Keepers' Diaries, September 2017

Umani Springs Reintegration Unit

The Kibwezi Forest is kept lush year round due to the perennial existence of the Umani Springs and it is for this reason we chose to locate our newest Rehabilitation unit, Umani, there and introduce our disadvantaged orphans there; those that would certainly not be able to cope with the harsh drought-like conditions that are ravaging the rest of Tsavo. Sonje, Murera and Mwashoti all have compromised legs and walk with a limp; to walk the long distances that elephants normally have to forage, especially during the dry season, would put them at a serious disadvantage. Even within the forest eco system, the orphans do still have to walk quite far looking for fresh vegetation and return quite tired in the afternoon. These orphans are fortunate to have the added treat of the seeding acacia trees however. These pods are a delicious snack for the orphans and one they relish every time this season comes about. Sometimes they can eat so many of them their throats are dry and parched and they have to look for fresh clean water to quench their thirst! They wait patiently beneath the trees, along with bush bucks, as the baboons jump around and drop the pods from the branches, or collect them in the morning having been blown down during the night by the wind. The presence of these bush bucks around the compound however also tends to draw their predator, the leopard, which upsets the orphans and they will shout and bang their gates during the night if they spot them in the trees, especially little Alamaya.

01 September 2017

The elephants were browsing peacefully in the forest this morning when a tree fell down making a loud noise which made all the elephants run together towards their keepers. Murera went to the little boy Mwashoti while Alamaya went to Zongoloni. After they realised there was nothing to fear, they went on collecting the tasty acacia seed pods that had dropped to the ground.

02 September 2017

Zongoloni lead all the babies out after picking all the dropped acacia pods in the compound. She and Lima Lima led the babies to the lucerne feeding area. Quanza is a lovely elephant and very confident as well, she doesn’t follow the others and makes her own mind where she wants to go. While the other orphans were picking up pods that dropped in the night, she just walked straight to where the lucerne pellets and hay was being laid out. She helped herself to the pellets before the others came, and when Lima Lima and her friends arrived they get all pellets and hay had been eaten by Quanza alone. Murera pushed Quanza because she had finished all the tasty things before the others could get there, but she had also sacrificed the acacia seed pods so really the others could not be too angry. At the waterhole some wild elephants came and tried to join the babies but Alamaya trumpeted loudly, signalling the matriarchs to come and help him from being pushed by the wild elephants. The wild herd followed the orphans all the way to the forest trying to get closer to them, but the orphans were afraid and did not trusting them and the wild herd were also not sure of the keepers presence either.

03 September 2017

At midday, Murera and Sonje were the last to arrive for the bottle feeding, after spending most of their time in the morning with some wild elephant bulls. The wild bulls were well behaved and both interacted nicely with orphans. However when the keepers called Lima Lima to come for milk feeding time the wild elephants got scared and ran away, as the keepers proceeded with the bottle feeding. After the orphans went into the mud bath to wallow and when they were finished with that they all went to dust bath to help dry their bodies. When they went back into the forest with Murera and Quanza in the lead of the other babies, their wild friends that had been waiting in the bushed went to wallow in the water hole they had just left. All the orphans walked to the Chyulu Hills to browse for the rest of the afternoon as Ngasha and Jasiri were busy pushing each other as they normally do, trying to test their strength.

04 September 2017

It was a very sunny day today which made the water hole very enjoyable for all the babies, in the forest and in the Chyulu Hills too. Quanza with Zongoloni were the best swimmers of the day followed by the young boy Mwashoti. He did not want to come out of the waterhole but just continued swimming and rolling in the thick mud, covering his whole body. They managed to rid themselves of so many insects which dropped off their bodies and were left in the waterhole. When the time came to head home all the babies looked very tired and walked very slowly, especially Murera, Sonje and Mwashoti who have difficulty walking generally. They had to walk very quickly across the sharp stones along the way from the Chyulu Hills. We watched as Mwashoti realised when he was close to the stockades and could even smell the bottles; he ran very fast to take the lead, he passed Alamaya to be in front as they headed into the pens. Mwashoti did not wait for his keeper to give him his bottle but he picked them up himself one after the other and drank all the milk, dropping the empty bottles when he was done. He has learnt this trick very well from Jasiri and Zongoloni.

