lima is greedier than ever before; in her mind she wants to finish up the soft grass before it dries up again and goes back to how it was last season, when it was hard to find the green and soft branches. Lima Lima was grabbing the grass so fast and walking in front of all the elephants, forcing those walking slowly like Sonje and Murera to only find Lima Lima’s scraps of fresh grass. Faraja grabbed more grass to put in his mouth when he got the chance away from the greedy Lima Lima. The day long patrols started but the walking was very hard in the muddy conditions that had formed after the heavy storms a few days ago. The wet ground made it not easy for the babies to walk easily and it was very slippery for the orphans to walk fast.

16 November 2015

Ngasha followed his friends up to where the other babies were foraging peacefully together with some friendly antelopes nearby. An interruption occurred when Quanza came running so fast with all her ears raised up and looking very scared, forcing the whole herd to run away in fear to their keepers. Even Murera and Sonje, who are always slow in walking, did not stand around but kept the pace of the younger babies who were running and screaming so loudly in the forests, looking for where their human family were sitting; the keepers were also very worried as they did not know why they were frightened, and shouted their names so that the babies could hear them and come to them.

17 November 2015

Zongoloni lost her direction while she was enjoying the fresh greens. When she realised that the other babies were not in her sight, she raised the alarm she was lost by loud trumpets in the thickest bushes. When the keepers heard Zongoloni trumpeting loudly, they knew she was lost and in need of some help so that she could locate where her friends were. The Keepers shouted her name [kwata kwata kwata] as the babies used to know that keepers language and after few minutes Zongoloni came through and found her friends browsing very peacefully near their keepers. After the midday bottle feeding, Quanza was very happy walking towards Lima Lima who was busy feeding on the soft, new branches coming out since the rain started. There are a lot of butterflies now and the birds are also happy, showing up near the waterhole looking for some insects that come out during the rains. When Lima Lima saw some butterflies flying near her she started to play with them by chasing them, but the ground was very slippery and she could not run very fast as she kept falling over, leaving the butterflies to fly freely over her head.

18 November 2015

The two matriarchs, Murera and Sonje had a very good time picking up the soft grass that had disappeared for a very long. Now the elephants enjoy getting food very easily without such a long struggle to get greens; they can remember the days they even had to use their feet to kick the grass it was so rough and tough. After very short time, all the babies relaxed when they felt their stomachs become almost full. Ziwa together with Faraja started playing on the slippery and very wet earth, and they began rolling on the muddy ground. Sonje heard her baby boy Ziwa rumbling while rolling around, and Sonje thought Ziwa needed some help from her. She decided to walk towards where Ziwa was with other naughty boys, Faraja and Ngasha, when she arrived Ziwa was very happy to see him. Sonje took them all off to the bottle feeding area, before continuing to walk towards the waterhole. When they all arrived some of the babies did not want to go for wallowing because it was very cold, and some of them had already wallowed in the smaller natural waterholes they had found in the forest. Instead of another wallowing session they decided to turn back to the forest.

19 November 2015

The wild elephants are not in residence as much as before when it was drier. Since it has rained they are able to travel far afield and are doing so - the orphans are roaming very freely, not worried about encountering wild elephants and enjoying their soft and new grass. Within Kibwezi forest the Umani springs begin to regain its glory and greenery; the trees and the water springs are full of water and it looks very nice with lots of reptiles enjoying the nice amount of water again, the sunny rocks, with birds building nests in celebration of rain. At the waterhole more birds come and intermingle with the babies during their midday bottle feed and there are more butterflies than you can imagine. The orphans really enjoyed the natural waterhole that was filled up with rain water. When they wallow in it their body colour changes to red and it was very hard to tell them apart until they came closer. We could only tell Murera from her walking style, together with Sonje. Sonje was again the wallowing star, splashing in style using her feet and covering her chest and whole body. Ziwa was also practising how to wallow nicely after watching Sonje doing her best.

