Keepers' Diaries, February 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

February was a month of fun, games, and growth for our Nursery herd. With so many new rescues in our midst, the dynamics are ever-shifting. It has been lovely to see how well everyone has settled down and embraced their new lives. Tragically, the month was also marred by heartbreak, as we lost our beloved Ziwadi. 

We began February marvelling at Kitich’s transformation. When he first arrived, he preferred to shelter in the middle of the herd, standing quietly among his new friends. Recently, however, he has become very playful. On the first of the month, he joined Kerrio in a rollicking mud bath and play-mounting session — something that would have been entirely out of character for the young bull not so long ago. We are realising that is more of an extrovert than his best friend, Iletilal, who was rescued just a few days after him.

Elerai is also settling into his new life. Today, he led the first younger group away from the mud bath before the second older group arrived. He used to head off on his own into the bush. Nowadays, he is a fully-fledged member of the orphan herd, choosing to stay close to his friends and even shepherding them around the forest.

Ahmed is very shy, but she has a sneaky side! One morning, she made the Keepers smile when she quietly snuck back to the stockades and meandered from one room to the next, looking for leftover lucerne cubes. As soon as she was found out by the Keepers, she lifted her trunk, as if acknowledging that she had been found out, and trundled out obediently to join the herd.

Mukutan likes to assert himself, especially when bottles of milk are involved. His feisty ways have rubbed off on his young friend Mageno, who is not yet two years old. During a midday milk feed, Mageno rudely shoved Kitich in an attempt to wrest his bottle away from him. In response, the little boy ran away, trumpeting in annoyance. A Keeper came to the rescue, pointing his finger at Mageno and telling him to relinquish the bottle. Reluctantly, he did as he was told and marched off, ears flapping.

Our big boys have appointed themselves the guards of the Nursery herd. One afternoon, several giraffes were browsing near the path to the mud bath. Esoit, Bondeni, and Lodo stopped and stared at the tall interlopers as they walked down the bath. Deciding that they didn’t present any threat to the rest of the herd, the boys walked on unperturbed. 

Little Kerrio is fast becoming the best nanny of our Nursery herd. Nyambeni and Mzinga are extremely bonded to her. We often see the two little girls happily shadowing her, doing exuberant little mock charges as they go. 

However, Kerrio is still young herself — and sometimes, it shows! One morning, she uncharacteristically stole a milk bottle from Latika over milk. The Keepers took control of the situation, separating the toddlers and returning the bottle to its rightful owner. Kerrio marched off and remained in a grump for the rest of the day, imposing her bad mood even on the blanket babies.

Choka and Taabu are best friends. They play like big puppies in the mud bath, splashing and rolling over and under each other in the water. We often witness gentle Kamili watching them on the edge of the mud bath, not tempted to swim or join their antics, but happily observing and drinking from the water bucket.

The 6th marked Loldaiga’s first day out with the orphans. He has spent some time in his stockade, recovering from his ordeal and getting used to his new life. At noon, the Keepers shepherded the orphans up to his stockade to welcome the young bull. The Keepers escorted the herd, now complete with its newest addition, out into the forest. For a time, the orphans were too excited to browse, instead clustering around Loldaiga. The newbie initially accepted their mothering, but then found it too overwhelming and ran off in search of a Keeper — with Kinyei, Kindani and Olorien in hot pursuit!

The 8th was an extremely sad day for the orphan family, as we said goodbye to sweet Ziwadi. The terrible incident happened at the mud bath, as the orphans were finding some respite from the afternoon heat. Ziwadi had recently started to enjoy swimming, and the Keepers had been happy to observe a growth in her confidence. On this day, she plodded into the water and relaxed with her friends. A few minutes later, the Keepers noticed that she was struggling and immediately jumped in to help her. They pulled her out quickly and tried to resuscitate, but it was too late — she was gone.

The orphans were shepherded away as soon as the Keepers realised that Ziwadi was in trouble. Although they did not witness her final moments, they sensed that something had happened and remained jumpy for the rest of the afternoon. The Keepers gave them lots of support, as they too tried to make sense of this terrible tragedy. Read our full tribute to Ziwadi.

While they certainly mourned the loss of Ziwadi, elephants are very good at turning the page. The next day, everyone was back to their cheerful selves. We got some comic relief courtesy of Choka, who is becoming a cheeky chap. He snuck away from his mud bath group, which goes second, in order to join the first group. The Keepers herded him back to his peers, but again, he ran off to join the first group, this time looping Lodo and Sileita into his escapade. The Keepers succeeded in stopping his friends, but could not prevent Choka before he speedily downed a bottle of milk. He had a mission to have his milk first, and he kept trying until he achieved it!

