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Elephants Big and Small DSWT Umani Springs, Ithumba Camp and Nairobi Orphanage


penolva
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This is the trip report that covers our visits to the David Sheldrik Wildlife Trust elephant rescue programme in Kenya. We spent three nights at Umani Springs in Kibwezi Forest; adjacent to the Chyulu National Park, Tsavo Conservation Area and four nights at Ithumba Camp, the original camp built by DSWT, in Tsavo East National Park. We also had two morning and three evening visits to the DSWT elephant orphanage that is on the edge of Nairobi National Park.

 

Every single moment spent with the elephants and their keepers was magical, heartwarming, funny (they really do love creeping up on you unawares) and a dream come true. There is also a great deal of sadness when you are told the stories of how the orphans came to be in the care of the trust. Some got stuck down wells, some in cess pits, some became separated from their herd during times of drought. Sadly a common reason is that their mothers have been killed by poachers for their ivory and the babies left beside their butchered bodies to die. If it was not for Dame Daphne Sheldrik finding a milk formula that baby elephants could digest none would be alive. She opened the trust and dedicated it to her late husband David Sheldrik. We have adopted five orphans Murit, Oltaiyoni, Bomani, Zewa, Luggared and Mwashoti and were able to meet them all.

 

Needless to say we have over a 1,000 photographs of the elephants so here are some of the big and the small to start.

 

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Looking forward to following along. Our visits to Kenya have always been limited to the Mara Triangle, Mara Reserve, and Mara North Conservancy - and, of course, Nairobi. I will look forward to travelling further afield via this thread. 

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1 hour ago, Robin Barclay said:

Looking forward to following along. Our visits to Kenya have always been limited to the Mara Triangle, Mara Reserve, and Mara North Conservancy - and, of course, Nairobi. I will look forward to travelling further afield via this thread. 

@Robin Barclay thank you. Tsavo is a beautiful part of the country, welcome along ?  Pen

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Me too, Pen, can’t wait to read more of this!

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4 hours ago, Sangeeta said:

Me too, Pen, can’t wait to read more of this!

@Sangeeta I love your avatar you are also mad about elephants ???

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@penolva  can't wait to meet you, your husband and anyone else who is going with us next year to Ithumaba and Umani Springs. You know how I feel about hunting and especially culling these magnificent, majestic creatures in the name of conservation. I'm proud to say that due to the fact I live in Nairobi I'll be working for Wildlife Direct in the education department. This will mean I'll be accompanying kids from Kibera, Kahawa and other slums to various safari destinations and showing them what they have. Nothing could make me happier or more fulfilled. 

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@optig I am convinced you will make a difference teaching the children, what a wonderful opportunity. Looking forward to hearing all about it when we meet next year. Pen

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We began in Nairobi and hired a minibus from Lion Trails Safari's to take us to Umani Springs and Ithumba. Jules was our driver and he was very nice and helped us a lot with the shopping. We went to the Carrefour in The Hub mall and they had everything you could possibly want. We had a shopping list based on the one the Sheldrik people had sent us which covered the basics. You have to take absolutely everything, from water, spices, milk, bread, eggs etc. Nothing is supplied although both lodges had items left by previous guests but you can't count on anything.

 

The drive only took 4 hours or so and followed the new railway that has just been finished. I believe it runs from Nairobi to Mombassa but stand to be corrected! We popped into Kibwezi town and bought some fruit and vegetables. Its a busy town but doesn't have a proper supermarket so its not easy to get supplies there. We turned into the dirt road at the Kibwezi Forest and Umani Springs sign. We had to be checked in and then we made the short drive to the lodge. On the way we saw these. Crested guinea fowl?

 

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We arrived at the beautiful lodge. Its like staying at a friends home and everything is perfect. The staff came out to greet us and made us very welcome. We absolutely loved it there and can't wait to go back. Our 'house' was on its own amongst the trees and there are two bungalows on the other side of the main lodge. We unpacked and had a cup of tea watching the bush bucks in the garden. It might be of interest to see some photographs of the lodge! That evening we went to meet the elephants for the first time and then the fun began!!

 

Main part of the lodge with dining room, lounge etc and swimming pool.

 

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Gardens

 

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'Our' house which has an upstairs bedroom. Jules slept there.

 

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Enough of the lodge. Next we get to meet the elephants.