20 November 2015

Immediately after the babies came out of their night stockades, they looked so happy and Lima Lima began trumpeting behind her keeper trying to joke with him that she was going to charge him. But Lima Lima had not shown her keepers any bad behaviour once and to all the keepers Lima Lima is a favourite – she was only playing with her keeper to be jovial and funny. She went off to a scratching tree to scratch her itchy bottom to remove all the small, annoying ticks. The other babies being led by the naughty boys Ngasha and Faraja, started their usual game of mounting one another. Ngasha was very tactical and singled out because he knew from all the elephants that Faraja would play with him, like the pushing game they usually do in their stockade at night. Zongoloni with the help of Lima Lima and Quanza came along and separated the pushing boys to end their game and walk with them into the forest to browse; when they saw Lima Lima running with Zongoloni to their side, they stopped and went away into the bushes.

21 November 2015

Quanza separated herself from the others and walked to her own area, looking for more soft greens away from the crowd and the greedy babies that would grab them before she could. But when Ziwa saw Quanza walking away he decided to follow her, trying to avoid the bullying boys who were also following him but with Quanza around, they would not dare bother him. Murera saw Ziwa following Quanza and began following him, watching his intentions of where he was heading to. Murera saw him just walking to Quanza she left him, knowing that Quanza is not bad to him, and continued with her browsing. The keepers on that side also relaxed and left Ziwa alone with Quanza to forage on the soft greens that they enjoyed happily together. On the other side of the forest there were some wild animals making a lot of noise and Jasiri was very surprised by the funny noise, so came back to the heard where Murera was browsing with Sonje.

22 November 2015

Ngasha feels himself to be stronger than usual, since the new soft grass has come back he has started to face on with the big Jasiri. Jasiri was sharpening his tusks on the ground and as he was digging, Ngasha came from behind and started pushing him to go down even further on the ground. This annoyed Jasiri and he around to face Ngasha who ran away after realising his mistake! After pushing Ngasha away, Jasiri went back to sharpening his tusks, which are now very shiny and sharp. In the midmorning, all the orphans were satisfied by the greens and stopped browsing to start rolling again and again on the slippery soil. Lima Lima was the one who started the game, with Zongoloni and Sonje joining her. Murera was very eager to go and play with them on the thickest mud, but after trying it for a few minutes, she got stuck and began screaming, forcing Sonje and the keepers to come and help her get up from the muddy and slippery earth; it was very hard for her with her bad leg to get up. When keepers ran quickly to Murera, they found there was nothing wrong with her but she was struggling to get up and eventually she just got up without any help at all.

23 November 2015

The previous night was the noisiest night for the babies and they did not have a peaceful sleep as a massive thunderstorm beat down on their noisy roofs. Trees fell over in the nearby forest and it was also a very windy night, forcing all the elephants to be very fearful over what was going on with such a storm. Murera and Sonje were the first ones to start complaining in their cage forcing the keepers to come and see what was wrong with them, because there was lots of rumbling and wall pushing from their cages. When the keepers came out, Zongoloni thought that the keeper was going to provide some help for them, and she came running to the gate thinking that they might be let out. But when nothing happened Zongoloni, Lima Lima and Jasiri complained when they saw the keeper walking away after inspecting and finding that nothing was worrying them except the thunderstorm. In the morning when the keepers went to open the gates for the elephants they found the rooms were in big mess following the commotion during the night; the walls were very dirty as the orphans had pushed and tried to climb out. Even when morning came and the storm had ended, Ngasha, Faraja and Ziwa together with Zongoloni could not keep away from their keepers and they kept following them up to the field where they browsed very peacefully and forgot the night.

24 November 2015

Zongoloni separated herself from some of her closer friends looking for some where she could get some fresh, greens grass. She followed her keeper to where he was going to show her where some of the best, soft tree branches were. Sonje on the other side saw her going and followed her, teaming up with Ziwa to where Zongoloni was going and already celebrating with good greens. Ziwa only teamed up with his adopted mother Sonje after he was chased away by the naughty boys Faraja and Ngasha. The rain fell heavily on the orphans but as soon as stopped the playful babies started to roll on the wet earth, with Lima Lima busy chasing some of the butterflies which were flying around her. Again she could not chase them very far because of the slipper ground underfoot. Jasiri also tried but could not move very far and instead he stood still and raised his ears, ready to scream for help from the keepers. Zongoloni with Quanza came back rolling in the muddy water, but Sonje with her baby boy Ziwa were the swimming stars in the natural waterholes, flooded from all the rain.