05 September 2017

The loud trumpeting orphans were in a very jovial mood this morning, especially Jasiri and Faraja. They both took off to the forest from the stockade gate, leaving the keepers far behind and wondering where they were running to. Faraja charged around and then came back to the water troughs looking for some water, but found it had been finished by wild elephants in the night. He then decided to walk to the fresh springs for some water there. A wild family came along today with babies only slightly bigger than our Mwashoti and Alamaya. They seemed to follow the path through the bushes where the orphans had walked towards Umani Hill. The orphans interacted well with his herd the whole morning, right up until it was their time to walk to the bottle feeding point. This herd of wild elephants left them then but joined up with them again later in the day.

06 September 2017

Mwashoti changed his exit strategy this morning and decided to lead all the orphans out to the bushes after their morning milk feeding. He lead the big girls Murera and Sonje out, who usually lead the way or sometimes Lima Lima or Zongoloni; Sonje normally leads as it is Murera’s role to watch from the back and make sure that everyone is behaving. The orphans walked towards Kenze Hills where they both found nice, fresh acacia pods still hanging on the trees, but lots had already fallen to the ground too just waiting to be picked up by these excited elephants. Alamaya and Ziwa went to Mwashoti to join him in eating these delicious pods together. As they were finishing the last pods, a swarm of bees arrived that annoyed the keepers as they were relaxing, waiting for the orphans to finish so they could walk them to the bottle feeding area. The bees grew in number and soon the peaceful feeding on the acacia seed pods came to an end. Faraja and Ngasha were bright enough to follow their human family to where they were running; Ziwa was behind them running as Mwashoti kept pace with Murera at the back.

07 September 2017

The babies did not sleep well last night especially Alamaya and Mwashoti as a leopard was calling all night in the trees around the stockades. One keeper heard a gate bang around midnight and when he went out to investigate the noise he only found Alamaya and Jasiri banging on their gates as the leopard noise was annoying them. The keepers came out to try and calm the orphans down as big girls Murera with Sonje got up shouting loudly when they saw the keepers. With such a noise going on the leopard soon jumped away from the trees. Later on in the bushes surrounding the stockades and in the fresh springs there were some wild elephants also making a lot of noise, so it was a very sleepless night in all!

08 September 2017

In the early morning hours today the orphans were very lucky to be visited by their wild elephant friends as soon as they came out of their pens. The herd of wild elephants looked very thirsty as they had just arrived and they went straight to the water trough for clean water to drink. One of the big bulls among the wild elephants walked up to Murera but she was shy and went to Mwashoti to make sure he did not come to any harm what with his compromised foot. The wild bulls pushed Ngasha with his naughty friends Faraja and Jasiri into the bushes, leaving only Ziwa as they could see he was still young and not as naughty compared to Jasiri and friends. This left the wild females interacting with our orphan females like Lima Lima and Zongoloni. We walked all morning and later arrived at the bottle feeding area around midday. This wild herd continued to walk around with us as if they were part of the orphan herd, but later they all left and walked towards the Chyulu Hills where their other wild friends were.

09 September 2017

Some baboons came along this morning making a lot of noise with their young ones, and some bushbucks too were criss-crossing everywhere, looking for the acacia pods that were dropped in the night and by the baboons jumping around in the trees. The bushbucks waited on the ground with the elephants who obviously could not jump around in the trees but instead had to wait for the pods to drop on the ground! When all the babies arrived for their milk bottles, Lima Lima was looking so lovely, but very thirsty because the pods had dried her throat! They had all eaten so much that everyone just wanted water or more bottles to help clear their throats. Later Quanza lead all the elephants to dust bath after they had finished swimming in the water pool. There was a lot of fun at the dust bath with Mwashoti behaving like a little baby boy among the family. When he saw Murera trying to dust, he went and lay next to her and shared the dust they were throwing over their own bodies.

