Keepers' Diaries, August 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

Our Nursery big boys — Choka, Taabu, Mukutan, and wannabe big boy Kitich — had a great start to the month. Responding to their insistent rumbling, the Keepers opened Choka’s and Taabu’s gates a bit earlier than usual, followed by Mukutan and Kitich. The boys chased each other in circles around the stockade area, hurtling around corners and up the stockades. Whenever they came across each other, they pushed heads. Whoever was overpowered then ran away to hide!

Weka, our famously feisty girl, may be turning over a new leaf thanks to her newfound friendship with Kerrio. The Keepers enjoyed watching the two young girls gravitate to each other, knowing that Kerrio would be a good influence on wayward Weka. They played a quiet version of the pushing game and then fussed over the ‘blanket babies’ together. 

Ahmed is not known for drama — so one morning, when she suddenly stood tall, trumpeted in alarm, and flared her ears, everyone paid attention. Her alarm was well-placed: She had spotted a lioness, who was stalking some warthogs nearby. Muridjo, Sileita, Sholumai, and Mushuru reacted swiftly, charging straight at the lioness and sending her off into the bush. A few seconds later, the rest of the Nursery herd joined in, although not quite so effectively. They ran hither and thither, waving trunks and trumpeting as they knocked down bushes, branches, and each other. Despite the Keepers’ best efforts, it was some time before calm was restored.

We have also seen a new side to Mushuru. It was spurred from a premature entry to the milk feed: She, Rafiki, and Sholumai were over-eager and sprinted down before their time, accidentally joining the ‘blanket babies.’ Their arrival disturbed the little ones, who began darting around in a fluster. Mzinga stood by the wheelbarrow, trumpeting in confusion. Usually, mini matriarchs Kerrio or Sileita would have comforted her, but in their absence, Mushuru stepped up. She ran over to Mzinga with her trunk outstretched, ready to comfort her and, if necessary, protect her. We were proud to see the emergence of some maternal instincts. 

The 4th of August marked little Pardamat’s first proper day out with the whole herd. Rescued in late June, he took the following weeks to settle into his new world, become attached to the Keepers, and learn how to drink from a bottle. On the afternoon of his big debut, the Keepers brought Kerrio, Mageno, Mzinga, Nyambeni, Mokogodo, and Kitich back to his stable. The door was opened and Kerrio walked inside, touched Pardamat gently, and led him out. First, she introduced him to her five young friends, before taking him out to the forest. 

The newbie was so happy to walk freely amidst his new family. He behaved beautifully as they gathered around him. Choka, who is both playful and gentle, was especially kind to the young bull. Pardamat stayed with the herd for the rest of the day, visiting the mud bath in the afternoon and then padding home to his stable at bedtime with Kerrio, Talek, and Latika.

In the mornings, the blanket babies — Nyambeni, Mzinga, Shujaa, Muridjo, Talek, Taroha, and Mokogodo — are let out of their stables before the older orphans. As soon as his door is open, Taroha pops over to Mokogodo’s stable so he can be reunited with his best friend after a whole night apart. She toddles out, they trunk hug, and the day begins. Sometimes, they stop to greet Maxwell the rhino as they make their way out into the forest.

Having grown in strength and confidence, Tingai has become the dominant bull of the Nursery herd. He has learned how to assert himself — but sometimes, he forgets to balance this behaviour with kindness. As a result, he is going through a phase of being mean to some of his peers and not listening to the Keepers. One day, we were disappointed to see him chasing shy Ahmed. To add insult to injury, he even gave her an unwarranted poke in the back with his small tusks.

Kitiak and Mageno, along with tomboys Muridjo and Muwingu, orchestrated a hilarious pellet heist one morning. The quartet was determined to scoop up any leftovers in Nyambeni, Mzinga, Shujaa, and Mokogodo’s rooms. When the Keepers whistled to them, the mischievous gang reluctantly trudged at the back of the herd — but not for long! As soon as the Keepers turned their backs, they turned around and sprinted back to the stockades. The crafty friends then hid behind the buildings, waiting until the coast was clear. They managed to pinch a few more pellets before the Keepers rounded them up and escorted them all the way out to the forest.

As little brothers are wont to be, Shujaa can be a pesky nuisance. He relentlessly pursues Nyambeni and Mzinga, who are about the same size as him, refusing to leave them alone as he clumsily tries to clamber onto their backs. Kerrio usually brokers peace in these situations, rounding up the girls and sending Shujaa off with a warning wave of her trunk. 

As the oldest boy in the Nursery, it’s not surprising that Kitiak is starting to show signs of independence. Sometimes, he ignores the Keepers’ whistles at the end of the day. While the rest of the herd trundles back to their bedrooms, he remains contentedly in the forest, browsing on his own schedule. 

Elerai is similarly independent. He prefers to do his own thing, but unlike many growing bulls, he is not rough or aggressive towards the babies — as long as they do not pester him.

