Keepers' Diaries, December 2022

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Kaluku Neonate Unit

The area around Kaluku has received a good amount of rain, transforming the parched landscape into a green oasis. Our youngest orphans, who have only experienced life thus far in a drought, now find themselves in the midst of a quasi jungle. They cannot believe their luck. 

This month, Lugut the orphaned Verreaux's eagle-owl flew by for a visit. Rescued in 2021 as a chick, he has since flown the proverbial coop and morphed into a very impressive chap. With a wingspan extending 2 metres and distinctive pink eyelids, Verreaux's eagle-owl are among Africa’s most formidable birds of prey.

Lugut rules from the treetops, but he remains very interested in the goings-on around Kaluku. He pops up in the most unexpected places: down at the mud bath, over at the field houses, even near the orphan compound. One day, Keeper Mishak was walking Doldol along the Athi River when he sensed something watching him. Looking up, he saw Lugut perched atop a nearby rockface, intently observing the pair’s sandy stroll!

Apollo the orphaned rhino:

Apollo is usually a big fan of the mud bath, but as soon as the rains arrived, all thoughts of wallowing were forgotten. With a veritable feast at his feet, he wanted to spend his days enjoying the buffet of green. He’s smart to put such a focus on his diet: To sustain themselves, adult rhinos consume more than 100 pounds of vegetation in a single day. Apollo’s appetite hasn’t reached quite that level, but he’s getting close.

It started to get hot towards the end of the month, which reignited Apollo’s passion for the mud bath. Just a few weeks earlier, it took all the Keepers’ patience and persistence to entice him into the pool; now he is loath to leave it! He remains a very curious chap and often tries to circle back in order to spy on the orphaned elephants as they have their afternoon milk feed and mud bath. This always causes a great stir among the orphans, particularly Mayan, who is very intrigued by the rhino.

The orphaned elephants:

This month marked Doldol’s one-year rescueversary. When we rescued her last December, we were shocked by the tiny orphan who arrived in our midst — we had truly never seen a smaller elephant! She has grown a lot over the past year, although she remains markedly small for her age. We have nicknamed her our ‘little beetle,’ because of her diminutive stature and round, protuberant eyes. 

We have discovered that Doldol is quite a collector. She has laid claim to everyday objects around the stable block and gets very angry when anyone else makes use of them. Many people have made the mistake of picking up ‘Doldol’s shovel’ or sitting down in ‘Doldol’s chair,’ only to find it wrested away by her tiny trunk! 

This month we debuted little Mwinzi, who is being raised at the larger orphan compound alongside Rokka, Manda, Mayan, and Vaarti. Mwinzi has a special bond with Justus, the Keeper who rescued him. That fateful day, Justus was investigating how many teeth Mwinzi had, in order to establish what type of milk would be best for him. Much to his surprise, Mwinzi — who moments before had been comatose — almost bit his finger off! This was an unlikely bonding experience, and from that moment onwards, the two have been very close.

Mwinzi has a prodigious appetite and is always munching away on greens. We suspect that is how he survived for as long as he did before his rescue: As the drought wore on, Mwinzi’s nutrient-deprived mother likely stopped producing milk. He saw elephants around him consuming greens and, rather than wither away, he started eating opportunistically. Although most of what he ate passed right through him, this survival response saved his life.

Now, Mwinzi has a constant flow of milk at his disposal, but he remains obsessed with greens. If his stable is not filled to the brim with branches, he throws a temper tantrum and bangs on the door until his Keepers deliver an adequate quantity. Peeking inside the jungle that is his bedroom, it’s often hard to spot the tiny elephant munching away amidst all the greenery. Unsurprisingly, he has become delightfully plump. 

Mwinzi has brought out an interesting side in Rokka. She was always a very mischievous girl, more intent on causing trouble than forging sentimental friendships. Since the young calf arrived, however, she has become very calm and attentive. She is fiercely protective of the Mwinzi and loves to shepherd him from activity to activity. Of course, she is still quite naughty, but there is a new, nurturing slant to her behaviour. We can tell that she will be a strong matriarch one day.

Manda is another elephant who is experiencing a personality shift. He has always been a very naughty boy, singularly focused on asserting his leadership. As of late, however, he has really calmed down. While he is still quite dominant, he is much more gentle in his approach. We wonder if all the newly sprouted greens around Kaluku have contributed to Manda’s overall feeling of wellness.

Vaarti remains one of the sweetest bulls we have ever met. One day, he followed Benjamin into the Keepers’ bathroom. The area is quite tight, but he was intent upon completing his mission. It was very funny to see him manoeuvring his big body between the building and the fence in an attempt to turn around. As it turned out, he just wanted a sip of fresh, cold water and he knew the sink was a good source for it. He is such a gentle and intelligent elephant. 

Mayan has his own drinking preferences. He would always prefer to drink directly from the hose pipe, rather than the water trough. However, he is notably unselfish. Most of the orphans engage in ‘hose wars,’ trying to claim the hose for their singular use, but Mayan will always share the hose with a friend. He has a very special relationship with Keeper Fred and likes to follow him through the bush.

Twiggy the orphaned giraffe:

Sometimes, we wonder if Twiggy realises that she is a giraffe! She is best friends with Kaluku’s trio of orphaned brown duikers, Stoney, Jessie, and Rodney. Loping slowly to match their pace, she follows them wherever they go and always bends all the way down, as if to say hello. Twiggy has also expressed interest in two of our more recent additions, Billy the eland and a little Thomson's gazelle. In time, she will embrace her giraffe side, just as Kiko did, but in the meantime, it is lovely to see her forging so many unique friendships. 

Twiggy also likes to wander further afield. Sometimes, she even invites herself to the pilots’ houses, where she samples the foliage on offer. However, as a creature of habit, she prefers browsing from one particular baobab tree on the Kaluku compound.

Lugut checking in on Doldol and Mishak
Manda, Mayan, and Mwinzi
Apollo at dust bath
Mwinzi splashing himself
Apollo still wants his bottle!
Rokka closely following Jackson for milk
Mishak and Doldol
Mayan enjoying a mud wallow
Twiggy drinking from the bird bath
Twiggy drinking from the bird bath
Mwinzi and Sprite figuring each other out
Little Billy, the rescued orphaned Eland
Vaarti wallowing
Rokka wins the hose
Twiggy, Kwale (hartebeest), and Susu (eland)
Apollo wallowing
Apollo showing off prehensile upper lip
Little Billy, with older orphaned eland Susa
Twiggy, with Susu and Kwale behind
Manda and Mwinzi drinking
Jackson and Rokka
Mayan mud bath
Vaarti wallowing
Doldol on the banks of the Athi river
Twiggy, with Susu and Kwale
Mayan getting a helping hand
Rokka taking her milk
Mishak with Doldol