 

There are 11 orphans at Umani Springs at present. They have all been badly injured and will have difficulty going back to the wild. Amos, the head keeper, explained that the females would find it difficult to take the weight of a large wild bull during mating. Some have been injured by snares, some by spears into their feet and legs and some have been shot. They show a great deal of love for each other and the larger ones protect the smaller ones. Amos is so proud of them and loves his job. He will answer all your questions and encourages you to get close to the orphans and get to know them. Mwashoti seems to be everyones favourite and he is so sweet and gentle. 

 

That first evening we drove down to the stockades although if you are fit you can walk there. We waited a while and soon heard noises through the undergrowth and the orphans appeared running for their evening milk. You are  not allowed to give them their bottles but you can pick up acacia pods from the ground and feed them those. They love them. They all know which stockade is their own. Some share and some have one to themselves. The keepers provide fresh greens and keep the stockades very clean. The elephants are very happy there and you soon get the feeling you are part of the herd as they accept you so readily.

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We returned to the lodge for dinner and watched the mongoose and genet come for the fruit the staff leave out for them. In the morning Lefty who looks after our room told us there had been buffalo just outside!

 

After coffee and tea we drove back to the stockades to see the elephants start their day. This morning we had more time to spend with them as they don't immediately go out into the forest. If its cold it takes some of them a while to get going because their joints hurt. I know the feeling! They played around and climbed onto our viewing platform. We were able to go up to them and have a bit of a cuddle. 

 

With Mwashoti

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Me with Amos and Zongolini

 

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Playing and leaving for the forest. If you wish you can walk out into the forest with them for a while accompanied by the keepers.

 

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We went back for breakfast and a swim in the gorgeous pool. After an early lunch we walked down to the waterhole which is just in front of the lodge and then the fun really began! 

 

 

Edited by penolva
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Pamshelton3932

I'm loving every word.  More please.  I am so looking forward to our trip in 2019. 

 

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21 minutes ago, Pamshelton3932 said:

I'm loving every word.  More please.  I am so looking forward to our trip in 2019. 

 

@Pamshelton3932 glad you are enjoying it so far. It gets even better ? we can’t wait to go back and are so glad you will be joining us. Pen

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Umani looks lovely - both the main lodge and your home. The latter looks huge. I think there could be no greater compliment for a lodge than for the experience it offers to be compared to staying at a friend's home. I could not help but admire the lovely gardens - given that ours is covered in a metre of snow at the moment. I love the final photo in #9 - something about the colour and the perspective of the large ellie in the front with the smaller ellies in the background. 

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Thanks it’s a absolute privilege to stay there.

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Around 11.30 we strolled down to the waterhole. Its very near the lodge and in some of the photographs you can see our house roof through the trees. It was hot and when we met up with Amos he said the orphans would be making the most of the water and mud today and to watch out or we could get muddy. Yes please :lol: I want to get muddy with the elephants. They came out of the forest and the keepers had their milk bottles ready and they ran up and seemed to know which bottle they should take as there was no fighting. Prepare for elephant overload!

 

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They have two bottles each and many are still having their milk aged 6 or 7 even though they are big :D Some of the the money we spent to stay at the lodges goes towards the costs of the elephants and the sponsorship money is also a big source of income for the DSWT. 

 

After the bottles it was time to get in the water, get very muddy and then dust off. The keepers make sure there is a nice pile of sand ready for them. It was obvious to us the elephants were having a great time. 

 

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Dust time

 

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Mwashoti then came over to get me muddy. He was happy to be tickled behind his ears and the skin there is so soft. If you read his story his foot was nearly cut off by a snare and he had to be rescued even though his mother was alive. DSWT tried to treat him in the wild but the injury was too serious so they made the heartbreaking decision to take him from his mother. The story and video of what happened is on the DSWT web site. There are stories for all the orphans and if you adopt one you get a monthly update on their progress.

 

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We went back to our 'house' and had a shower to wash off all the mud before lunch. Mike the chef had prepared a nice salad for us.
 

 

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The evening at the stockades was quiet. All the elephants came back and had their bottles and seemed to want to settle down for the night after a busy day. The following morning Amos took some photographs of us with Mwashoti. They might be a bit out of focus but we love them. It was a bit chilly so at lunch time the waterhole was ignored but there was still a lot of dusting off. By this time we knew most of them by name. 