10 September 2017

All the orphans lined up and walked in a very straight line just like human solders going on a march. They were led by Ziwa and Quanza who were walking with their heads bobbing from side to side as they walked back from the Chyulu Hills after a very long day of walking along the hills; all the babies looked very tired coming home! Murera and Mwashoti looked especially tired and the keepers thought it was wise to stop and let them rest before moving on again. When we stopped Murera rumbled and Mwashoti responded loudly, then Sonje, and we later realised they were complaining about why we had stopped. They continued walking with all the babies ready to go to bed as soon as their reached their pens and had their delicious milk. Mwashoti with Murera were first to their beds after a long and satisfactory day out in the forest.

11 September 2017

The first lead group of elephants arrived at the feeding point with Alamaya trying to compete against the strong girls Lima Lima and Zongoloni, and some of the boys he did not stand a chance with, but Alamaya insisted to try and beat Zongoloni and Lima Lima up to the bottle feeding point. Jasiri, Faraja and Zongoloni rumbled loudly and then Sonje and little Mwashoti started trumpeting loudly. The loud trumpets blown by Zongoloni and Quanza came as surprise to many keepers. The guests who were watching the babies were slightly nervous as the trumpets coming from the babies was so loud.

12 September 2017

Wild elephants came to receive the babies as soon as they came out of the stockade early in the morning. Sonje raised her trunk high, trying to smell and locate where the wild elephants were. The keepers could not smell the elephants like Sonje and only saw the wild elephants when they came out from thick bush, almost up to where keepers were taking photos of the orphans. The wild elephants were not very settled and charged around in the bushes for a bit. Quanza walked light-heartedly up to one of the bull elephants but she did not get too close as she was warned by the bull to not approach too close. Murera took the lead and walked the other orphans to the higher ground where everyone was searching the fresh acacia pods. At the waterhole all the orphans arrived and found some turtles floating in the water, something that apparently annoyed Ziwa and Ngasha and they kicked the water with their feet for the turtles to come out before they could start swimming in it.

13 September 2017

Late in the morning, all the babies started to trumpet going round each other in a circle. The keepers could not see why but Mwashoti blew a little trumpet as his way of alerting his friends the matriarchs, Murera and Sonje, to come close so that he would not be disturbed by any of the misbehaving boys. Murera walked over quickly to him to make sure he didn’t have any problems. In the soil dusting area, Murera led the others to have fun in the soil and also dry up their wet bodies after mud bathing in the water pool. Alamaya and Mwashoti used their little trunks to dust their heads, and later Mwashoti went to lie down in front of Murera and Sonje again to sleep on the dust under their supervision. As he closed his eyes Faraja went over and woke him up to move away, when Sonje and Murera weren’t looking.

14 September 2017

It was fun and games at the mud bath today after the midday milk feeding. The orphans vigorously played in the dust, blowing it on their heads and rolling all over. Zongoloni and Lima Lima arrived first for the dust bath, rolling over trying to show the boys how smart they were at dusting themselves. The jealous boys very quickly joined them to compete with the girls. Faraja and Ziwa tried to outdo the girls until the show came to standstill, as the keepers and foster parents laughed out loud when they saw how Mwashoti was trying to play in the soil. He was throwing huge chucks of soil everywhere and all the way over to where the keepers were standing which forced everyone to run away, because he was blowing up such a huge dust cloud! Jasiri turned very aggressive and started pushing Quanza and Zongoloni, which started a fight between the boys and girls as they fought for their space. The keepers tried to stop the big naughty boys from pushing the little boys, Alamaya and Mwashoti. After short while, two crane birds landed right next to where the elephants were dusting and scared the naughty boys away.

15 September 2017

All the babies came out after a peaceful sleep and after having their morning bottles, the keepers opened the gate and allowed them to go out to the forest. There was a leopard hanging around in the trees which Alamaya was the first to spot and he started yelling to show the other babies who were not aware of its presence. The leopard was probably waiting for a bush buck to come along which it would target for a kill. The elephants made a lot of noise to chase away the leopards and soon they dropped down from the trees to run away.

