Keepers' Diaries, April 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

As usual, the month began with fun and games. The orphans welcomed April by plodding out of their stockades, full of boisterous energy. As soon as Sileita emerged from her room, she knocked on Choka’s gate, inviting him to play with her. A spirited game of hide-and-seek ensued, which soon caught Taabu’s attention. However, three can be a crowd — even with elephants. Sileita abandoned her feisty friend for Taabu and the two orphans played a gentler version of the original game.

Weka was such a sweet, silent girl when she first arrived at the Nursery. Now that she’s fully settled in, she is starting to show her true colours! She is on a mission to assert herself as the noisiest, most disruptive member of the Nursery herd — and thus far, she’s uncontested. Weka saves her best antics for the mud bath. After gulping down her milk (which is carefully portioned out for each orphan — not too much, not too little), she demands more just for the fun of it. When it’s not forthcoming, she throws an elephant tantrum, stamping her feet and trumpeting at the top of her lungs. All the better if there are lots of visitors around — Weka loves an audience!

Most mornings, the orphaned elephants make a point of stopping by Maxwell the rhino’s stockade as they head into the forest. One morning, however, they were eager to start browsing. Poor Max heard the soft treads of the elephants as they wandered past and called out to them with his signature squeaky call. Only Kamili responded, but she was at one end of his stockade, while he was at the other. The star-crossed friends didn’t meet, and Maxwell took out his grumpy mood on the warthogs, chasing them away with dramatic gruffness. Fortunately, this day was an anomaly — Max is usually surrounded by friends.

On 4th April, two new additions joined the blanket babies out in the forest. Mokogodo and Taroha were rescued as infants and have been spending their initial weeks at the Nursery slowly, quietly settling in. It was interesting to see how the elder blanket babies reacted to their arrival: When Taroha and Mokogodo toddled out with a Keeper, Mzinga was so kind to them, touching them with her trunk and making it clear that she was friend. By contract, Nyambeni seemed jealous and kept pushing the babies away. Nyambeni has always been a bit exclusive by nature, so this wasn’t entirely out of character.

It is wonderful to see how strong and confident Kamili is becoming. After a real uphill road to recovery, she is finally starting to blossom. One afternoon, we witnessed her rolling around in the thick mud with Nyambeni, Mzinga, Kerrio, and Muridjo, followed by an energetic pushing game. Not so long ago, it would be unthinkable to see Kamili engaged in such boisterous antics.

One morning, the herd came across a peaceful group of impalas resting in the early morning light. Latika was the first to spot them. Gathering speed, she charged towards the interlopers, little trunk flailing and legs paddling fast. As the antelopes moved away, she trumpeted, calling her friends for reinforcements. In a flash, Muwingu, Weka, Mageno and Kitich sprinted off to support her. The five orphans scampered through the bushes, while the impalas elegantly outpaced them. Undeterred, the little band of elephants continued to bush-bash and trumpet, until Muwingu and Kitich ran headlong into each other! Kitich fell over as Muwingu looked on bemused. Latika, Mageno and Weka abandoned the chase to check on their friends, and peace was restored.

On the 7th, we commenced training for our next groups of graduates. Lodo, Olorien, Esoit, Kinyei, Bondeni, and Kindani were given bottles of milk in the translocation trunk in preparation for their move to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. The first day of training can be tricky. Kinyei led the way, walking calmly into the truck and drinking the bottle held out by a Keeper. The other five were not so keen on the strange vehicle, hovering a few metres away. Feet planted firmly on the ground, Lodo stretched out his trunk to investigate, trying to reach his bottle without actually entering the truck. Kindani, Bondeni, Esoit and Olorien stood by, observing. As the Keeper did his best to tempt Lodo in, Olorien shoved her friend from behind. He stumbled in, drank his bottle and the others followed!

Rafiki is another elephant who is coming out of his shell. He is supposed to be in the second, older group of orphans at the morning milk feed. One afternoon, however, he insisted on joining the line of babies as they toddled down the path for their bottles. After gulping down his bottle, he went from one Keeper to the next, demanding more milk. When this was unsuccessful, he flapped his ears as wide as they would go, trumpeted loudly, and ran all over the place. A Keeper pointed at him to calm down and he immediately obeyed, choosing the more sedate activity of a solo mud wallow. Little Mzinga popped over to join him, clambering on top of the big boy. Mischief over, he cooperated by laying completely still, as if he was asleep.

Taabu loves playing with everyone, no matter their size, age, or gender, whereas Tingai is learning to love playing in general! Both boys are members of the big boy gang led by Esoit and Bondeni. One afternoon, Taabu strolled up behind Tingai and gave him a little push, challenging him to a game. Tingai turned around, accepted the challenge and the pushing began. The two bulls were having a great time until Taabu accidentally knocked Tingai with one of his little tusks. The game changed into a fight with indignant trumpeting and clashing of heads and tusks. Choka got involved, defending his close friend Taabu and at the same time diffusing the conflict. Peace was restored and everyone was friends half an hour later.

At long last, we received some rain in Nairobi this month, turning the orphans’ entire world into one big mud bath. They splashed and rolled and rubbed their bodies in the mud, dashing through the big puddles like excited toddlers. Many of the orphans were rescued during the recent drought, so the rain is an opportunity to celebrate their new lives and the rainfall.

