Keepers' Diaries, January 2019

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

True to form Nairobi has become increasing hot early in the year, with the dry season creeping in after the short rains in November and December. The orphans have spent so much time enjoying the mud bath at least twice a day, and sometimes seeking refuge out in the forest under the shady canopy cover in the heat of the day. 

Whilst little ones like Dololo and Mukkoka might browse in thickets so they can stay cool and feed at the same time, the bigger girls like Kuishi, Sagala and Tamiyoi normally feed under the bigger trees, with Kuishi pulling down big branches to ensure they get the tasty branches.

On the 2nd January we were called by KWS regarding an orphan elephant baby originally reported by community in the Mara. The young calf was only about 10 months old, weak and obviously had been alone for many weeks given her poor body condition and lack of strength. She was defenseless against predators, and had been observed by the community for days on her own before they reported it to The Kenya Wildlife Service. We can never be sure what happened to her mother but in that particular area of the greater Mara ecosystem the KWS/DSWT funded Mara Veterinary Unit treated 28 injured elephants between August to December, all arrow and spear cases injured in cases of human wildlife conflict. In late November there was a case of a female who slipped down a cliff face and was left paralyzed and had to be euthanized, she had two arrows imbedded in her. She was a lactating young mother, obviously with a milk dependent calf. It is entirely possible this was the calf’s mother given the location she was eventually found.  We called the calf Larro and she is doing well in the Nursery despite a slow and fraught beginning, too weak to stand up on her own to begin with, and in need of IV drips to give her strength and massive doses of deworming as she was riddled in parasites, which is always indicative of poor body condition.  She is regaining her strength slowly but surely and has settled in well. Kiasa is particularly fond of the little girl, and when she is not in one of her decidedly naughty moods, she is doing a good job of keeping an eye on the little one. In the evening, Enkesha, her neighbor, is always pulling her greens over to their partition and trying to share them with Larro as well.

The two orphans who have not been so welcoming of little Larro are Emoli and Mapia. These two are going through a phase of being rather boisterous and naughty, picking fights with their friends and generally rough-housing with the youngsters throwing their weight around. Neither have been particularly nice to Larro, and Kiasa as well as the other females including Tagwa have to keep an eye out for her. It is not just the females though, gentle older bull Jotto is not a fan of this kind of rough behaviour either, and is very happy to step in and discipline where necessary. Of course the Keepers are ever mindful of this and ensure they are kept firmly in check.  

Malima was initially quite a naughty young bully-girl who was forced to go up into the older group so that she could be disciplined by the older members. This method seemed to work and the big girls really brought her back down to size, so that she had a better character and nature around the others. This is why socialising with one another is so important for our young orphans and their eventual successful reintegration into the wild herds once more. Malima is now a much more gentle and calm loving girl who is much more protective of the younger babies. One day we watched as she went running to Mukkoka who was yelling after being pushed by naughty Emoli. When Mukkoka got to his feet, Malima didn’t leave his side and she attached herself to him all day long. She especially shows interest in caring for Mukkoka and Dololo.

It is quite common for two elephant babies who arrive at the Nursery within a short time of one another to become quite close friends, and we can see this trait between Dololo and Mukkoka too, even though they have quite different characters. Mukkoka likes to stick with the herd, while Dololo likes to wander off, but they do tend to keep an eye on one another. If they sneak off from the herd they will go together, no doubt under Dololo’s influence. . 

Little Maktao is still glued to the Keepers, and is so funny sometimes in his interactions with them. One day he was hassling one of the Keepers and following him everywhere. He then started exploring the pockets of the Keepers dust coats and pulled out his handkerchief. The Keeper pleaded with him to give him his handkerchief back, but Maktao was in a mischievous mood and threw the handkerchief into the top of a nearby bush! Kiasa, Maktao’s age-mate, has surpassed him and others her age in size, and they aren’t as keen to play with her as she has a rather naughty character to boot. These days she has found new playmates slightly older than her, primarily Malima and Emoli.

