Keepers' Diaries, February 2024

Select your unit:

Nairobi Nursery Unit

February began with noise and drama, courtesy of the Nursery’s stubborn little hustler. We are, of course, referring to Pardamat! This little bull is small in size, but giant in presence. 

At feeding time, Pardamat emptied his bottle in seconds. Immediately, he was on the hunt for more. (Because of his appetite, he is already given a larger bottle than his agemates, but his greediness knows no bounds.) He toddled over to Mokogodo and started trumpeting his demand for the little girl’s bottle. Taroha took the matter in hand: He strode over, headbutted Pardamat, and stood next to Mokogodo. No one was messing with his best friend! 

Pardamat isn’t the only orphan who likes to make a scene. Weka, Mageno, Kitich, and Loldaiga make up the Nursery’s resident chorus. They herald their arrival at the mud bath with shockingly loud trumpets, just in case the Keepers have forgotten how important they are. Predictably, Weka is the conductor and leads the chorus.

Shujaa is an early-morning boy. When everyone else is still bleary-eyed and half-asleep, he likes to perch his head over his stable door, twirling his trunk in the air to let the Keepers know that he is wide awake and ready for the day. During one of these early morning starts, Shujaa marched over to greet Maxwell, the blind black rhino. The elephant extended his trunk through the gate to touch Max, who stood stock still, enjoying the attention.

However, Mzinga remains the Nursery’s resident rhino whisperer. One afternoon, she encountered Raha having a nap. Mzinga couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend some time with her and abandoned the Nursery herd for the better part of an hour! The two friends have not been hanging out as much, because the elephants have been venturing further afield, while Raha enjoys shorter forays into the forest. Mzinga and Raha had a lovely, extended reunion.

Mzinga and Nyambeni are similar in almost every way: They were rescued within a few months of each other, are roughly the same age, and have very complementary personalities. Interestingly, however, Mzinga’s rhino whispering ways do not extend to her ‘twin sister.’. One day, Raha was feeling punchy and charged at Nyambeni, Shujaa, and Pardamat. Nyambeni lifted her trunk in a friendly greeting, but the tiny rhino turned tail and marched back to the forest. If it isn’t Mzinga, Raha has no interest in elephants!

Feisty Muwingu is becoming more maternal, but she has a way to go to catch up with Sileita, Kerrio, and Latika. However, she is very enthusiastic. One morning, she made a beeline for Mokogodo’s stable, only to find the door closed. She rumbled and, finding no answer, knocked on the door. This caused poor, sleepy Mokogodo to trumpet in alarm. Muwingu trumpeted back, which caught the attention of Sileita, Kerrio, and Latika. When a Keeper opened Mokogodo’s door, the four fussing females scrambled to be first to greet her — and in the process, completely blocked her inside! Only after a Keeper had pushed them away could Mokogodo toddle out. 

Raha, our baby black rhino, is thriving. She is becoming more extroverted and energetic with each passing day. She has started venturing further than ever into the forest, smelling everything in what she likes to consider her territory. Her maimed rear end is healing well, much to our relief. Despite an initial reluctance to eat solids, Raha now has a voracious appetite for greens. Her Keepers suspend them in bundles inside her stable, to make for easy nighttime stacking. 

On Valentine’s Day, we set ourselves up for the challenge of weighing the orphans on the enormous elephant scale outside the stockades. In keeping with the holiday, we offered everyone a sweet sugarcane treat in exchange for their cooperation. (The scale is essentially a flat platform on ground level, and the orphans clamber all over it in the course of their daily games, but they seemed to sense that today was different.) While Mzinga and Nyambeni walked obediently onto the scale, Loldaiga, Sholumai, Mushuru, Weka, Mageno, and Sileita had other ideas. They padded on the scales, gobbled down the sugar cane, and made a speedy exit before their weights could be recorded. We will have to try again another time.

Although Sholumai was rescued nearly a year ago, she is still shy and skittish. Most days, she is the last to pad down to the milk feed, preferring to take a circuitous route at her own pace. Whenever she arrives, she has a bottle waiting for her. Sholumai is adept at holding her own bottle, which is a skill few Nursery orphans can boast! 