16 September 2017

Today Mwashoti was in an energetic mood and was acting older than he actually is. The keepers saw him continuously trying to mount the older girls even though they are older and bigger than he is. He was seen play mounting Sonje and Lima Lima while Alamaya attempted to mount Zongoloni. The keepers were surprised by Mwashoti’s behaviour as he is usually one of the quieter orphans in the Umani orphans herd. At the noon mud bath the orphans were all in a very jovial mood and could not wait to cool off from the heat of the day. They enjoyed a refreshing and cooling wallow followed by a dust bath. They began with splashing water over their heads after which they all dove in for a swim. Alamaya became a little stuck in the mud and could not get his hind legs free but with Ziwa’s help was able to get his legs unstuck and leave the water hole for the dust bath.

17 September 2017

It was rather cold during the night which continued into the morning as the orphans left their night quarters to begin their day. Murera and Mwashoti, both of whom suffer terribly with the cold, were very stiff this morning and were moving quite slowly. It took some time for them to warm up but by the time the orphan herd had made their way to the forest they were feeling much better and were not as stiff as they had been when their day began. The orphans made their way to the Umani Hills in search of fresh branches and green to browse on until it was time to head towards the noon bottle feed and waterhole. The orphans were not the only ones browsing on the hills as some buffaloes were grazing around the slopes of the hill quite close to where Ziwa, Faraja and Ngasha were browsing. One of the buffaloes tired to push down a tree branch giving the elephants a bit of a fright. Jasiri did not seem to want to know what it was that had frightened them and as the orphan herd made their way to the wallow Zongoloni stopped to look back to see what it was that had disturbed the group.

18 September 2017

This morning Murera and Sonje began their day by browsing on pods that the wind had blown from the acacia trees during the night. The rest of the orphans were quick to join them and they all busied themselves picking up pods to feed on. Quanza stood a short distance away and watched them while she enjoyed the lucerne pellets that had been put out by the orphans. Ziwa suddenly remembered that pellets had been put out for them but by the time he got there he became upset and started to complain and fight with Quanza. Quanza led the group to the Chyulu Hills where Lima Lima found some fresh vegetation for the group to feed on. Alamaya followed Lima Lima’s every single step putting his feet exactly where hers had been so that he could feed on the branches that she pulled down for him as he was too small to reach them. Mwashoti, Sonje, Murera and Zongoloni browsed together as a group while Ziwa, Jasiri and Ngasha walked ahead while Ziwa, Jasiri and Ngasha moved further away from the group acting as if they were independent big boys who did not need to be among the matriarchs of the group.

19 September 2017

This morning the orphans rushed to the forest while the keepers were still busy cleaning out their stockades. As the orphans were in such a rush to begin their day the keepers had to stop what they were doing to follow their charges and try and get them to slow down. Zongoloni was in the lead when some red horn bills screamed above the tress surprising Zongoloni who ran to the bushes to hide from what had startled her. Mwashoti followed Zongoloni and the two were soon joined by Alamaya who led them to Sonje. In the evening, at around 4pm, some wild elephants came and joined the orphan herd as they were making their way to the waterhole for a second bond bath as they were all feeling quite hot following a long walk from Kenze where they had been climbing the hills. Murera and her baby boy Mwashoti looked very tired following the long walk home in the evening. Alamaya was the first to arrive at the stockades followed by Mwashoti who grabbed his bottle before any of the keepers could give it to him.

20 September 2017

As soon as the orphans exited their night quarters in the morning they all went in search of acacia pods. Ziwa could not find anything and picked up a stick with his trunk and began to draw lines on the ground as if wanting to communicate something to the keepers. Of course all the keepers saw was squiggles which meant nothing to them. Sonje tried to snatch the stick away from Ziwa and a running battle broke out between the two as they each tried to keep the stick for themselves and the keepers found their ongoing battle quite funny. A short while later the orphans all made their way to the forest for the morning browsing session. Later on in the day the orphan herd made their way to the wild elephants waterhole where they all enjoyed a long mud bath to cool off as it was an extremely hot day and the orphans were all feeling the heat and could not wait to get into the water. Murera, Alamaya and Mwashoti headed to the center of the waterhole where it was quite deep and only their heads could be seen above the water, the younger boys thoroughly enjoyed the wallow with the adoptive mother Murera.

