It is four years ago the The Kibwezi Forest Umani Springs relocation unit was first created, Kibwezi Forest managed by the Trust in a public private partnership with the Kenya Forest Service. Its tangible success is becoming very evident. After fencing the Kibwezi forest boundary into the Chyulu National Park and continuing the fence line along the Park boundary for 73 kms, wildlife numbers have soared, illegal activity has been heavily reduced and poaching has been practically eradicated. The fence protects the surrounding community from crop-raiding elephants whilst providing employment to maintain and upkeep the fence. Wild Elephants are very much present throughout this beautiful area, and this means numerous interactions with our orphans on an almost daily basis. The Kibwezi Forest is home to the vital Umani springs and is an ecological oasis. Fresh water springs flow out of the lava rocks having percolated through the porous Chyulu mountain range, and baobab trees give way to lush ground water forest filled with giant figs, of which there are over 12 different species.
Although encountering wild elephant herds has become an almost daily ritual for our young orphans, the wild elephants are still wary of humans and some are reluctant to approach the orphans when the Keepers are around. The Keepers have been trying to keep their distance on these occassions to let them interact, but every encounter needs to be slightly monitored as the wild elephants’ behavior can be unpredictable. Sometimes their meetings go smoothly and the orphans play and wrestle with wild ones their own age group, but on other occasions the wild elephants can be too rough and the keepers need to intervene. One day Ziwa decided to join a wild group and walked with them for some time. They perhaps smelt the Keepers scent on him however as they soon started to push him around a bit with their long tusks. The Keepers called him back and he returned to his group with both his ego and body slightly bruised! As the oldest females, in the herd, wild bulls have been paying particular to six year old Sonje and eight year old Murera. One day they tried to separate them from the herd and even the keepers could not help them as the bulls blocked their way. With assistance from Lima Lima, Alamaya and Zongoloni, eventually the matriarchs managed to get away and walk towards the keepers, where the bulls did not follow. Lima Lima still needs a little practice with these social interactions. She loves playing with wild born babies but still has a tendency to get over excited and pull their tails! Something which neither they nor their protective mothers like very much.
Lima Lima was certainly the swimming star at the beginning of the month, when the weather was hot and humid before the rain rolled in and the orphans indulged in a noon mud bath every day. She even created her own mud wallow befitting only one orphan at a time, and enjoyed it to her heart’s content until the herd grew impatient waiting for her so they could go back to browsing. This is when the matriarchs step in and Sonje had to go and get Lima Lima herself! She is still also the most greedy elephant in the group and has to be held back to feed last so she does not interrupt the others. Quanza, on the other hand, is becoming less interested in her milk. At six years old she is old enough not to have it, and instead sometimes prefers to browse on lovely soft greens she encounters, than go for her midday milk bottle.
The orphans were quite surprised when the rain started towards the end of the month, not wanting to come out of their stockades in the morning. The cold weather meant they were rather more subdued and enjoyed more dust baths than mud ones. Mwashoti and Murera are most affected by the cold due to their bad legs and walk much slower than the rest of the group. They and Sonje can often not walk all of the paths taken by the others, especially up steep hills, due to their compromised limbs. When it is cold it takes a while for them to warm up and for their muscles to loosen so they can keep up with the others. We were very thankful when the rain broke however, as the area had become very dry and a wild fire was in fact also spreading from the Chyulu Hills towards the Kibwezi Forest at an alarming rate. Many wild elephants could be seen coming from the hills to seek refuge in the forest while the fires blazed, fought back by our Chyulu Anti Poaching teams and KWS Rangers working together and over 50 community members paid by the Trust to tackle the threat. These men fought the fire for days and are the reason that the Kibwezi Forest was spared.
Alamaya and Mwashoti continue to grow in size and personality. They are often seen trying to mount Sonje and Lima Lima whenever they see the two girls lying down. If the matriarchs stop the little boys from climbing on them, they get angry and start pushing the girls hard with their bottoms showing their frustration at not being allowed to do what they like. It seems they have been a little spoilt by the older females in the herd! They pull food down from the taller trees for them to enjoy and make sure they are protected from the boisterous boys like Ngasha, Faraja and Jasiri. Ngasha especially likes to bait Alamaya by touching the stub of his tail, which Alamaya detests, and the girls are always on the look out for this kind of bad behavior!