When we think of quiet Kamili, ‘ringleader’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind — but perhaps that is changing! One morning, she led Mushuru, Sholumai, Ahmed, Elerai, Loldaiga, and Kitiak on an adventure deep in the forest. The Keepers could not see the gang, but knew they were reasonably close. Precisely when it was time for the next milk feed, they heard loud, repetitive trumpeting. Greedy Loldaiga was hungry for his milk and evidently could not persuade his friends to come back with him! Thinking on his feet, he created a commotion to catch the attention of the Keepers, who duly rounded up the gang of seven. 

Growing bulls really know how to make nuisances of themselves. One afternoon, the three oldest boys at the Nursery — Rafiki, Kitiak and Tingai — decided that it would be fun to chase Ahmed. Three against one was not a situation that the Keepers could accept and the young bulls were reprimanded. Much to their annoyance, they were made to stand at a distance from the herd and given no attention. Time-out works as well with elephant toddlers as it does with human toddlers!

Taroha and Mokogodo remain the best of friends. They are inseparable, toddling side by side from activity to activity. One afternoon, after having their milk feed, they enjoyed a tandem dust bath as a Keeper treated them to shovelfuls of soft earth. After a lengthy roll-around, the sweet babies lay facing each other, their front legs entwined and their eyes closed, pretending to have a nap. 

Everyone wishes they could spend as much time with Mokogodo as Taroha does. The older girls are constantly squabbling over nannying rights. Nyambeni is still a baby, but that does not stop her from aspiring to be a mini matriarch — and she has set her sights on Mokogodo. In the morning, she makes a beeline for her stable, planting herself outside and giving the door a small shove just to make sure that her little friend is awake.

Unfortunately, the competition is fierce. Seeing Nyambeni standing vigil outside Mokogodo’s stable one morning, Latika strode over and shoved the younger girl out of the way. Seeing that Nyambeni had been knocked over, Sileita helped the young girl to her feet and shepherded her away. If Latika thought she was victorious, she was wrong: As the older girl escorted Taroha and Mokogodo into the forest, Nyambeni caught up with them and stubbornly refused to walk with anyone else. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in determination!

Latika is also showing signs of becoming a mini matriarch. She is drawn towards the smallest orphans, possibly because she does not feel strong enough to take on the likes of Nyambeni or Muridjo. She loves looking after Taroha and Mokogodo, but can be unpredictable with Talek and Pardamat. She may be older than Kerrio, but she took a long time to regain her strength after being rescued. 

Kitich is a crafty little fellow. Late one evening, most of the Nursery herd had drifted off to sleep — but not Kitich. He was lying down and appeared to be asleep, but that was all a ruse. As he lay close to the partition separating his stable from Loldaiga’s, he very quietly stretched his trunk through one of the gaps and pinched plenty of greens from his neighbour. We had to give him credit for his ingenuity!

We are at the height of the dry season. As food and water become harder to find in Nairobi National Park, more wild animals have been visiting the stockade area. Maxwell is not happy about all these interlopers. One morning, the Keepers heard the black rhino moving around restlessly and banging against his gate. Sure enough, they found two buffaloes standing next to Maxwell’s stockade, chewing on his range cubes. The blind rhino could not see the intruders, but he could certainly sense them. The Keepers promptly chased them away and Maxwell calmed down.

Raha, our baby black rhino, now that she is eating solids, she is really starting to put on weight and grow stronger. The Keepers were pleased to see her reaction when a warthog approached her from behind. Rather than shy away, she turned around and chased the warthog away. She dislikes anyone walking behind her, probably because of the predator attack she narrowly survived when she was a newborn. The fact that she felt confident warding off the warthog — who was about the same size as her — is a telltale sign that she is becoming stronger and learning how to defend herself.

August 2023 day to day

01 Aug

Big boys Choka, Taabu and Mukutan (and wannabe big boy Kitich) had a great time this morning. Responding to some insistent rumbling, the Keepers opened Choka’s and Taabu’s gates a bit earlier than usual. The two boys immediately padded out and started playing. They chased each other in circles around the stockade area and then played hide and seek, nipping around corners and up narrow passages. Whenever they came across each other, they pushed heads — whoever was overpowered then ran away to hide!

Once their less rowdy friends had emerged from their rooms, it was time to set out to the forest. The Keepers led the way this morning with the orphans following in a straggly line. The herd spread out to browse and to play. After a cursory snack, Taabu challenged Choka to a wrestling match. Some noisy minutes later, Mukutan took Choka’s place and Choka challenged gutsy little Kitich. The four boys played several rounds, trumpeting in excitement, as the rest of the herd browsed around them.

This morning at the mud bath, caring Kerrio and feisty Weka were spending time together. Believing that lovely Kerrio is likely to be a good influence on wayward Weka, the Keepers enjoyed watching the two young girls standing close as they browsed on lucerne, occasionally trunk touching. They played a quiet version of the pushing game and then fussed over the ‘blanket babies’ together. That is, except for Mokogodo — the youngest orphan in the herd — who was too busy showing off. First, she darted all the way along the rope cordon, ears flared and trunk aloft, and then she rolled around on a patch of dry dusty soil, massaging her back with her legs flailing in the air.

Mukutan and Taabu wrestling

Choka wandering back to the forest

Taroha and Mokogodo with Kerrio