21 September 2017

Last night it seemed as if all the wild elephants from around the Kibwezi Forest converged at the orphans stockades and walked all around them, stopping at the all the water troughs in the area. The wild elephants were very noisy as they rumbled loudly and charged everywhere. The wild herd was quite big and had several babies among them all of whom seemed thirsty and wanted to have a drink of water at the stockade water troughs. Once they had finished all the water they again took to charging in the trees. The keepers came out of their tents into the darkness to see what was going on and were happy to see the wild elephants and their young drinking water and dust bathing at the dusting point. The following day at the mud bath area we found a massive mess with many yellow fever acacia trees having been pushed over. Most of these were ones that the keepers usually sat under to have their lunch while the orphans enjoyed a mud bath or dustbath following their noon milk bottle. There was understandably lots of dung in the area and it was not long before Ziwa and other boys followed the path that the wild elephants had taken and Quanza kept them company. Murera and some of the others were a little scared of what the wild elephants had done and stuck quite close to the keepers.

22 September 2017

Last evening at about 7pm some wild elephants started to rumble and trumpet loudly as they announced their arrival at the stockade compound to the orphan herd. Ziwa and Faraja together with Ngasha responded with their own welcoming trumpets while Zongoloni and Sonje kept silent but raised their ears spreading them wide showing that they were not really that happy to see the wild elephants. Some of the wild elephants charged at the trees which left the orphans confused as to what they were up to. The keepers walked to Murera to calm her down before going to tend to Mwashoti who seemed to be very scared of the charging big bulls. In the morning the orphans made their way to the Chyulu Hills where they found fresh elephant dung. Some of the babies decided to try and eat the dung, which elephants often do so as to find out what vegetation is good to eat. Alamaya was one of the orphans that wanted to taste the dung to see what he could learn as the group followed the path that the wild elephants had taken before them. They did not meet up with any wild elephants but did come across some buffaloes and other wildlife, none of whom seemed to happy to see the orphans and their keepers. When the orphans arrived at the midday mud bath for their milk bottle, wallow and dust bath they found some buffalos enjoying a swim in their waterhole. Jasiri, Lima Lima and Quanza were not keen on waiting patiently for the buffaloes to finish wallowing and tried to scare them away as they wanted to get into the water to cool off and have the waterhole all to themselves.

23 September 2017

Today the orphans got quite a nice surprise when they came for their midday milk bottle. The orphans are usually given two bottles at the midday milk bottle but today they were only given one as we have gotten bigger bottles for the orphan’s milk which means that the amount they get in two bottles now fills one with some spare which means that they get more milk than they used to. The orphans usually beg for more milk but did not do so today as they felt fuller. They were confused as to what was going on and kept going back to check on the bottles as if counting to see how many bottles there were so as to understand why they were feeling fuller today. It took a while for them to understand what had happened and to come to terms with the fact that they had not been cheated of milk and had infant been given more milk than in the past due.

24 September 2017

This morning the elephants had a lovely browsing session in the hills as they got to feed on some nice soft vegetation. Lima Lima was intent on climbing all the way to the top of the hills but Murera was not quite ready to go so far up and stayed lower down for a while. When she felt more comfortable to head right up she took Mwashoti and Sonje to the other side of the hill where it is not as steep so that both her and Mwashoti would have an easier climb. As they made their way up they came across some bushbucks that were locking their horns to fight for territory. The fighting bushbucks scared the orphans who ran back towards their keepers. When the orphans were making their way home in the evening Quanza and Zongoloni began trumpeting signalling how happy and satisfied they were with the days browsing activities Murera on the other hand looked very tired and Sonje seemed to be pushing her to move faster so as to catch up with their friends who were ahead of them.

25 September 2017

As soon as the orphans exited their night quarters in the morning they went straight for their morning milk bottle after which Sonje, Murera and Quanza went to feed on the acacia pods that they found on the ground while Ziwa with Zongoloni ran for the lucerne that had been placed outside the gates for the orphans to enjoy. Some wild elephants with tiny babies came to the stockade looking for some water to drink. They found the water trough outside the stockades empty so the keepers quickly put more water in the troughs for them to enjoy. Lima Lima was the first to join the while herd and tried to play with one of the calves and unfortunately grabbed its tail causing it to cry out loudly which resulted in Lima Lima being chased away from the wild group. The keepers came to help Lima Lima so that she would not be punished by a wild bull that had come to defend the young calf from Lima Lima who had only wanted to babysit him.