 

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Lefty had done all our laundry for us so we could leave for Ithumba tomorrow with clean clothes. The staff at Umani Springs are fantastic and a credit to the DSWT. They really look after you. We went to the stockades for the final time and said a sad farewell to the elephants and Amos gave us handfuls of the pods to feed them.   We had brought 30 pairs of thick socks from home and gave them to the keepers at the different locations. They really appreciated the gift and I am already buying more for next time. Leaving was very difficult and we both agreed that we would return as quickly as possible. We are booked to return in 2019 and hopefully some other Safari Talk members will be joining us @optig and @Pamshelton3932 :) There is still room for 2 more! :D Next up Ithumba and some very close encounters with BIG wild bulls!

 

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The following day the routine was the same. It was quite chilly so the elephants didn't go into the water and we didn't brave the swimming pool. We said a sad goodbye to everyone at Umani Springs and visited the orphans one last time. Jules drove us to Ithumba via Kibwezi where we bought some more meat from the butchers, this time some fantastic goat, bread, eggs etc. The Chinese are in the process of building a new tar road to the Tsavo NP. When we drove it everything was being dug by huge machinery and there was red sand everywhere. Every village was covered in it and as people walked along they were also covered. It must be very difficult for them. Many many huge baobab trees had been cut down and thrown to the side of the roadworks. Some must have been 100 years old. It was very sad.

 

Ithumba original camp is more rustic than Umani Springs but very comfortable and again the staff were lovely. The stockades are a drive away so you can't walk as along that road there are often wild bulls. We met one on our way in and he wasn't very happy to see us.

 

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At the stockades the set up is very different. The orphans sleep in large pens and gradually move towards the pens that have orphans that are less milk dependant. Oltaiyoni was in one of those and the keepers said she is in the early stages of returning to the wild. Bomani another of our orphans had already returned. They hadn't seen him for a couple of months so I guessed I had missed him. Incredibly on our third day at the stockade he turned up with some other ex orphans. Benjamin the head keeper said it must be that he knew I was longing to see him! Who knows its a lovely thought. 

 

There is a viewing area with the stockade waterholes a short distance away. Visitors can sit and watch the elephants but there is not supposed to be the close interaction as there is at Umani. The elephants don't follow those rules! They love to come up to the wall and make friends. They also like to lay their trunks and take the weight off. Some seemed to doze for a while with us just in front of them. The first day there were other guests who were staying at Ithumba Hill and a Japanese film crew staying at Ithumba Private. After the second day we were there on our own. Benjamin said it was very unusual and everything was booked up to Christmas and beyond. I made sure I made our bookings for 2019 as soon as I got home :) Benjamin is a bit of a 'star' having appeared in many documentaries about the elephants. He is a wonderful man and has the most amazing way of dealing with wild elephants which we would witness in a day or so. (There are other, bigger, waterholes in a different location)

 

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The most amazing thing is that some orphans that have left for the wild bring their wild born babies back to the stockade. Benjamin is certain it is to show them off to the keepers and for safety. There have been at least 28 births to the ex orphans already and Edwin another keeper told me about some of them. Wendi/Weva, Yatta/Yetu, Mulika/Mwende, Galana/Gawa, Kina/Kama, Yatta/Yetu. There were several pregnant females, including Yatta who was pregnant again,  and we just missed several births.

 

Kinna and her baby Kama ( I think!) The elephants around Kama are 'Nanny's' as female elephants help each other look after new babies as they can be quite adventurous.

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The keepers throw out bundles of Lucerne and the ex orphans often come to share it with the resident orphans. The scenery around Ithumba is very beautiful. 

 

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This elephant is called Nasalot and she was the most gentle girl you could wish to meet. She is 17 years old and was rescued as a baby herself in 2000. She was heavily pregnant and you could see the baby moving around in her stomach. She loved to be touched. She gave birth to Nusu in October just a few weeks after we left. 

 

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We drove back to the lodge and Benson had cooked us a lovely dinner. He is a great chef and obviously classically trained. We were really spoilt when he cooked for us. It was quite chilly so we sat outside our tent for a short while with a glass of wine and then had an early night. It had been a long day.

Edited by penolva
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That waterhole looks familiar :) Is Ithumba Private a separate camp from Ithumba Camp and Ithumba Hill? Do Njagi and Kimwele still work at the camp? I've never been to Umani Springs so it's very interesting to see the differences.

