Keepers' Diaries, December 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

Raha was full of beans this month. One morning, she trundled out of her stable and darted ahead of her Keeper, insisting on taking the lead. At the mud bath, she trotted confidently along the rope cordon, much to the delight of the visitors. She even got a bit carried away and tried to walk among them! The Keepers took charge and escorted the cheeky girl back to her dust bathing spot.

Shortly thereafter, the first group of orphaned elephants arrived for their mid-morning milk feed. Mzinga spotted Raha exiting and made a beeline for the young rhino, trumpeting in delight and placing her trunk atop her head. The two orphans have an unusual, if somewhat one-sided, friendship: Mzinga loves Raha, while Raha tolerates Mzinga. (However, ‘tolerate’ is high praise in Raha’s world — she doesn’t have much time for most elephants!)

Like Raha, Maxwell the blind black rhino can be a bit mercurial in his friendships. This month, however, he was feeling very magnanimous towards the wild warthogs. One memorable afternoon, he was relaxing in the mud bath, enjoying the cool mud and the hot sun. He was soon joined by a warthog piglet, who managed to paddle next to the rhino without being squashed. After Max got out of the mud, his warthog friends scratched themselves against his belly, standing beneath him for a family massage.

Latika has a heart of gold. One afternoon, she was looking after Mokogodo, Taroha, Talek, and Pardamat when she caught sight of a tortoise scuttling out of a bush. Trumpeting in alarm, she ran towards the Keepers with her little charges in hot pursuit. The babies did not know what had happened, but they did know that their nanny was upset and that was enough for them. One small tortoise caused a great deal of commotion!

Kitich is an extremely noisy boy. Everyone has become accustomed to his indignant trumpeting for more milk the moment he finishes his bottle — a habit he shares with best friend, Mageno, and also with Kitiak, Loldaiga, and Kerrio. He also drinks his milk at breakneck speed, his trunk clasped around the bottle just in case anyone dares to take it away.

As we see so often, friendships are formed through sleeping arrangements. Talek and Pardamat are nighttime neighbours, and they can often be found together during the day. Like quarrelsome siblings, however, they often bicker with each other. One morning, Talek gulped down her milk bottle, then greedily grabbed Pardamat’s and pushed him over. Mini matriarch Kerrio took control, telling off Talek and helping Pardamat onto his feet. Much to everyone’s surprise, however, Pardamat then took matters into his own hands. First he bit Talek’s tail, then he chased her around the mud bath, pushing her from behind whenever he got close enough. Talek will think twice before messing with Pardamat again!

Muwingu and Mushuru tend to keep to themselves, so when they cause a commotion, everyone listens. One morning, the girls began trumpeting urgently, their ears fully flared and trunks aloft. Taroha and Mokogodo ran for cover, while the Keepers went to investigate. They found three lions relaxing under a tree. While they were able to avert any danger, the Keepers were very grateful that Muwingu and Mushuru raised the alarm! 

6th December marked new beginnings for three of our Nursery seniors. Not long after midnight, the Keepers gathered outside the stockades to bid farewell to Ahmed, Tingai, and Taabu. The three friends padded into the training truck, the Keepers closed the doors, and they were off. After a peaceful journey, they arrived safely at the Ithumba Reintegration Unit, where the next stage of their reintegration journey will unfold.

Emerging from their stockades the next morning, Talek and Pardamat seemed a bit lost — Ahmed was their special nanny and they were missing her. In silent communication, the rest of the Nursery herd paid them special attention that day. Kerrio scooped up little Pardamat and while Mzinga invited Talek to help her chase warthogs — her favourite game and a wonderful distraction. By day’s end, both babies were back to their normal selves. 

Two days later, 8th December, the second group of older orphans graduated from the Nursery. Shortly after midnight, Elerai, Kitiak, and Rafiki were cajoled into the truck with treats of sugar cane and pellets. Graduates are always bittersweet, but the Keepers felt proud that three more orphans were off on the next stage of their lives.