26 September 2017

This morning Alamaya and Mwashoti went to Ziwa, who is older than they are; to have him escort them to the Lucerne store as they wanted to try and steal some Lucerne. The keepers kept a close eye on the youngsters and when they saw what they were up to they shouted loudly and wagged their fingers at them warning them to not steal any Lucerne. Alamaya and Mwashoti knew that they had to follow the rules as if they didn’t there would be repercussions from Murera and Sonje who are the matriarchs of the group. The babies then made their way to the hills in single file looking for fresh branches that they could feed on as they went. Ziwa and Quanza separated from the rest of the group and headed to the water springs from a drink of water. They unfortunately did not make it to the water springs as they saw some crocodiles sunning themselves by the springs and did not want to cross their path and as such, rejoined their group.

27 September 2017

This morning the orphan herd followed the well worn path to the forest to being another day out and about. They found some lovely branches that they could feed on while they made their way to the browsing fields. Sonje stopped when she heard Mwashoti rumbling loudly and ran to him to find out what had upset him. The others watched as Sonje followed closely by Murera ran to Mwashoti to make sure he was ok and comfort him. Lima Lima had come to the keepers to alert them to the fact that there was something up ahead of them. By the time she reached the keepers they had seen what she had to tell them as they saw two very big bulls walking towards the waterhole for a mud bath. As the orphans were heading back to the stockades for their evening milk bottle Ziwa passed by the dustbath and found a small waterhole that had enough mud for him to roll around in and have a quick wallow. The younger boys were quick to join him and the keepers patiently waited for Ziwa, Mwashoti and Alamaya to finish mud bathing and rejoin their group and they could all head home for the night.

28 September 2017

Today the keepers were very surprised to see Alamaya walk up to Mwashoti and intentionally push him hard knocking him to the ground. The keepers quickly came to Mwashoti’s aid and after helping Mwashoti to his feet they reprimanded Alamaya making sure that he understood that what he had done was very wrong. Alamaya ran away from the keepers as he did not like being told off and made his way to Murera thinking that she would be gentler with him but she was just as unhappy with his actions and made sure to let him know that she was not happy with him and what he had done. Zongoloni and Lima Lima went to defend him and tried to prevent him from being reprimanded too harshly. In the meantime Mwashoti was being comforted by Murera and Sonje.

29 September 2017

A wild elephant came to the stockades in the morning and wanted to play with Alamaya and Mwashoti. Lima Lima however was not happy to have the wild elephant place with the baby boys and blocked them from getting close to him when she realized that he wanted to get close to them and touch them, something that she did not want to happen and she did all she could to prevent him from getting close to them. Following the morning’s encounter with the wild elephant the orphans made their way to the lucerne corner where they found two buffaloes and a dikdik already there feeding on the lucerne and pellets that had been put out for them. Zongoloni and Quanza were surprised to see the buffaloes and dikdik enjoying the orphan’s supplements and charged at them chasing the dikdiks into the nearby bushes. The buffaloes were not as easy to chase away and Murera and Sonje went to the assist the two in chasing the intruders away and with their help they were finally successful in doing so.

30 September 2017

At the waterhole some wild elephants and their babies came out of the bushes for a drink of water. They came to the waterhole near the lodge and started charging at the trees knocking down some of the smaller ones after which they went to peel the bark off of some of the bigger trees. By the time the orphans got to the area, which is their midday milk feeding area, they found it to be unrecognizable. When Murera got there she found Zongoloni and Ziwa walking away with their wild friends. Quanza went to follow them and went a short way before turning to the keepers to get their assistance in getting Zongoloni and Ziwa away from the wild elephants and back to the orphan group. In the afternoon the orphans again joined up with their wild friends at the water pipeline where they had come to look for some water to drink. They were happy to find a muddy water pool which was big enough for them to be able to enjoy a wallow. Ziwa and Ngasha were the first to go in and they rolled around covering their bodies in mud after which they made their way to the nearby water troughs for a drink of clean water. They then made their way back to the stockades for some much needed rest following a long day out in the bush.