The mud bath is always a source for fun and games, and one cannot help but laugh as the elephants pull all kinds of undignified poses and swimming styles while enjoying the mud. One particularly hot day, all the orphans rushed into the mud after their milk feed, and then to the soil dusting piles to get even muddier. The likes of Sattao, Emoli and Musiara were behaving like the little bulls they are and were enjoying climbing on any of their friends who came to lie in the soil. When they saw Tamiyoi and Enkesha approaching, all three went rushing over to see who could be the first to roll on the older girls. Emoli was the first one to climb on Tamiyoi, and Sattao on Enkesha, leaving Musiara with no one to climb on. He decided to push Sattao off Enkesha and take his turn to climb on her big tummy instead. The ousted Sattao then tried to take on Emoli who was still climbing on Tamiyoi, and so it went on and on with all the babies messing around on the piles of soil having fun. Even Luggard, despite his bad leg, isn’t left out of these sessions, and he is always spotted rolling around on the muddy soil with his best friends Musiara, Sattao, Maktao and Jotto too.

Obviously Maxwell the blind rhino loves his mud baths as well, and we keep his mud bath topped up with water and fresh loose soil so he can roll around in the thick gloopy mud. He likes to roll from side to side covering every inch of his body, so much so that any visiting warthogs to his stockade to share his lucerne made a hasty retreat or risk getting a bath themselves.

Both Enkesha and Ambo love sneaking between Maxwell’s stockade and the lucerne store to steal some lucerne pellets if they can. This is Enkesha’s morning ritual and she managed to dodge the others and the Keepers as they walk out to the forest, making her way surreptitiously to her secret feeding area. One day the Keepers only realized she was there when she cleared her nose, producing a short little trumpet. The space between the store and the backs of the other stables is very tight, so the only way for Enkesha to come out was to reverse backwards when the Keepers called her! To prove she was not happy at being discovered, she complained loudly all the way out to the forest as she was marched out to join the others. 

Last and certainly not least, little White Rhino Maarifa is growing fast, coming along in leaps and bounds quite literally so. She is so playful and trots around like she owns the establishment. Just like in the wild, when a white rhino calf runs in front of the mother, so she too gallops in front of her Keepers. If she runs too far in front of her Keeper and he is having a hard time keeping up, she always trots back to where he is so she can turn and start running again! She runs round and around the bushes, but is always careful not to leave her ‘human-mother’ too far behind. She too has been enjoying the soil piles beside the mud bath and likes climbing to the top and tumbling down to the bottom. 

With some prides of lions being spotted close to the Nursery area, the Keepers have to be extra vigilant with Maarifa and Kiko too. One day both little rhino and giraffe were kept back in the stockade compound for a whole day as lions had been spotted. Having not had enough time out in the forest the previous day, Kiko was adamant that he would go out. As the Keepers escorted him from his contained night stable to this open stockade, whilst they ascertained it was safe for him to go out, Kiko suddenly took off into the forest. He wouldn’t listen to the Keepers at all and instead ran towards where the elephants were browsing. Tagwa, Kuishi, Jotto and Musiara helped the Keepers by charging at Kiko to direct him back towards the stockades; in the end the Keepers probably only succeeded because of their help!  As usual Kiko does as Kiko likes!

January 2019 day to day

01 Jan

It’s the start of a new year and all the orphan elephants, little rhino Maarifa and Maxwell and Kiko are very well; happy and healthy. They started the new day of the New Year in a jovial mood, and the majority of the baby elephants came out of their rooms in the early morning, playfully bumping into one another and welcoming each other with pushing games as they made their way out to the forest. Jotto, Mapia, Ambo, Emoli and even little Luggard were all spotted chasing each other about. Their game continued out into the forest, where they bumped into a herd of impala’s. The playful bulls turned their attention towards the impalas and chased them into the bushes, before carrying on with their browsing session; all in all it was a fun start to the year.