Weka is still a rascal at heart. At a memorable public visit, she was determined to duck below the rope cordon that separates the visitors from the herd. Every time she was prevented from doing so, she trumpeted loudly, waited a minute or two, and tried again. There was no sign of the new, mature Weka we have come to know — she was the old Weka at her naughtiest.

At first light one morning, Mzinga and Talek decided to play hide-and-seek with the Keepers. As the herd ambled into the forest, the little girls about turned and darted back to the stockades, making a beeline for Mokogodo’s stable. This was a strategic hiding place: They know that Mokogodo rarely finishes her night-time lucerne and there would be plenty of leftovers. However, rather than enjoying the spoils, Mzinga and Talek got into a fight over who deserved more. When Sileita and Muwingu heard them trumpeting, they also ran back to the stockades. The nannies separated the squabbling girls and shepherded them back to the herd. There was no need for the Keepers to intervene.

Mukutan, Loldaiga, and Choka are the eldest boys at the Nursery, followed by Kitich and Mageno. The big trio often plays together, and they are quite evenly matched. Choka may be taller, but Loldaiga is sturdy and strong. Mukutan is the eldest, but he is also a bit of a coward. He is not above recruiting a forest's worth of trees to assist in his daily sparring matches with Choka. We often see him attempting to hide his big body behind a tree trunk when he senses that a face-off is not going in his favour. 

Slowly but surely, Mushuru becoming more extroverted. Much to our surprise and delight, she was the unlikely instigator of mud bath festivities one morning. She headed straight for the water, paddling around and kicking up enormous splashes. Mushuru was soon joined by Mageno, Muridjo, Choka, and Kitich. 

Kamili likes to do her own thing. One cloudy afternoon, she was the only orphan who went swimming in the mud bath. Undeterred by the chilly weather, she carefully climbed in the pool, paddled about, and hosed herself with water as the rest of herd stood determinedly on dry ground. As always, Kamili marches to the beat of her own drum!

This month saw the emergence of a fun new browsing technique. There is still fresh vegetation everywhere, but the orphans’ favourite snack is a tough grass that is difficult to pull out of the ground. Mzinga, Shujaa, and Murirdjo devised a clever workaround, stooping to their knees, bottoms in the air, and taking a big bite, using their molars to cut the grass. One could argue that Latika is the original trendsetter: Because of her short trunk, she often pops to her knees and chomps on grass straight from the ground. It’s not very dignified, but it does the trick!

February 2024 day to day

01 Feb

As the elephants headed out to the forest this morning, clouds of white butterflies fluttered in their wake. They browsed peacefully for a time before being shepherded down to the mud bath for a milk feed.

Pardamat was being a stubborn little hustler today! He ran down the path to the wallow in the first group of four orphans and emptied his bottle in seconds. Spotting Mokogodo arriving in the next group, he toddled over and tried to grab her bottle while a Keeper was holding it aloft. (Because of his appetite, he is already being given a slightly larger bottle than his agemates.) The Keepers told him off but he paid no attention, continuing to trumpet his demand for the little girl’s bottle. 

Seconds later, Taroha took the matter in hand. He strode over, headbutted Pardamat and stood next to Mokogodo. No one was messing with his best friend! But Pardamat obstinately refused to abandon his quest for extra milk. The Keepers pushed him away, Taroha pushed him away and, finally, Loldaiga, one of the older bulls in the herd, took control. He drove little Pardamat into the bushes around the mud bath and restored the peace.

In the afternoon, many of the orphans cooled off in the mud wallow as Kitich, Kamili and Mukutan covered themselves in soothing dry soil. After a final wander in the forest, the herd returned to the safety of the stockades for the night. On his way to his stable, cheeky Loldaiga nipped into neighbour Kerrio’s room and pinched her pile of lucerne. He scooped it up and darted into his own room before the Keepers could stop him. The grass really is always greener on the other side!


Kerrio, Weka and Choka

Mageno, Mushuru and Sholumai