Keepers' Diaries, February 2021

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

On the very first day of this month, a team of experienced Keepers were sent on a rescue mission to El Karama Ranch in Laikipia. The little orphan they were seeking had been on his own for some time, and the reason was clear from the very beginning: Born with bowed back legs, his mobility was compromised, and perhaps he hadn’t been able to keep up with his herd in a moment of haste. 

Ranch staff had been monitoring him in the hopes that he might be scooped up by a passing herd. Days and then weeks passed without any elephants claiming him, and it became clear that, without intervention, he would fall victim to predators.

The calf briefly disappeared when our teams arrived onsite, but they didn’t give up their search, and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when he was finally located. The SWT/KWS Mount Kenya Mobile Vet Unit and our Keepers monitored him throughout the long drive south to Nairobi, and the convoy didn’t pull into the Nursery until nine o’clock that night. He was stabled next to Kiasa, who was extremely concerned about her new neighbour. She made it her mission to make him feel at ease, taking up position at their shared partition and extending a welcoming trunk. The next morning, she was being particularly petulant and wouldn’t listen to the Keepers at all, as she adamantly wanted to stay behind with the new arrival. When Kiasa finally managed to get back to his stockade, she was disappointed to find that he was sound asleep on his bed of hay. A little deflated, she joined the rest of the herd out in the forest while the newcomer slept peacefully. We named the calf Rama, a nod to El Karama Ranch, the place of his birth.

Rama remained in his stockade as he gathered his strength and became acclimated to his new home. Each morning, a group of orphans would usher around his stockade gate to check on him. Some of the babies had ulterior motives in greeting their new friend, using the opportunity to snatch some of Rama’s uneaten fresh greens! Rama settled well into the Nursery and after only a few days, he was desperate to join the others out in the forest. On the afternoon of the 8th, the Keepers felt he was ready to take this step. Maisha, Kiasa, Nabulu, and Larro escorted him out to the forest. Maisha kept Rama close to her side the whole time, while Kiombo kept trying to climb on his back and Nabulu persistently prodded him with her trunk. Maisha did not appreciate that Kiombo and Nabulu were bothering him, and quickly chased them away from her new charge. We were pleased to discover that Rama, despite his bow legs, can move around with relative ease and keeps up with the other orphans during the day.

The only one who didn’t get caught up in all the excitement was Ziwadi, but that is typical of her: this little girl is unfazed by any kind of commotion. Later in the month, even a belligerent buffalo couldn’t disturb her from munching away on her greens! While she seemed unfazed by his arrival, Ziwadi was extremely accepting of Rama. Rama, for his part, gravitated towards her gentle character and is fond of browsing in her company. While older bulls like Mukkoka and Maktao tried to be friendly, Rama found them a little intimidating and chose to keep his distance from them.

Rama need not have worried, for Maktao is the gentlest bull we have ever known. As a result, all the youngsters in the Nursery flock around him. Mukkoka is another gentle bull, and while his closest friend remains our plucky girl Naleku, he is happy to play with the other babies, including Roho, Kinyei, Kindani, and Bondeni. He has been paying particular attention to Roho, who has become less dependent on Maisha these last few months and is spending more time with the older bulls. He and Naboishu are more boisterous these days and sometimes even bully the others youngsters. Naboishu seems to be a part of the ‘boys’ club’ now, and he is always eager to take part in wrestling matches. Mukkoka is his preferred sparring partner, as they are closest in size. We have to be careful with the younger orphans, as Naboishu can sometimes take it too far and be rough with the likes of Olorien, Naleku, and Roho. Fortunately Maisha is always looking out for them, as well as Larro, who is the next budding matriarch of the Nursery.

Kiombo remains one of our most boisterous bulls, and not a day passes that he doesn’t challenge Maktao to a wrestling match. Nabulu seems to be the only one who can sort him out, and when she is in a stern mood, she can really throw her weight around. One morning she woke up in a grumpy state and kept pushing Maktao, Kiombo, and Mukkoka if they dared to come close to her. She didn’t want the bulls taking over her lead, so she kept chasing them away, but the naughty boys just turned this into a game!

Bondeni, Kinyei and Kindani grew up together and remain an inseparable trio. Kinyei is very similar to Ziwadi in many ways, as she too doesn’t like to get too involved in the hustle and bustle of the other orphans’ games. Ziwadi enjoys spending most of her time with Kindani and Olorien, and now Rama, too. She has a special talent for finding the tastiest greens, so the younger orphans follow her around, as she can lead them to the best browsing spots!

We experienced some very unusual weather this month. February is typically our dry season, but we received almost a week of rain due to a cyclone off Madagascar. On rainy mornings, the Keepers kept Ziwadi, Kinyei, Kindani, Rama and Bondeni inside their cosy stables, only bringing them outside once it had warmed up a bit. It was quite amusing to watch the orphans navigate the wet weather. As they were walking into the forest in the morning, most of them — especially Maisha, Nabulu, Kiasa, and Naleku — tried to avoid rubbing their bellies against the sodden branches, in a comical attempt to stay dry. Everyone was lingering back, as no one wanted to be the first through the cold, wet vegetation! Mukkoka, however, doesn’t seem to mind rain in the slightest, and happily took the lead.

Wet weather is made for rhinos and Maxwell adored the rainy days! He happily splashed through the muddiest parts of his stockade, before enjoying a long wallow in his dedicated water hole. Maxwell really loves to cake his skin in thick mud, which also protects his skin against the sun and bothersome insects. Black rhinos are often quite lazy during the day, enjoying siestas in the sun punctuated by short feeding trips, only to become more active at night. It was no surprise, then, that Maxwell spent the heat of the day lounging around, waiting to munch away on his greens and lucerne pellets in the cooler hours of the evenings and early mornings.

February 2021 day to day

01 Feb

Today we received a new rescue from El Karama Lodge in Laikipia, and we named him Rama. We sent the elephant moving lorry to rescue him due to his size, and when he arrived the Keepers chose to put him next door to Larro and Kiasa as the two girls could help comfort him. This morning when Kiasa came out of her stockade, she refused to listen to her Keepers and kept trying to run off to Rama’s stable door, but the Keepers were trying to usher her to the forest as the new arrival was sleeping. Sadly, for Kiasa, when she finally managed to get back to his stockade, she seemed disappointed to see that he was fast asleep on his hay and not as his door. As she had no one to greet she followed the rest of the herd out to the forest. 

When the orphans got to the forest they split into two groups as Maisha headed off in the company of Kiasa, Roho, Naleku, Maktao and Naboishu. As they walked off the rest of the herd stayed put and were all being watched over by Nabulu and Larro and the remainder of the Keepers. It wasn’t long before Kiasa once again started to disrupt the group. She seemed to get a fright from something and immediately started to run off trumpeting and flapping her ears. Maisha, who seemed confused by what had scared Kiasa, was quick to run after her and she was followed by Roho, Naleku, Maktao and Naboishu. The Keepers quickly ran over and calmed Kiasa down, but they couldn’t see what might have scared her and wondered if she was just being naughty. 

As the orphans were running back to their stockades, Kiasa charged in front of all of them and the Keepers and took a slight detour to get to Rama. The Keepers really had to coax her into her own stockade as she wanted to stay near Rama. As the Keepers were ushering and calling her into her stockade, she kept rumbling at them in protest. Eventually, one of her Keepers managed to entice her in with her milk bottle. Once Kiasa was in, all the orphans settled for the evening. 

New rescue Rama

Larro and Kiasa out in the forest

Roho and Maisha in the forest