25 November 2015

Murera took her time relaxing down on the ground with Ziwa standing next to her, as she continued relaxing, some noisy monkeys shouted harshly from the trees above her. She tried to look for them raising her head up but she could only smell them in the trees. Their shouting noise continued very loudly, with their young babies jumping on the branches to the side where Murera was browsing peacefully. Murera suspected the monkeys might have a plan of jumping on her back so she moved away with Ziwa. Wild elephants were heard trumpeting and rumbling in their very low tone which is their usual means of communication with the others over larger distances. The orphans trooped to the bushes to go and look for the wild elephants. Quanza and Sonje led the babies with speed in the forests with the keepers behind them, trying to look how they would react to the wild elephants. Sonje together with the keepers found the wild elephants had already left by the time they got there, due to the smell of humans also heading towards them.

26 November 2015

It really rained here last night up until morning when the orphans were coming out from their night stockades, it very wet outside and no one wanted to step out on the wet grass in the morning. The heavy rain continued to pour making Zongoloni and the other orphans begin to play on the wet ground and roll in the muddy soil. Murera stopped to have a scratch on a nearby fallen tree where she scratched her trunk to rid it of ticks. We had sprayed them yesterday to rid them of ticks but whenever the babies go into the forest they pick up new ones on their bodies. We try to limit the number of ticks on the orphans and they also scratch on rocks and big trees to get them off. As the orphans stood in the rain waiting for their midday bottles, Lima Lima started rolling in the flowing natural water as she waited for milk, forcing the rest of the herd to follow her and play in the flowing water together.

27 November 2015

Murera came out of her stockade walking quickly and with purpose, heading to the forest and ready to begin their busy day of patrolling the forest to fill up their empty stomach with fresh and soft branches, available since the heavy rain had begun. The direction they chose did not really please their keepers and when keepers tried to call them back, they rumbled very loudly in protest of why the keepers wanted them back, none of them turned back and instead their keepers had to follow them to where they wanted to go. Ngasha, together with the other boys, got jealous and decided to follow the two matriarchs to where they were heading to. The naughty boys began misbehaving; when they saw Lima Lima start to begin wallowing they thought this would be a great game and started jumping on her back. Quanza did not like that and she turned around and chased the boys away from disturbing them whilst they rolled nicely on the muddy soil.

28 November 2015

Murera felt her cheek was very itchy and as she continued walking through the forests she was looking for good scratching sticks. When she saw one in the bushes, she walked over and began scratching her itchy cheek. After the midday bottle feed, Lima Lima did not want the babies to wallow in their normal water hole near the lodge, but instead walk along the flowing rain water to where it had made a big natural water hole. She lead the whole big group with her to the water hole and everyone had a good time wallowing very happily. Two turtles were in big trouble when Lima Lima and Sonje came over with the whole group as they all started kicking the water; as the water started flowing out over the edges, one turtle flowed out too and was almost squashed by one of the babies who was not aware of the turtle on the grass. The keepers went and saved it from the elephants feet.

29 November 2015

The orphans were walking slowly out heading to the forest towards the Umani Hill circuit, when they came head on with a very big herd of buffaloes, also coming out of the bushes they had spent the night in; they had many little calves with them. The keepers almost came head on with them, but were very quick to stop the babies from encountering the buffaloes. As soon as the keepers stopped the babies, the big herd of buffaloes dispersed and scattered in all directions, giving way to the keepers and the orphans to walk through to Umani Hill. Horn bills were also shouting in their strange voices, making Murera, Ziwa and Sonje go a different way and lose the other group who were with the keepers. Lima Lima realised that the babies were not all together and began rumbling and trumpeting so loud for Murera , Sonje and Ziwa to hear and follow them. The keepers had already located them too and could see them heading towards where Lima Lima and Zongoloni were trumpeting in the thick bush.