On particularly cold, rainy mornings, the youngest and most fragile babies remain in their cosy stables until it warms up. For Kerrio, these precautionary measures simply wouldn’t do — she flatly refused to go into the forest without Mzinga, Nyambeni, Muridjo, Shujaa, Mokogodo, and Taroha in tow! Once the sun is shining and the little ones are shepherded out to join the others, Kerrio, Kitiak, Elerai, Sileita, and Ahmed sprint back to welcome them, rumbling and trunk touching the babies as if they had not seen them for days, rather than just a few hours.

We had a very sad moment this month when an orphan named Iletilal died. Yet another drought victim, he was rescued from Amboseli in October. The gentle bull had become progressively weaker in recent months and failed to respond to medicine and drips. His best friend, Elerai, always made a point to check on him, and he passed peacefully, surrounded by the Keepers who loved him so.

Muridjo may be the third youngest girl in the Nursery, but in her mind, she is the boss! Running down to the mud bath one morning, she overtook Nyambeni — who makes a point of being in the lead – and was the first baby to arrive. After downing her bottle, Muridjo waddled over to the mud bath where Shujaa was enjoying a paddle and pulled him out, so she could have it all to herself. The boss had spoken!

Loldaiga is one of our newest arrivals, and being quite shy by nature, he is still finding his feet in the herd. One day, he enjoyed a lovely pushing game with Esoit and Mukutan. He ended up on his knees in the mud, giving the big boys a standing advantage. They generously waited for him to clamber up before continuing the game, perhaps realising that he needs these opportunities to build his confidence.

Sholumai was rescued earlier in the month from Laikipia. She spent her first several weeks in her stockade, recovering from his ordeal, getting used to the Keepers, and learning the ropes of the Nursery. Younger rescues are introduced to the herd in an informal way, meeting them often when they go for little excursions to the field, whereas older rescues like Sholumai must meet the herd in a more formal manner.

At last, by the end of the month, Sholumai was ready to join the herd. Two Keepers opened the door to her stockade, and she hesitantly emerged. The orphans surrounded her, rumbling their welcomes. Mini matriarchs Kinyei and Olorien were especially kind, trunk touching the calf and shepherding her out to the forest.

While many orphans are just beginning their lives at the Nursery, others are preparing for the next step in their journey. On 24th April, Rafiki, Kitiak, and Ahmed began their reintegration practice sessions, becoming used to the moving lorry that will bring them to Tsavo later in the year. Kitiak stood at a distance from the vehicle, while Rafiki sprinted back to join the herd in the forest and Ahmed ran trumpeting in the opposite direction towards the mud bath. The first day of school doesn’t always go smoothly!

26th April was a big day for three of our Nursery babies. Caring Olorien, friendly Esoit, and gentle Lodo left Nairobi in the early hours to embark on the next phase of their reintegration journey. By mid-morning, they had safely arrived at our Ithumba Reintegration Unit, where they reunited with old friends including Naleku, Suguroi, Sagateisa, and Roho. We are very proud of our newest graduates.

That day, their absence was felt by the herd. The blanket babies really missed Olorien, who had been their friend and nanny and protector. Nyambeni darted about in the forest, trumpeting loudly, while Mzinga insisted on sprinting back to the stockades. Even Muridjo and Shujaa were downcast and dull. The babies pushed the others away, even their beloved Kerrio. 

By the next morning, however, everyone was back to their perky selves. In fact, with Esoit’s departure, Mukutan saw an exciting window open to him. He decided it was about time to assert himself as a more dominant bull in the herd. All day, he was in a mischievous mood, challenging Bondeni for his role as the naughtiest boy in the Nursery, despite being even younger than Rafiki.

By the end of the month, even the original blanket babies were taking on new responsibilities. The Keepers were proud to observe Mzinga and Nyambeni babysitting newbie Mokogodo. They sandwiched the younger girl, protecting her and showing her new and interesting things in the forest. It was a lovely sign that everyone is growing up. 

April 2023 day to day

01 Apr

Today was a playful day! On a bright clear morning, the orphans plodded out of their stockades full of boisterous energy. As soon as Sileita got out of her room, she started knocking on Choka’s gate, asking him to play with her. Out he came, she chased him, he trundled round a corner – the game of hide and seek was on! Taabu tried to join in, but three can be a crowd, even with elephants. Sileita abandoned her feisty friend for Taabu and the two orphans played a gentle version of the pushing game. They did not stop playing for most of the morning!

Later in the morning out in the bush, Kerrio had fun chasing several baboons that she found relaxing under a tall tree. Soon afterwards, some warthogs trotted up to the herd, on the hunt for a snack. Not in the mood for company, Nyambeni and Mzinga trumpeted in indignation and charged towards them. Kerrio decided that this was even more fun and joined the chase. The three darted after the warthogs, wiggling between bushes as they did their best to catch up with the pigs. Following the direction of the trumpeting, a Keeper found them at the main gate and shepherded them back to the herd, whereupon their excited mood infected their friends. The forest was soon full of elephants sprinting in circles!

As the orphans headed home for bed in the late afternoon, big boys Lodo, Esoit and Bondeni ignored the whistling of the Keepers and continued to wrestle with each other, clashing heads and tiny tusks. A Keeper took charge of the young bulls, interrupting the game and sending them back to their rooms!

Sileita playing

Mzinga, Nyambeni and Kerrio

Esoit and Bondeni wrestling