It appears that Kitiak is becoming an extrovert. While he used to be very introverted, he is now constantly seeking attention, especially at the mud bath. During the public visit, he often strolls along the visitor cordon, inviting people to touch his back as he passes. 

While many of the older orphans are starting to learn their manners, the blanket babies are turning into petulant toddlers. One day, Muridjo had a temper tantrum, flapping her ears and trumpeting as loudly as she could when the Keepers refused to give her an extra bottle. Another day, it was Weka’s turn to behave like an indulged child. Unlike Muridjo, she didn’t have the confidence to accost a Keeper for more milk, so she expressed her demand by reversing away from the wheelbarrow with her tail up and her ears out! Their behaviour is not unusual: Over the course of the month, Muwingu, Mageno, and Kitich have also done the elephant equivalent of stamping their feet and yelling to express their desires. The Keepers may find their tantrums trying, but are also happy to see how settled the relative newcomers have become. 

By contrast, the quieter boys are less prone to tantrums. Out in the forest, Rafiki, Iletilal, Tingai, and Elerai feed peacefully together in a mini herd. Sometimes they choose to be on their own. They are reserved young bulls who don’t like to be disturbed and who rarely indulge in silly antics like pushing games.

Esoit is a strong bull with lots of personality. He loves playing the pushing game with other young bulls and is also happy to teach them. Every day, he chooses someone new to challenge, but his favourite playmates are Taabu, Choka, Mukutan, and Tingai. The five naughty boys enjoy playing with each other, especially when out in the bush or any open area. As Tingai becomes less shy and more courageous, he is happier to accept challenges and wrestle with his friends.

This month was full of reminders of young Kerrio’s competence as a nanny. As the orphans were browsing and playing, Taabu invited little Shujaa to join the gang of naughty boys! Shujaa loves to hang out with older elephants, but he is still very small. Taabu walked behind Shujaa, laying his trunk along his back as the plucky boy trotted over to play with Tingai, Choka, and Mukutan. It wasn’t long before Muridjo, another little one who loves to hang out with the older elephants, joined in. This made Kerrio uneasy, so she ran over and stood protectively between the two blanket babies. She checked that both were fine, laying her trunk on them in a calming manner while continuing to flare her ears.

The 14th brought about some rooming changes. It all stemmed from Bondeni, who started kicking up a rumpus at night! His behaviour was infectious, causing many of the others to also start trumpeting. The Keepers moved him, Kindani, and Kinyei to new stockades. Although these were even more spacious than their old accommodations, change is hard, and Bondeni continued to trumpet in protest for several nights until he settled down. 

Latika does not often like to swim, but one afternoon, she made an exception. She paddled in and did her best to splash water on her body. However, she has a uniquely short trunk, so she could not quite cover herself. Sweet Kerrio came to her rescue, sucking up water in her longer trunk and kindly hosing down her friend. 

Maxwell had a lovely month, full of relaxation and the occasional game with his orphaned elephant and warthog friends. Further afield in Nairobi National Park, we were treated to a rare sighting of ex-orphan Solio, a black rhino who we rescued in 2010. She is a mother of two now, and both her babies are thriving. 

February 2023 day to day

01 Feb

The Keepers always enjoy watching rescued orphans settle into their new lives at the Nursery, establish themselves among the herd, and begin to flourish.

Kitich is a case in point. Initially, he spent much of his time sheltering in the middle of the herd, standing quietly among his new friends. Recently, he has felt confident enough to become a playful young bull. After his milk feed at the mud bath this morning, he headed straight for the mud bath. In he plodded, first paddling and then rolling around and hosing himself with the muddy water. A few minutes later, he was joined by water baby Kerrio. They wallowed together and then played the pushing game, splashing and pulling each other all over the mud bath. Clambering out, Kerrio decided to roll around in the dust, scratching her body with gusto — that is, until Kitich play-mounted her, hugging her with his front legs as they covered their bodies with the soothing dust.

Elerai is also settling into his new life. Today, he led the first younger group away from the mud bath before the second older group arrived. He used to head off on his own into the bush. Nowadays, he is a fully-fledged member of the orphan herd, choosing to stay close to his friends and even to lead them out to browse.

Later in the afternoon out in the forest, Mzinga, Nyambeni, Choka and Kerrio were doing far more playing than browsing, twisting trunks and pushing and climbing all over each other. Mzinga ended up on the ground as her three friends cavorted around her. Nearby, Bondeni stood close to a Keeper, draping his trunk affectionately and ignoring the babies.

Kitich at the mud bath

Elerai leading his friends

Mzinga, Choka, Kerrio and Nyambeni