Choka was awake when the graduates departed. He sleeps in the neighbouring stockade to Elerai and was upset by the departure of his friend. After a restless night, he was reluctant to leave his stockade in the morning — until wonderful Sileita took the situation in hand. The mini matriarch walked into the big boy’s stockade to comfort him and calm him down. Rumbling quietly, she trunk touched him in reassurance and led him out to join the herd.

The graduation left an opening for a new ‘top bull’ at the Nursery — and Mukutan wasted no time in trying to establish himself in the role. At the mud bath, he uncharacteristically snuck over to the milk wheelbarrow to pinch an extra bottle. Finding it empty, he headed straight for Loldaiga, who was drinking slowly. Loldaiga sensed the older bull’s intentions and walked away, his trunk carefully twisted around the bottle. Mukutan chased after him but was intercepted by two Keepers, who ordered him away. Shaking his head in annoyance, he reluctantly turned tail and did as he was told. Another changing of the guard at the Nursery.

Shujaa-being-a-pest was a prominent theme this month. One mid-afternoon altercation (among many) stood out: At the mud bath, Shujaa finished his milk quickly while Mokogodo savoured hers. He then trundled over and gave the younger girl a shove, perhaps in the hopes that she would drop her bottle. Unfortunately for him, Mokogodo’s trumpet of indignation rallied the troops. Nyambeni and Muridjo, who were relaxing nearby, sprung into action. Nyambeni ran towards Shujaa from one direction and Muridjo from another, catching him in a pincer movement and sending him packing. The sheepish young bull took refuge with the older boys for the rest of the afternoon.

For better or for worse, someone seems to be taking notes from Shujaa. At the midday feed, Shujaa was again being gluttonous and trumpeting for more milk. As a Keeper declined the impish boy’s request, he heard a smaller trumpet. Turning around, he found tiny Pardamat imitating the older bull and also asking for more! When the two bulls trumpeted in unison, Kerrio stepped in. She separated them and gave Shujaa a firm shove, knowing that he was the instigator.

Independent Kamili is not known for getting into the mix, but that seems to be changing. One morning, Kerrio was having a lovely moment with Maxwell, resting her trunk on his head while he stood quietly at the gate. The peace was disrupted by Loldaiga, who came barreling over and chased Kerrio around the compound. Maxwell started running up and down his stockade, unsure as to what was going on. But then, an unlikely friend came to Kerrio’s rescue – Kamili! She popped around the corner with her ears spread high and wide. Loldaiga got such a fright that he ran for cover, trumpeting in alarm. 

Weka is another girl whose character is ever-evolving. Once a rascal (and still a rascal), she is very eager to establish herself as a nanny. Weka has lots of competition, as everyone jostles to look after the Nursery babies, but she has the advantage of being diligent and very persistent. Out in the forest one morning, she was shadowing Sileita while the mini matriarch fussed over Talek. A few minutes later, Sileita generously stepped aside to give the younger girl an opportunity to shine. Talek was not comfortable with this change of leadership and attempted to scoot off, but Weka was undeterred. She gave chase and insisted on looking after the baby. 

Mokogodo and Taroha remain the very best of friends. They almost always travel together, bellies touching as they walk step in step. One afternoon, however, Taroha followed some of the older orphans deeper into the forest, inadvertently leaving Mokogodo behind. Once she realised his absence, the little girl started rumbling, which then escalated into a shout. The Keepers swiftly escorted her over to Taroha. The tiny girl was so happy to be reunited with her best friend!

Sholumai and Mushuru finding their places among the Nursery herd. The two relative new girls still prefer to remain on the fringes, but they are becoming more confident and extroverted. Whereas they used to emerge from their bedrooms and immediately walk to a quiet corner, they now mix and mingle with the other orphans, clearly feeling comfortable in their company. 