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18 minutes ago, Patty said:

That waterhole looks familiar :) Is Ithumba Private a separate camp from Ithumba Camp and Ithumba Hill? Do Njagi and Kimwele still work at the camp? I've never been to Umani Springs so it's very interesting to see the differences.

@Patty Yes it’s a separate camp for people like the film crew I believe. I don’t remember those guys there was Amos, Issac and Benson plus another chap who’s name I didn’t write down. Petra said ‘Hi’ didn’t she go to Ithumba with you a few years ago? Room for more if you fancy visiting Umani Springs ? Pen

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@penolva Yes she did and had her camera stolen by Wendy!

 

 

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Edited by Patty
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8 hours ago, Patty said:

@penolva Yes she did and had her camera stolen by Wendy!

 

 

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@Patty thanks for letting me see the photo.. The elephants are so curious ? we saw Wendi and Wiva. Wiva is very mischievous. Must take after her Mum ?

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The following day we spent most of our time with the elephants. We drove to the stockades early morning and watched them as they prepared for their day in the forest. Some of the ex orphans were hanging around outside the gate waiting for the lucern.

 

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Mid day we drove to a waterhole that is used every day by the orphans. The keepers take the mid day milk bottles there and the orphans come running in before going to the waterhole to drink.

 

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Some can hold their own bottle!

 

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A large truck keeps the water topped up all year round and this attracks very large bull elephants, wild ones. Visitors are permitted to sit on a seat very near the waterhole with Benjamin keeping guard. Sitting so close to huge elephants and feeling perfectly safe is amazing. It any of them get a bit agitated Benjamin just whistles at them and they calm down. You have to see it to believe it.

 

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That first day it was quite chilly so the elephants gave the swimming option in the large natural pool a miss and practiced some pushing and play fighting instead. We took hundreds of photographs so I can only include some of the favourites.

 

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The evening was the same at the last one but this time Wiva appeared. Wendi's baby, at least I think its Wiva! Its so difficult to remember all the names. Anyway this baby was very cute and a real character.

 

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The orphans came in with the keepers and the ex orphans and bulls went to the stockade waterholes to drink. In times of drought the Sheldrik organisation is a lifeline to the elephants.

 

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Having a nap on the wall again.

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Its possible to arrange walks with the KWS rangers and also climb Ithumba Hill. We were so immersed in the elephants we spent all our time with them and just ate our meals at camp, slept and watched the dik dik that live around the tents. That evening the sky was very clear.

 

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Edited by penolva
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You look so relaxed around the elephants - I am certain I would be far more nervous. Pity about the baobabs - one of my favourite roads is the track south of Ihaha that runs between two baobabs. I love the photo of the eliie holding its own bottle and the one of the ellie with his trunk curled and supported on the wall. Great shots!

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28 minutes ago, Birdie said:

You look so relaxed around the elephants - I am certain I would be far more nervous. Pity about the baobabs - one of my favourite roads is the track south of Ihaha that runs between two baobabs. I love the photo of the eliie holding its own bottle and the one of the ellie with his trunk curled and supported on the wall. Great shots!

@Birdie Honestly there was nothing to be worried about. They were so calm and we were calm so it was a wonderful experience. They really made use of that wall to take the weight off ? I remember the baobabs at Ihaha! I was very upset at the destruction caused to build that road. The only consolation is that in future ,when they move the orphans from the Nairobi nursery to Ithumba ,it will be an easier journey for them. And maybe for us in 2019! Pen 

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What an absolute treat to read & see, Pen! The pictures are lovely, but even more, there is a joy that permeates your words in this report.

I so wish I could’ve joined you next year :( Sadly/Happily, I had already made other plans.

 

I read here that you booked a year in advance. Wonder if I should book now for 2020?

@SafariChick, @Atravelynn @Kitsafari - shall we do this?

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54 minutes ago, Sangeeta said:

What an absolute treat to read & see, Pen! The pictures are lovely, but even more, there is a joy that permeates your words in this report.

I so wish I could’ve joined you next year :( Sadly/Happily, I had already made other plans.

 

I read here that you booked a year in advance. Wonder if I should book now for 2020?

@SafariChick, @Atravelynn @Kitsafari - shall we do this?

@Sangeeta if you do can we come as well? I don’t imagine the next trip will be our last. To support the Sheldrick Trust staying at their lodges is a brilliant way to have a unique trip but give back so much to the elephants. Bye the way they are currently building a new lodge at Voi. ?

 

 

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