Sileita is such a conscientious mini matriarch. One morning, Taroha and Mokogodo were trundling behind Sholumai and Mushuru, two big girls who don't seem to have much interest in being nannies. After a short while, Sholumai and Mushuru strode away, leaving the babies behind in a clearing. This situation seemed to upset Sileita more than it upset Taroha and Mokogodo. She raced over to rescue two babies who were in no need of rescuing. They tolerated her fussing while continuing to browse belly to belly, seeming to take for granted Sileita’s wonderfully caring behaviour.

We often credit the girls as the leaders, disciplinarians, and peacekeepers of the Nursery herd, but boys do their part, too! One afternoon, best friends Mageno and Kitich were playing a rowdy version of the pushing game, clashing heads and clinking tiny tusks and twirling around. Losing his footing in the slippery mud, Mageno rolled onto his side, whereupon his cheeky friend play-mounted him, effectively pinning him on the ground. Mageno cried for help, and Choka came running. Kitich, catching sight of the larger bull bearing down on him, ran for cover behind a Keeper. 

This month, Raha the tiny black rhino and Maxwell the big black rhino had a face-to-face meeting. A gate will always separate the two (because he is blind, Max remains in a large, secure enclosure), but in light of Raha’s growing strength, we felt it was time to more formally introduce the two. The first interaction wasn't very successful — Maxwell mock-charged his gate and then ran the length of his enclosure, as if defending his territory — but a later introduction was more fruitful. On her way into the forest, Raha caught sight of Maxwell and came to a halt by his gate. Maxwell could sense her presence and made a friendly sound, rather like a squeak, in greeting. Raha responded with a smaller, high-pitched version of the same sound. Full of excitement, she then jogged off to the forest with her Keeper in tow.

At the Nursery, the year ended with a wonderful, joyful scene: During the midday mud bath, Muwingu and Choka were at their most mischievous. After a cooling wallow, they clambered out of the water in search of a game. The water buckets provided the perfect fodder. Using their heads, the two imps knocked over the buckets and then nudged them into the pool. When the Keepers pointed their fingers sternly, Choka checked himself for a second, but Muwingu was having too much fun to even consider stopping. A few minutes later, to the orphans’ evident delight, the buckets were floating in the muddy water — mischief managed!

December 2023 day to day

01 Dec

Raha was full of beans this morning. She trundled out of her stable at first light and darted ahead of her Keeper as they headed out to the forest. Today, she insisted on staying in front, in contrast to other days when she dawdles along behind. Clad in her cherry red blanket, she also knew exactly where she wanted to browse. Later in the morning, Raha paid her daily visit to the mud bath. She toddled confidently along the rope cordon, delighting the visitors until she took a right turn and tried to walk among them. The Keepers immediately took charge and escorted the cheeky little girl back to her dust bathing spot. She lay down and rolled onto her back with stout legs aloft as her Keeper carefully shovelled soil over her body.

A few minutes later, the first group of orphaned elephants padded down the slope for their mid-morning bottles of milk. Mzinga was one of the first to arrive. As soon as she had emptied her bottle, she made a beeline for Raha (who was walking back out to the forest). Trumpeting in pleasure with ears fully flared, Mzinga touched Raha’s head with her trunk. The rhino paused for a moment, enjoying the attention, and then walked on as Mzinga wheeled around and returned to the herd. The two orphans have an unusual, if somewhat one-sided, friendship: Mzinga loves Raha, while Raha tolerates Mzinga. (However, ‘tolerate’ is high praise in Raha’s world — she doesn’t have much time for most elephants!)

Latika got a fright this morning at the mud bath. The oldest elephant in the first group, she is an especially kind and caring nanny to little ones like Mokogodo, Taroha, Mzinga, Nyambeni, Shujaa and Muridjo. As Latika was settling down to browse on the supplementary lucerne, she caught sight of a tortoise scuttling out of a bush and towards the wallow. Trumpeting in alarm, she ran towards the Keepers with several younger elephants in hot pursuit. The babies did not know what had happened, but they did know that their nanny was upset and that was enough for them. One small tortoise caused a great deal of commotion!

Raha with her Keeper

Mzinga strolling down the path

Latika in the forest